Oprah Devotes Show to Autism
On Thursday, April 5, The Oprah Winfrey Show devoted a full hour to autism.
Portions of Autism Speaks’ documentary Autism Every Day were featured throughout the program, entitled The Faces of Autism.
Michele Pierce Burns, Jesse Mojica and Katie Wright talk with Oprah
Katie Wright discusses her son, Christian, on Oprah
JANUARY 10, 2018
The Oprah Winfrey Show
The Faces of Autism: A mystery affecting millions of families. The heartbreak and the hope…inside families living with autism. More »
Living with Autism
It’s a national health threat that strikes 1 in every 150 children. Families affected by this mysterious disease speak out.
Autism Red Flags
Do you think your son or daughter is different from other children? Dr. Anshu Batra shares common warning signs of autism
- Find more information about autism and watch part of the documentary Autism Every Day at http://www.autismspeaks.org.
- More resources for parents and families living with autism
It’s been called a national health threat by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s not childhood obesity or leukemia. In fact, this mysterious disease affects more children than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
Autism is a neurological disorder that strikes as many as 1 in every 150 children and affects millions of families worldwide. Every day, 67 children in America are diagnosed with this disease. That’s one new case every 20 minutes.
According to the CDC, autism is one of a group of disorders known as “autism spectrum disorders.” Children with autism may have trouble interacting socially and communicating and may exhibit unusual behaviors. The severity of the disease varies from child to child. Some attend public school and are considered “high-functioning,” while others go their entire lives without ever saying a word.
Currently, there is no known cause and no known cure. But, if you’re living with autism, there is no mystery about how difficult and devastating it can be. In the documentary Autism Every Day, eight families living with autism speak out about their struggles.
“This is the national health crisis of our time,” says Katie, the mother of an autistic son. “This is bigger than AIDS. This is bigger than breast cancer, and almost no attention seems to be paid to it.”
Diagnosing the disease »
[Note: Autism is NOT a disease, but a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.]
Michele, Jesse and Katie are three of the parents featured in the documentary. Like many families, they searched for explanations for their sons’ unusual behavior for years before finally receiving the correct diagnosis.
Katie says her son Christian progressed normally for the first two years of his life. “He walked, talked, did everything on time,” she says. “[He was] a beautiful, loving little boy.”
Then, Katie began to notice a regression in his development. “I noticed he was losing words, and I thought I was crazy,” she says. “I thought I was doing something wrong.” Instead of saying, “I love you, Mommy,” Katie says her son would stare at her blankly like he didn’t understand her anymore.
A pediatrician chalked Christian’s behavior up to the fact that Katie had just given birth to a new baby, but she says she knew there was something else wrong. Eventually, Christian was diagnosed with autism.
Jesse’s son Adam also developed normally at first. Then, when he was 18 months old, Jesse says the twinkle in his son’s eyes started to fade away. “It was just devastating because I was losing my boy to a world that I didn’t understand or could comprehend,” he says.
Like many Americans, Jesse says the only example of autism he had ever seen was in the movie Rain Man. “I said, ‘Adam’s not like Rain Man,'” he says. “That was my reference.”
When Michele first noticed that her son Danson was behaving differently, she says she mistakenly thought he was going deaf. After many misdiagnoses, she also learned the truth.
Uncontrollable behaviors »
Each autistic child is unique in his or her own way. Some exhibit classic symptoms like repetitive behaviors, verbalization issues and sensory issues—like sensitivity to light, sound and touch. Other children have trouble sleeping, eating adult food and becoming toilet-trained.
One common symptom is known as “stimming,” which is short for self-stimulatory behavior. This physical manifestation of the disease is erratic, repetitive and sometimes uncontrollable. Some children may clap their hands repeatedly, while others may grind their teeth or jump up and down.
Anna, Jesse’s wife and Adam’s mother, says her son is into head-banging. “He loves to bang his head against you,” she says. “Sometimes it hurts.”
Katie says Christian uses hand gestures to express himself. She and her husband have tried to redirect these movements toward productive activities, like playing a musical instrument or participating in physical activities.
