Navigating Autism

Last month I wrote the cover article for Pulse Magazine. It was more than just a look into autism and its causes and behavioral checklists for families—the type of articles I have written for parenting publications in the past. No, this article was an in-depth exploration into how families cope with the disorder and what resources are available to them. I was moved when talking with families who have tried multiple therapies and who have stayed together while sacrificing so much of their lives and personal time and careers to fight for the wellbeing of their children. While this magazine article is tailored for Southern California readers— the stories of the many families I interviewed will inspire you by their sheer determination and positive energy that seems boundless.

And boundless, positive energy is critical today after the American Psychiatric Association has endeavored to “redefine autism,” potentially limiting the numbers of families who will now qualify for assisted therapies. (See this New York Times article to read more on this unfolding development.) Even when facing an uncertain future in terms of assisted therapy and programs—each family I spoke with were determined to find alternative ways to help their children. If you’ve ever thought that one person couldn’t make a difference, I dare you to continue to think that way after hearing Sam Felsenfeld’s story. In honor of his son Jack, Sam ran a marathon each week in 2010—61 marathons and two ultra-marathons—to raise money for autism research and public awareness. He has raised more than $150,000 for Train4Autism and the 39-year-old father of three is still running. (You can read about his daily endeavors on his blog OperationJack.)


This morning I was inspired to write and promote my article on autism after watching a CNN brief about how a study determined that the age of sperm carries risk factors for delivering a child with autism. (Read this New York Times article to read more about how the age of the father carries potential risks for autism and Schizophrenia.) It’s certainly compelling. For many years the state of California has been deemed the state with the most autism cases in America. (Surprisingly, Utah just jumped ahead this year…) In fact, the number of children with autism has tripled in California since 2002. I recall attending a panel for Fit Pregnancy magazine (where I freelance often) and a doctor suggested that both environmental and genetic factors were to blame for the disorder’s rise. No one knows for sure, but determining that the age of sperm carries risk factors, is an important step—especially in the age of older parents and the popularity of fertility treatments. A Scientific American study revealed clusters of autism in California’s city centers (twice the national rate), which lends me to believe that there may be some validity in a link between the age of parents and autism risks. (As most people know, older, new parents can be found in larger cities where many delay having children until after pursing careers or higher educational goals.)

What do you think? Perhaps there is NO one risk. Perhaps it’s a whirlwind of factors that, when crashed together, puts your child at high risk. Perhaps it’s part genetic, part environmental and part age of sperm and/or egg. Why some children are on one end of the spectrum and fight just to attain speech—while others are born with less severe symptoms and race forward in therapy and are able to attend college and become independent—is baffling to experts. There is no one autistic child or one autistic experience. If you have a child with any level of this disorder—I’m sure you’re only concern is that of helping your child thrive and attend school and later to navigate social cues and be able to find a job and become independent as an adult. It can seem overwhelming to the outsider, but if it’s your child—it’s your passion and your life. I get it. Here’s hoping Obama’s healthcare endeavors will get more children—regardless of where they fall in the new and developing definition of the disorder—approved for assisted occupational therapies.

And finally, here’s hoping that more of us without autistic children teach our kids to become more accepting of others. Because, at the end of the day, we all need to embrace the wonderful and sometimes whimsical children with this disorder—as often times, they have much to teach us.

6 responses to “Navigating Autism

  1. KU-DOS Laura! Being the mom of a child with Autism and studying the disorder myself, along with my current work in brain sciences, I scoured your post and article for any disagreements; I found none. Very well done indeed!!!

    Up in the mountains for the week. How was Italy?

    Much love xx

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. This is very intriguing, I had heard studies that linked the Mother’s age, but never the Father’s age. I’m of the believe that being healthy is the determining factor, but that kind of goes hand in hand with age in today’s society. Great study and thoughts. I appreciate your insight!

  3. Laura,

    Very much liked the article… I am a father of two children, my son (6’4″) and now 22 is affected by Autism. I developed a comprehensive Lifespan process around financial and special needs planning, investment and wealth management wrapped with advocacy, services, and professional resource collaboration for these families, the businesses, professionals and organizations who serve and support these families. I am one of the only advisor on the west coast that actually focuses on this from “inside” this community… I continue to live the lifetime of challenges our families face and the devistating affects of funding cuts and service reduction.

    We should connect, Doug

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