Autism Awareness (and Prevention)
Warning: May contain many unpopular views and opinions or have been processed in a facility by a nut (myself). Tempting disclaimer, huh?
Though it may make me a heartless cynic to say so, I feel a bit overwhelmed with the constant conveyer belt of magnetic ribbons and colorful rubber bracelets showing up in popular culture, each promoting their own sincere cause. And I know where this unpopular perspective of mine comes from: I am the kind of person who is bothered when I feel that prevention is passively ignored, while the search for a cure is actively worshipped. So while it’s good when I give my money to research, no matter what the just cause, it’s also important to ask, “What can I do besides make myself feel good by giving money in the name of hope? What can I actually do?”
My Italian grandfather, who I was very close to, passed away due to cancer a couple of years ago, just a few weeks after I got married. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love have to suffer from something as awful as cancer. But just like he himself did as long as I knew him, I worship cancer’s prevention more than I do its cure. It puts the responsibility in my hands, not someone else’s. Granted, I really, really, really hope they find a cure for cancer. Soon.
In my scarcely read post, BS Detector, I explained it this way: “For all the millions of dollars we have donated to breast cancer research, the strongest findings they have released to us is this: The more fat a person consumes on a daily basis, the more likely they are to eventually get breast cancer. This does not necessarily mean that overweight people are more prone to breast cancer. Because some people eat a lot of fattening foods, yet stay slim.” So while my Shell Diet may seem a bit extreme, it’s my way of making the most of what researchers have actually learned so far from the millions of dollars we’ve donated to the good cause of cancer research. Granted, it’s not likely I am prone to get breast cancer, but I am overaware that what I eat is related to the chances of me getting or preventing some kind of cancer or disease.
In recent years, I have found myself to be confused when I see “Autism Awareness” magnets on cars. I have trouble understanding how I am supposed to physically react. If Autism Awareness is supposed to mean that people need to be aware of the symptoms of an Autistic person so that they can be more understanding when interacting with them as well as devoting a respecting reverence (not pity or indifference) towards the families of the Austistic; well, sure, I can agree to that. But now that I have a child, the term “Autism Awareness” means something entirely different to me than that.
The exact cause of Autism has yet to be determined, but everyone has their own suspicious reasons of why they think it is caused. Perhaps the most popular suspected cause of Autism is from vaccinations. Not me. While I am one of those kooky people who is very cautious of antibiotics and prescription drugs in general, yet strongly supports natural medicine for the suffering, including medical marijuana, I see no consistent evidence between vaccinations and Autism. Instead, the most convincing case I have heard of gained national attention in 2006 thanks to a Cornell University report: watching TV may cause young children to develop Autism.
In an article for Slate Magazine by Steve Easterbook, he explains that the reported number of Autistic cases shot up in 1980 (just a few months before I was born), when cable TV and VCR’s became the norm in American households. The instances of Autism were higher in states where the weather was gloomier (like Oregon and Washington) where children were more likely to stay inside and watch TV. Interestingly, cases of Autism are nearly non-existent in Amish communities where TV’s are nowhere to be found. But how could Autism possibly be tied in with TV time?
In 2009, I wrote a 14 part series called Manspeak (its table of contents is featured at the very bottom of this post), where I documented all my findings as a recent newlywed regarding the social and psychological differences between men and women. The most important theme was that men are wired to be black-and-white, “just the facts”, problem-solving machines who only process things one at a time. However, women are wired to be charismatic, “it’s a long story…”, emotional social networkers, who naturally are gifted at multi-tasking. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that according to this article in USA Today, males are four times more likely to develop Autism than females, and children who develop Autism almost always do so before the age of three years old.
To me, it’s very clear that Autism is a social disorder caused by one’s environment, not a physical disease. Obviously though, genetics may very well play a major part in it, as with most things. I believe that when human social contact is replaced by TV’s, it alters a child’s perception of social reality. So for me, it’s no surprise that the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends against any TV for children under the age of 2. Because it is during that time, especially for boys, that that the “social processing” part of the brain is being set-up for the rest of the child’s life.
It is my belief that when a child watches TV before their own social skills have largely developed (around age 2 or 3), the TV’s constantly changing camera angles, flashing lights, and switching channels, the child’s learns his or her social skills from the TV; therefore, Autism is developed. Obviously, people were Autistic before TV’s were around, by I have to believe that when children under the age of 2 or 3 watch TV, their chances of becoming Autistic are greatly increased.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard Autism described like this: ”It’s like having the channels constantly changed.” I take that familiar comparison as a major clue as to how Autism is largely caused. It makes sense that more boys are Autistic than girls: As previously mentioned, females are wired in a way that socially, everything is connected together and relevant. For males though, everything they do is compartmentalized. I believe that when young boys aren’t given the chance to develop their social skills on their own, unlike girls who naturally have more of a buffer or insurance against becoming Autistic because they tend not to compartmentalize things, their social life becomes compartmentalized, but with “changing channels”, as mimicked from the TV.
So how does this information affect how I handle my now 9 week old soon? I constantly make a conscious effort to make sure he is not facing our TV for any more than just a few minutes. Granted, the picture of him with my wife featured twice in this post was taken Monday night while The Bachelor was on: He was very intrigued by the women on the screen, as his facial expression reveals. (I write a recap of The Bachelor every week.) But as always, after a few moments of letting him see the bright lights of the TV, we turned him away and focused his attention elsewhere.
I know that children can develop Autism without ever seeing a TV in their life, but if I’m going to personally take “Autism Awareness” seriously, being aware of his exposure to TV early on (and by telling anyone else who is willing to listen) is a way I can actually do something and be involved in Autism Awareness.
Catch up on what you’ve missed from my 2009 series, “Manspeak”. Originally, I had intended to write a series about true masculinity for a male audience. Then I learned that the majority of my readers are actually female. So females, here’s a look into the wiring of the male mind and a reasoning for your man’s behavior. Just click on the title to read the post.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography: