My letter to the editor appears in the Washington Post Saturday, July 25, 2015 edition ... sort of. Here's the original, submitted version:
Your reporting trivializes the gravity of the adult autism crisis
As our country continues to grapple with the unprecedented catastrophe of the autism epidemic, it is startling to see the Post cast a positive spin on this incapacitating neurodevelopmental disorder (How autistic adults banded together to start a movement, July 20, 2015).
Yes, it is crucial to advance the idea of people disabled by neurological differences as inherently, or even pragmatically, valuable members of our society, It's too easy to slip into a "burden on society" mentality that leads to marginalization, neglect, contempt, and in the fairly recent past, death.
But our "autism dictionary" has not remotely kept up with the sweep of this epidemic, and a single, vague word that encompasses such a spectrum from nonverbal, cognitively disabled self-abusers, to normal-ish people creates predictable confusion and dissent.
The (non-DSM) Aspie fringe profiled in the article sugarcoats autism at a time when our society needs to understand the terrible gravity of our situation. California, for example, had about 3,000 residents with severe forms of autism in the mid-1980s. Today, that number is nearly 80,000, and does not include higher-functioning forms. The number of severely autistic adults will double in the next five years, and triple in the next ten. And we have few in any programs or housing to serve this vast population of disabled, dependent adults incapable of caring for themselves, and no plans to improve the collapsing, overburdened system.
A study from UC Davis published this week finds that the steep increase in autism means this one disability could pose an economic burden of 3.6% of the US GDP in just ten years. Now that should be your front-page news.
San Jose, CA
President, Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area
And here's the edited version they ended up running:
Hey, it's better than nothing — the numbers are steadily surging, the program and housing needs are bottomless, and yet our media continues to put a smiley face on this devastating epidemic. The opinion staff at the Post were good to at least publish something that calls out the escalating social services crisis. Someday we as a society will wake up, and that can't happen soon enough.