We were living in St. Paul, Minnesota, when my own son Charlie, who is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, was diagnosed. Charlie is 15 and just around the same age as the Minnesota teenager. I can’t help wondering if we might have crossed paths with him, or with his parents, years ago.
Caring for Autistic Children and Cultivating Unique Abilities
I’m stunned at the cruel and inhumane treatment the teenager suffered. It is especially abhorrent for me to read about this as, just a generation ago, parents were blamed for causing a child to “become” autistic due to mistreating him or her, by being so emotionally “frigid” that a young child lapsed into an “autistic withdrawal.” Parents of autistic children still often feel they have all eyes watching and accusing them for being bad parents and, therefore, bad people.
In reality, the parents we know are like those described in a New York Times Magazine article about 16-year-old Lars Sonne. His father, Thorkil, is the founder of Specialisterne, a Danish company that seeks to draw on the unique talents and abilities of autistic adults to train them for jobs in fields such as software testing. Speicalisterne has now opened offices in the U.S..
Software testing would not be suitable employment for Charlie, who has yet to master control of a computer mouse and, so far, reads only a few words. But like Sonne, my husband and I are ever at work cultivating Charlie’s particular abilities — his powerful memory, ability to place things in a precise order with attention to the minutest of details and athletic prowess (Charlie is a graceful runner and an avid bike rider). As a parent of a child so very different and yet singularly capable, we feel called to do all that we can to prepare him for the future.
I do not know what happened among the Danners that they decided that basement isolation, video camera surveillance and military drills — abuse — were how to treat their teenage son with Asperger’s. While there are certainly numerous challenges in raising Charlie, his toughest moments have taught us the power that more love and understanding always provide in caring for him.
I hope the Minnesota teenager can indeed have, as his father says, the “good childhood” that he more than needs and, even more, a good life among those who love and care for him.
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