Public Broadcasting System
Robert MacNeil was inspired to do a six-part PBS series on autism because his grandson Nick is autistic. In the first segment we are introduced to Nick and his mother Alison and learn about his case in particular.
Robert and Alison both seem to understand that autism involves more than just what is above the neck. There clearly are digestive and other issues involved that require a whole body approach to the condition. Alison also noticed that trouble started after a vaccination was given to Nick. MacNeil’s response was, “I understand Alison’s suspicion, but public health authorities say there is no scientifically valid evidence that vaccines cause autism. And Alison found little support from the developmental pediatrician.” That attitude sets the tone for the remainder of the series.
The next segment examines a family with three autistic boys. It is not surprising that the oldest has the least severe problem and the youngest has the most severe autism. Then it is time for the experts to weigh in. This goes about as well as it always does when you see experts on TV. There are always many, many words, some of them ridiculously long, which can all be analyzed, distilled down and summarized by three simple words: We don’t know.
Dr. David Amaral provides a classic example of expert doublespeak: “Clearly, thirty years ago we didn’t know any genes that conferred risk of autism. Now, we know that there’s at least twenty or more that seem to be associated with autism. The interesting thing, though, is that any particular gene that you might find that is related to autism is only related to about 1 to 2 percent of the cases of autism. So there—I think what’s clear now is that there’s not going to be a single autism gene. But there are many, many.”
Clearly, Dr. Amaral is trying very hard not to admit that genetics are a dead end to explain the current explosion of autism cases, but if he can’t do any better than that, I am forced to conclude that genetics are a dead end, especially when significant genetic aberrations are historically not known to arise out of thin air in only a few decades.
Much more mindless babble from experts is followed by an exploration of the impact of autism on the nation’s education system. New York City schools have more than seven thousand students with autism. Schools in general are overloaded and don’t have the resources to deal with the flood of autistic students. This is yet another one of many ways public schools don’t make the grade.
The ensuing section points up the lack of government programs for adults with autism. Apparently everyone with autism is doomed without government help. Here we go with more inside-the-box thinking that I don’t quite follow. If the government is so good at solving problems, why have cancer rates gone up so much since Nixon declared war on cancer almost forty years ago? And how is Johnson’s even older war on poverty going?
I suppose since PBS only exists thanks to government funding, that attitude is to be expected. The final section continues a little further down that path by asking how taxpayers who are already overloaded will handle the additional burden. Consistent with the rest of the series, there are no real answers to these questions either. This series may be useful for raising awareness if you don’t get much news in your cave but if you are looking for any innovative ideas you will be disappointed and my disappointed but not surprised thumb is DOWN.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2011.