The creativity and vigilance required to raise an autistic child can be exhausting for some parents. “[It’s] physically draining,” Jesse says. “You’re constantly watching, and if you’re not watching, someone else has to watch and see what he’s doing [and] try to redirect him, try to keep him connected in our world as opposed to the world he wants to drift off into.”
Some parents go to great lengths just to get their child’s attention. “Sometimes you just feel so small,” Michele says. “Just to get your child to look at you, you will do anything.”
Sacrificing it all for autism »
Jesse and Anna sold their home and moved in with Anna’s mother so they could afford their son’s therapy and medical treatment. “We had to make that choice for Adam,” Jesse says. “I loved that house. I remember walking out, and I just looked at that house for one last time. It was almost like looking at my life that could have been.”
The stress of raising an autistic child also takes a toll on many marriages. Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization, reports that the divorce rate within the autism community is staggering. According to their research, 80 percent of all marriages end. Michele’s first marriage was one of them.
[Autism Myth: The 80% divorce rate by non-Autistic parents of an autistic is a myth. This myth is promoted by Autism Speaks and organizations like them. The statement was one of many used to generate fear and raise donations. ]
“Having a child who needs what Danson needs made it really difficult for me to balance my life and be a mother and have a job and be a wife,” Michele says. “I didn’t give that marriage what I could have because I had nothing left to give.”
Now, Michele says she and her ex-husband are best friends, and she’s happily remarried. “My husband, Michael, came in and made this choice to love us and to be with us,” she says. “He’s a calming force in Danson’s life.”
What causes autism? »
Dr. Anshu Batra is a specialist on autism at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She’s also the mother of two autistic sons.
She says diagnosis of autism rests on three main developmental deficiencies—impaired language, impaired social interaction and repetitive behavior. But Dr. Batra says that because autism is a spectrum disorder, it affects everyone who has it in a different way. “You could have a very severely impacted individual with [no] language. Or, on the other spectrum, have a very high-functioning individual who has plenty of language but may not be able to use it socially, or has some odd behaviors but could go and be in a typical classroom setting.”
The warning signs of autism.
According to Dr. Batra, the medical community believes autism is caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers like infections, viruses or trauma at birth. While some parents claim that one of the possible triggers may be linked to childhood vaccinations, the CDC says they found no evidence to support that vaccines cause autism.
Life with an autistic brother »
As difficult as it is to be the parent of an autistic child, it can be just as difficult to have an autistic brother or sister. Andrew, whose younger brother David has autism, says, “The hardest part is being lonely. I wish I had somebody to play with.”
“Sometimes when my friends come over and he does something really embarrassing it kind of makes me feel like, ‘Why does it happen to me?'” Andrew says. “And it makes me feel like I’m just different from everybody else and I’m trapped inside my own world like David is.”
Sometimes he feels upset that the family seems to revolve around David. “I just think they should give me some attention, too. He gets all the attention every day, every second of my life, so, like, I’m just off in my own world.”
Andrew also wants other people to see all the great things about David. “What I want people to know is that he’s not dumb, but he is really smart in his own way. He can swim really well. He can Rollerblade as well as I can. He can do so many things and he’s really lovable. He loves to be with his family.”
Scott—Andrew and David’s father—says juggling his sons’ unique needs “is a constant balancing act and there’s a lot of guilt involved.”
The positive effects of therapy »
Though speech, occupational and physical therapies can ease the isolation of autistic children, they are time-consuming. “Every two hours throughout the day, between 8 and 6:30, someone else comes in the room,” Michele says about the in-home care her son, Danson, gets. “I spend about four hours a day in the room.”
The hard work sometimes pays off…in a big way. Michele says her son recently spoke to her by spelling out words on a letter board. “The first thing he said to me was m-o-m, s-o-r-y,” she says. “He went on to say his best friend is Mom. He went on to say for his birthday he wants jeans and an iPod.”
It’s important to note that what works for some autistic children may not work for all of them.
Dr. Batra says early intervention and therapy have also helped her autistic sons make great progress and achieve higher function. Her youngest son is now “mainstreamed.”
