Autism Screening

There’s been some controversy involving characters from the classic PBS series Sesame Street being used in public service announcements discussing early screening for children of autism. The question posed is, should a muppet be used as part of a campaign to promote early screening of children for autism?

You might think that it makes sense to early screen for pretty much anything. Whether a child has diabetes or cancer, sickle cell anemia or autism, the sooner you know the better. It means you can research the syndrome yourself, as a parent, and be as prepared as possible to help your child with every step of their life.

But the question some people pose is: when is early screening a useful part of a parent’s toolkit and when does it make autism seem like a disease to be “fixed”?

This tends to be where one of the interesting internal dividing lines in the autism debate comes about.

There are many people I know on the autism spectrum who fall in the Asperger’s category. Generally they are bright, can live on their own, and have intense interests in topics. They love the way they are. They love that they are smart, that they can research topics, and that they can find like-minded people to talk with. Often they love places like science fiction conventions where they can “geek out” all weekend long.

They treasure their positive traits.

But it’s important to remember that there are many people on the autism spectrum who have traits which are far less easy to celebrate. Maybe they have serious mobility difficulties. Maybe their sensory overload issues are so severe they cannot leave the house. Maybe they would love to communicate but they just can’t speak. They want help.

In many of these cases, if they had access to the right kind of support right from birth, they could have made progress. They could have gotten on a path when their brain was at its most pliable. But because they missed that window of opportunity, their path is now much harder.

It’s easy to say “I love adoring medieval culture and being able to focus for hours on end on my passion.”

But it’s less easy to say, “Someone with seizures five times a day, and who screams when loud noises sound because of the pain, is wrong to wish they could have these issues caused by genetic mutations eased a bit.”

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to autism. But I do feel – strongly – that the sooner we know there is something on our path in life, whatever it may be, the sooner that we can evaluate our options.

Muppet image used in fair use to describe the situation.

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