When my daughter was diagnosed in 1995 with PDD-NOS, the euphemism for what was then dreaded as autism, and confirmed two years later, she was one out of a thousand children suspected of having the “disability and disorder.” Her younger brother two years later followed, and in 1997, he was one out of 700.
When I came to Saipan in 1999, it was down to one child per 500. When I represented Saipan's PACA (Parents' Association Concerned with Autism) in Melbourne, Australia in 2002, the ratio was one for every 400. Five years ago, it was down to a hundred.
The alarming rate today is that one in every 88 children, one of every 54 boys, is afflicted with a clearly “differently-abled” (my term, and for a sympathetic ear on its significance, give the folks at NMPASI a buzz) neurological challenge; AutismSpeak.org spooks!
We do not mean to treat this matter lightly by making fun of the organization's Internet handle and name. We rather wish to focus on the alarming nature of the evolutionary change that is taking place in our body metabolism, as well as how we relate to it.
The classic three pointers for autism (in my words) are: 1) delayed or arrested language development, 2) auto behavior without seeming consideration and regard for others, and 3) repetitive behavior that are maddeningly circuitous and often destructive.
AutismSpeaks is aggressive in foisting an alarm. It asks parents to watch if their children show “no big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter,” and to ask the pediatrician or family practitioner for an immediate evaluation. The following symptoms are listed:
. No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter;
. No babbling by 12 months;
. No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months;
. No words by 16 months;
. No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months.
My daughter is now 18 and my son, 15. They address me as just “father,” objectively and perhaps, unconsciously sounding cold. Their conditions occasioned the collapse of a marriage, and I have masochistically and cowardly located myself as far away as possible from the aches and pains of being an unwelcome former half of a once hopeful union.
To sublimate, I have not been distant from the fellowship of families of children similarly situated. Vivian, Frank and Nicolas, and their family, along with other families, provided collegiality. But something about the current ratio is more than just alarming. Something radical is clearly happening with our bodies, thus also with our minds. The brain-mind studies on neurology are back to the unmistakable embodiment of our mental electrical fields.
The news that the brain size of people in the United States has grown bigger either through improved nutrition, or physical inactivity, though still involving intense mental energy, gives us pause. The high incidence of obesity in America, a cause of alarm that even got the active attention of the White House first lady (which secretly delights me to no end since I come off as size “petite” in comparison whenever I make a continental landfall), should be a serious item in our inventory of current human physiology.
Now comes news that the heart, which we have so far considered as metaphorically the seat of emotion, is actually a physiological entity with its own neurological integrity. Evidence now points to intuitive intelligence actually resident in the heart. Neuro-cardiologists have discovered that the heart operates its own nervous system independent of the brain's electro-magnetic field. Its complex circuitry reportedly generates up to 60 times the electrical amplitude of the brain.
The training of the brain has been the focus of education, primarily involving language clothed in the alphabet and its corresponding phonetics for the English language, pictographs and characters for the Hanja, and the patterns of mathematics with its equations and ratios of sums to its parts. Memory work of word shape and sound is the result, and the passing of standardized test the method of gauging the educated.
In counseling test takers (last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the middle and high school students of China went on a testing seclusion to determine who gets to a university and who ends up in vocational training), I often tell folks to trust their intuition and mark the first insight they have of an answer to a question. It has served me well in the numerous standard tests I have taken in my professional career.
It is now rued that “the heart guides us in much of what we do, but often we allow our brains or our unmanaged emotions to take the lead role in our decision-making and later regret our choices.”
If we look at autism with our brains, we get into the PSS/SPED mode of pursuing the minimum requirements of “free and appropriate public education”; looking at the same with the patterns and rhythms of the heart provides a different reading.
Time to move autism from the column of spook to the side of acceptance, compassion, concern, and ordinary human care. Take heart. Then, mind.
Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former PSS teacher and is currently writing from the campus of Shenyang Aerospace University in China.