How you can help »
Parents of autistic children often absorb the disapproving stares and comments of others—especially other parents—when their children become disruptive or do something society considers inappropriate. “There’s always the parents who say, ‘Can’t you just keep your child quiet?’ Michele says.
“Because they’re not in a wheelchair, or they’re not blind or not visibly disabled, they’re really harshly judged,” Katie says.
“What families and children with autism…what we really need is compassion and understanding. And what so often we’re confronted with is scorn and disdain,” says Alison, the mother of a 9-year-old autistic daughter. “It would be so much more valuable for people when they see a family struggling with a child with autism in a restaurant or on an airplane to say, ‘Can I help you?’ Or just to offer a knowing smile. Because that’s not a child who is acting out, that’s not a mother who doesn’t know how to control her child or who’s a bad mother. That’s a family that’s doing the best they can.”
Despite the difficulties of raising an autistic child, it can be an amazing experience, too. “I often said that years ago I was looking for a ‘love past infinity’—that’s what I would call it, something that I loved greater than myself. And when Adam came into my life, it was that love past infinity,” Jesse says. “The love that he gives me, the way that he goes through all of this therapy and he’s always positive. The simplest things are so difficult for him to do, and he tries his best. It’s just made me a better person, a more patient person.”
Find support and parenting advice.
Oprah’s Message Forums are connected to the ‘help and advice’ link.
Resources for Parents
From the shows The Faces of Autism and Jenny McCarthy and Holly Robinson Peete—Their Fight to Save Their Autistic Sons
Millions of families around the world are affected by autism. Find out more about the disease, learn how to cope and meet other people living with autism through these organizations:
[Note: Autism is NOT a disease, but a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.]
National Autism Association
The Help Group
Please note that Harpo Productions, Inc. and its affiliated companies and entities (including, but not limited to The Oprah Winfrey Show,) have no affiliation with and do not endorse those entities or websites referenced above, which are provided solely as a courtesy. You should conduct your own independent investigation before donating to any charity or organization. Information is provided for your reference only.
Autistic people have fought the inclusion of ABA in therapy for us since before Autism Speaks, and other non-Autistic-led autism organizations, started lobbying legislation to get it covered by insurances and Medicaid.
ABA is a myth originally sold to parents that it would keep their Autistic child out of an institution. Today, parents are told that with early intervention therapy their child will either be less Autistic or no longer Autistic by elementary school, and can be mainstreamed in typical education classes. ABA is very expensive to pay out of pocket. Essentially, Autism Speaks has justified the big price tag up front will offset the overall burden on resources for an Autistic’s lifetime. The recommendation for this therapy is 40 hours a week for children and toddlers.
The original study that showed the success rate of ABA to be at 50% has never been replicated. In fact, the study of ABA by United States Department of Defense was denounced as a failure. Not just once, but multiple times. Simply stated: ABA doesn’t work. In study after repeated study: ABA (conversion therapy) doesn’t work.
What more recent studies do show: Autistics who experienced ABA therapy are at high risk to develop PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions. Historically, the autism organizations promoting ABA as a cure or solution have silenced Autistic advocates’ opposition. ABA is also known as gay conversion therapy.
The ‘cure’ for Autistics not born yet is the prevention of birth.
The ‘cure’ is a choice to terminate a pregnancy based on ‘autism risk.’ The cure is abortion. This is the same ‘cure’ society has for Down Syndrome.
This is eugenics 2021. Instead of killing Autistics and disabled children in gas chambers or ‘mercy killings’ like in Aktion T4, it’ll happen at the doctor’s office, quietly, one Autistic baby at a time. Different approaches yes, but still eugenics and the extinction of an entire minority group of people.
Fact: You can’t cure Autistics from being Autistic.
Fact: You can’t recover an Autistic from being Autistic.
Fact: You can groom an Autistic to mask and hide their traits. Somewhat. … however, this comes at the expense of the Autistic child, promotes Autistic Burnout (this should not be confused with typical burnout, Autistic Burnout can kill Autistics), and places the Autistic child at high risk for PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions.