Autism Issues on a Very Public Stage

If you do a search on our blog with the keyword Autism, you’ll find that there are in the vicinity of 100 posts we’ve done about the condition and its variegated issues.  Almost by definition, any individual calling her or himself a behavioral or developmental optometrist, or any optometric vision therapist working with such an individual, will encounter a significant number of children who either have characteristics of children on the autistic spectrum or who already been identified as having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  One of the more comprehensive guides that incorporates the role of Optometry in caring for this population is Outsmarting Autism by Patricia Lemer, available through OEPF.


What seems to be universally recognized is that Autism is a very sensitive issue.  Autism Speaks has a training kit, incorporating the following video, oriented toward educators in recognizing signs and symptoms considered, at the very least, to be ‘risk factors’ that a child will be formally diagnosed as being on the spectrum.  You’ll notice that the video was released in 2008 when the CDC stat was that 1 in 150 children in America have ASD whereas now, eight years later, the figure stands at 1 in 68.

ASD has taken center stage on the Internet this weekend due to speculation fueled by a Rosie O’Donnell Tweet about why Donald Trump will be moving into the White House after the inauguration in January, but his wife and their son will not (photo by Eric Thayer for the New York Times).


The backlash against Rosie O’Donnell, who is the parent of a child with ASD, was predictable.  Mainstream ASD advocates cautioned against such speculation, most forcefully another mother of a child with ASD, Shannon Penrod, the host of Autism Live.  Her point is that the Trumps have not publicly acknowledged that Barron is on the spectrum, and therefore it is inappropriate for anyone to point out whether or not he has signs and symptoms compatible with the diagnosis.

It was Trump’s public position about vaccines during his campaign that focused a spotlight of sorts on his interest and his potential connection to autism issues.  Autism advocate Dan Olmstead, the editor of Age of Autism,  called attention to Trump’s conservative stance on vaccines.  In fact, without any political commentary intended, I was struck by the President-Elect’s reasoned approach to the subject.  The First-Lady-To-Be has identified anti-cyberbullying as her cause, which aroused its own interesting set of reactions.

I raise this issue here because we have all had patients we encounter who seem to have characteristics of ASD, but who have not been formally diagnosed as such.  The events of this past week elevate to the public arena a dilemma that many of us have faced privately – that is, deciding what to say and what not to say based on observations and experiences.  And if something is to be said, how and in what context to say it.


5 thoughts on “Autism Issues on a Very Public Stage

  1. Thanks so much for plugging my book, Len. And thanks to OEP for carrying it. The book has its own website and Facebook page, where I post periodic updates.

  2. Outsmarting Autism book is on display at my office in two locations. I have had many parents pick it up and, after looking for a few minutes, ask questions that needed to be asked. This book goes far beyond Autism. I recommend this book to all parents whose children are struggling. In our world where toxicity is causing so much dysfunction cleaning things up for children can only have positive benefits. I am very thankful for Patty’s guidance over the past many years and feel much more confident in my understanding of Autism and the variants of neurological dysfunction we see as developmental optometrists after working to understand the many variables. Talking with parents about Autism is not easy but can become easier the more you learn. Knowledge helps to remove the possible perceived judgement that can come with this topic.

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