Powerful Editorial Makes Cogent Point
> 6/5/2006 10:02:22 AM

In today's New York Times, Cammie McGovern, author of Eye Contact (a novel whose synopsis sounds outstanding) has an op-ed piece that looks at the disturbing murders of three children afflicted with autism. The connection that McGovern draws between each of the three tragedies is a level of expectation that she postulates may have been unrealistic on the part of the parents turned murderers.

McGovern, the parent of an autistic child herself, sees managing expectations as central to raising a healthy, happy family. She doesn't explicitly say it, but the implication is clear: the real trouble word here is normal. As McGovern writes, when parents first hear their child's diagnosis, they dream of recovery--a total recovery to a normal life.

These hopes are near impossibilities as the word normal is merely a subjective measurement of one's own perceptions. Autism and autism spectrum disorder are disabilities that alter what we might consider to be a "normal" life path for those afflicted. When parents strive for total recovery, they are exposing themselves to mental anguish and often catastrophic disappointments. McGovern says it perfectly:

I don't mean to sound pessimistic about the prospects for autistic children. On the contrary, I see greater optimism in delivering a more realistic message to families: Children are not cured, but they do get better.

And better can be remarkable.

The healthiest path both for the child and his family is to temper expectations and greet each new advancement with happiness and renewed determination. There is no reason that a person born with autism can't lead a full and fulfilling life, but a large part of that needs to be the support of a loving family. McGovern's conclusion sums it up:

To aim for full recovery for the person your child might have been without autism is to enter a dangerous emotional landscape. For three children, the disconnect between parental determination and limited progress may have been lethal.

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