Speaking out for People with
 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Autism Surge: Lies, Conspiracies, and My Own Kids

By Jill Escher,  July 20, 2023
Rates of autism are skyrocketing. The question isn’t just why—but what we need to do about it right now, and what’s holding us back.

In the summer of 2001 we took our younger son, two-year-old Jonathan, to the neurologist. He hadn’t developed speech, never played with toys, and had a compulsion to stare at cracks in the pavement while flapping his hands. The diagnosis was almost instant: autism. “He has it in spades,” the doctor said.

Autism? We had hardly heard the term growing up, and we had nothing remotely like it up our family trees. My pregnancy was healthy and free from risk factors. Yet here we were, handed a devastating diagnosis, with our son sentenced, for no reason we could discern, to a lifetime of severe mental impairment. And it wasn’t just Jonny. All around us grew a rapidly rising tide of autism. The numbers were surging in the local school districts. The regional developmental disability agency had become overwhelmed with new autism intakes. Serious autism, hard autism—not a sort anyone would have missed before.

When I was pregnant five years later, doctors assured me it was unlikely lightning would strike twice, especially because Jonny’s autism was not caused by some familial genetic defect, but by the time adorable Sophie was 16 months old, the signs were clear. No pointing, no peekaboo, no playing with toys. Like her brother, she met none of her cognitive or language milestones, not even close. Autism, again. In spades.

Today, despite extensive therapies and specialized schooling, both Jonny, 24, and Sophie, 17, remain nonverbal and profoundly disabled by autism. What does that look like? Well, the other day during our daily outing, Jonny found a tube of sunscreen in the car and rubbed it all over his shorts. Not exactly a good look, but undeterred, we entered the boba place for his favorite smoothie. Though I grasped the back of his t-shirt, he bolted out, and it’s beyond my capacity to wrangle the 180 pounds of him back in. Once settled in the car, he bit on an armrest.

Sophie, my cheerful constant companion, has a joyous smile, and unlike Jonny is so highly adaptable that she skis Tahoe’s tallest mountains and will happily chill at any Grateful Dead tribute concert. But like her brother she cannot talk, read, or write, or grasp even the most basic of abstract concepts—not even family or week or birthday. While young ladies her age are applying to college, she’s still not sure how to brush her teeth or put on her socks. Her learning is stuck, Groundhog Day-like, at a toddler level.

 Read Jill's full article in The Free Press, here