Alex got his second report card from first grade last week, and it was a mirror image of his first: With a grading system of plus, check and minus he got a plus in all 13 graded subject areas, and 10 out of 14 plusses in work habits (it seems he gets overenthusiastic about learning, and calls out too much). Comments included “makes friends easily”, “participates enthusiastically”, and “works well independently and seeks help when needed.” While such a report card is cause for celebration in any household, in our case it is cause for reflection and a reminder of just how far Alex has come.
When I reflect on Alex’s past, I remember how difficult it is to come to terms with a diagnosis of autism. Subconscious or otherwise I think we all have dreams for our children, that they will be successful, well-liked, smart, athletic, attend a good college, make a difference in the world…. One of the most difficult things about dealing with the diagnosis is to suppress those dreams and hope instead that he or she can just be “normal.”
Alex’s success is in no small part due to his own hard work and perseverance. Before he was three years old he took a school bus to and from school and began a program that included 20 hours of school and 25 hours of one-on-one therapy per week and continued that schedule for three years. To make things more difficult for him he faced an ever changing diet and biomedical intervention that included dozens of supplements, biweekly shots of B12, and periodic chelation. He continues to this day (for the most part) to show incredible maturity in meeting the challenges of being a first grader and growing up.
But I am also reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, in which it is pointed out that success is often a product of circumstance as much as individual ability and achievement, and I realize that Alex had almost every resource imaginable in order to get where he is today: Two smart caring parents with the financial means to each leave a job while remaining in New York City where top schools, therapists, and doctors are in abundance, the ability to advocate to receive services and to find and retain the best doctors and therapists, the openmindeness to try and to evaluate, and the ability to pay out of pocket if necessary, for “alternative” treatments such as a change in diet, biomedical intervention, and a variety of speech and occupational therapy techniques.
We are extremely grateful for the confluence of factors that allowed for Alex’s recovery and allow him to bring home a report card that reflects his success. But this is not just a story of self-congratulations for Alex or for his parents. Rather, I hope it serves to show others with similar challenges that there is hope, and there is possibility. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet, each child is different and there is a certain amount of trial and error with any type of therapy or treatment, and each child must undergo testing and careful observation to see what works and what does not. But I do believe that the last ten years has seen some incredible breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of autism, and that parents willing to explore these new types of treatment face possibilities of improvement or recovery that were not possible years ago.