Autism is a painfully mysterious syndrome. We don’t know what causes it, although we do know that about 1 in 88 births will produce an autistic child. We know that it’s the fastest growing developmental disability in America, although we don’t know why. The commonly used treatments have limited effectiveness, so increasing numbers of adult autism sufferers cannot care for themselves, requiring costly life-long maintenance.
Part of autism’s mystery lies in the nature of the condition itself: in its most severe form, it leaves the autistic person entirely unable to communicate, either verbally or physically. It’s not just that someone with autism cannot speak. As most who have lived with or seen autism know, a child with serious autism seems entirely disconnected. Autistic children do not make eye contact and they don’t play. Instead, they flap their hands, roam around a room’s periphery, engage in endless repetitive activities, and seem locked away in their own world.
Some experts contend (erroneously, as it turns out) that autistic children dislike physical contact, cannot emote, and lack the capacity for loving. This seeming emotional isolation led the misogynistic Bruno Bettelheim to conclude that mothers caused autism when they (allegedly) withheld affection from their child. This wrongheaded theory inspired generations of loving mothers to suffer enormous guilt.
Even though Bettelheim has mercifully fallen by the wayside, non-verbal autism still contains many questions. This mystery is about to undergo a significant challenge, though, due to Ido (pronounced “Ee-doh”) Kedar, a 16-year old young man who has written about his journey from isolation to communication in Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison.