An interesting issue arose this week when Charlene, Charlie’s mom, told me about how she was hurt by a text she received where someone she had considered a friend called Charlie “retarded.” She posted her concern and quite a Facebook conversation ensued in support of Charlene and Charlie. The word used which caused hurt to Charlene was mean-spirited, but more importantly, scientifically wrong. But that such a controversy still can arise today shows how little is known by the general public about autism. One goal of our film is to address the issue: “what is autism?” We will address the old, discarded theories about autism that have led to this seeming confusion about autism among many today, and present current scientific knowledge and research to provide a better understanding of this very important issue.
The hurt Charlene suffered is characterized by how children with autism were regarded less than a century ago. It is hard to believe, based upon today’s scientific knowledge, that in the early 20th century a child with symptoms that science now knows are on the autism spectrum received labels such as “defective,” “imbeciles,” “morons” or even “schizophrenics” by medical professionals. And these same medical professionals advised the parents of these children to institutionalize their children. And shame was often attached to a parent who did not have a “normal” child. Then from the 1940’s into the 1960’s, medical authorities put forth the theory that autism was caused by the child’s mother not loving the child. The term “refrigerator mother” was derogatorily used to say that the mother must have been cold and undemonstrative to the child to cause their “disorder.” Not until the 1960’s did the emergence of the theory that there was an organic, neurological origin to autism finally arise. And since then, significant scientific research into the neurological basis of autism has occurred, and treatments to help the child with impairments caused by autism have developed. Our film will show that Charlene and Swifty have shown enormous love to Charlie, and that Charlie is a sweet, happy child, but that he has autism. Our film will show how hard Charlie works every day with his therapists to learn to communicate and function, and how hard his parents work at home to increase these skills, and how far Charlie has come in the four years we follow him. With these scenes, we hope that children with autism are never seen with derision, but only with love.