"My Daughter Has Autism"
The Child Psychiatrist
Jeff Bostic, M.D., Ed.D., assistant professor
The worst part: At age 2, Lisa (name changed to protect her privacy) didn't make eye contact, and she didn't talk. At all. I'm a child psychiatrist, and I teach other child psychiatrists who work in schools. Dealing with autism is a big part of what we do. I also see plenty of kids with autism in my private practice. Even so, it was really difficult for my wife and me to accept that Lisa was autistic. Nothing prepares you for that.
You don't need a top expert to get the best care: At first, I suggested high-powered specialists, but my wife, Robin, said, "Why don't we just have her evaluated by our school district?" It's turned out to be the best decision we made. Parents mistakenly assume their pediatrician will make a diagnosis, but school districts -- which are mandated to evaluate children long before they're old enough to start school -- are usually the best first stop. Early intervention is so important.
Build a team: Lisa, has always attended regular school (not all kids with autism can), and we discovered that finding allies can turn an okay school experience into an excellent one. For us, it was staff members at Lisa's preschool, who spotted right away that she was good at basketball.
Let go of your anger: Parents want to blame someone -- a pediatrician, the school district, the people who sell vaccines. But having children isn't like buying a car. You don't get to choose the model and color you want.
What I tell parents who ask, "What would you do if it were your child?": I remind them to look at the big picture. Parents get very focused on being their child's advocate, which is important, but you can get so consumed with demanding 26 hours of therapy or this service or that service that you forget about what all children -- with or without a disability -- need. Does your child get to go to the playground, and is it fun? Does she have friends? My experience with Lisa has made me more compassionate with parents. I never give parents false hope, but I say, "Here's what you can do to help your child be the child she was meant to be."
Making sense of the vaccine controversy: There's just not sufficient medical evidence to believe that mercury in vaccines causes autism. When we had our second daughter, Basie, two years after Lisa, we chose to vaccinate her. There's also not enough evidence to support chelation (to remove mercury from the body) as an autism treatment. My role is to give families as much accurate information as possible but to respect their decisions as long as the child's health is not in jeopardy.
Enjoy your child: We tend to think we're supposed to help kids with autism catch up to other children, and that's just a horrible pressure on everyone. We're very hopeful about Lisa's future. There are so many things she's great at. She has perfect pitch, plays several instruments, and sings in the school chorus. And she's really good at sports. We plan on her going to college, and we're saving for it.