A few weeks ago, Katie Grant wrote an article in The Sunday Times, Scotland, Some ‘autistic’ children aren’t ill, they’re just badly behaved in which she suggested that it is "trendy" to get an autism diagnosis for one's child. Douglas Coupland author of the novels Generation X (1991) and Microserfs (1995), among many others, has a new novel, JPod, about a group of gamers who, according to The Observer,
define themselves, variously, through largely valid attempts to use humour and trivia to cope with mild degrees of autism. One, Kaitlin, has a lucid take on it all, musing on why so many 'creatives' should be in thrall to 'persistent low-grade autism'. She argues, fairly successfully, in a take repeated here by Coupland in real life, that it is important today to become comfortable with an apparent lack of personality, and that many of the traits we traditionally identify in people - from the babbling idiot, via the class clown, to the 'quiet', then 'aloof', then 'spooky', and then the frothing Unabomber - are simply inhabiting a sliding scale of minor autism, our ways of coping in a confused world with clusters of overlapping brain functions.
Autism is the "trendy" diagnosis; (mildly) autistic characters in a (mildly autistic) best-selling novelist: You get the feeling that autism has become the disease du jour, for better, for worse.
I am curious about JPod; it goes without saying that it is "all things autism" in our household. But still I wonder, how does it help Charlie that he has a "trendy autism diagnosis" or that some famous novelist has a new book with autistic characters?
Does it help to deal with situations like this morning's?
After Charlie had eaten most of a bag of frozen peas and carrots and I had told him that he had had enough for one meal and could have the rest at lunch, he ran smiling one moment into the living room, tripped on a toy, and then was screaming the next and banging his head on the couch arm.
Moments like that make the thought of "autism as the trendy thing to get for your kids" so absurd I would not be able to stop laughing, except for having to run to check on whatever Charlie is up to. Katie Grant's idea of autism seems pure fiction, indeed.
Nothing here on Autismland is made up: That's why this is the "autism reality show." I am no novelist. If I were, I do not have the stomach to make up scenes of an autistic child in full tantrum mode, frozen vegetables and couch cushions flying.
And the truth is, this Saturday started quite well. We were out of Charlie's favorite foods, so he and I made an early trip to the grocery store. We came home, Jim went to run errands, Charlie practised his writing skills, I read Go Dog Go and he pointed to the word "dog." And then the tantrumy mess happened, and then we sat around after we had shut the windows, and then Charlie and Jim sailed off for a mega-bike ride. I made sure to have a big pot of rice cooked for Charlie when he came home, and to have the picture schedule ready, and a pile of books to read: Hush Little Alien, Tar Beach, Polar Bear Night, among others. Jim made sure that there was no long line at the barber's and called me to bring Charlie over just in time to sit in the chair for a buzz cut. Charlie made sure to eat up every drop of his brown noodles--"Thai noodles with peanut sauce," we practised in the car on the way. And we all made sure that we had a sweet family Saturday night, with a lazy ride to "show Mom" the streets Charlie had biked through and a lot of music, from the Wiggles to "Song for My Father" in Sugarcane Harris' jazz violin rendition.
This is Autismland.
Autism is not some "excuse" for a misbehaving child, Ms. Grant.
If there is "minor autism," Mr. Coupland, is there also "major autism"?
What is autism fact and autism fiction?
I am wondering as I wander in Autismland.