Thursday, April 16, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--with Jeffrey Cohen

Today I welcome back Jeffrey Cohen, an author of many talents. Not only does he write the Double Feature Mystery series, but he's also written books on Asperger Syndrome (both fiction (the Aaron Tucker Mysteries) and non-fiction).

The Arts section of yesterday's (Wednesday's) New York Times had, across five columns on the bottom of the front page, an article about Rupert Isaacson, a travel writer who took his autistic son to Mongolia "to ride horses and seek the help of shamans," and waddaya know, to pick up an advance of more than a million dollars to write "The Horse Boy" about that experience. Not to mention the movie option and the documentary film made about the trip.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about Mr. Isaacson, and he sounds like a very nice man who did literally everything he could to help his son. I applaud his initiative and dedication. But as those familiar with me or my writing will recall, I have a son who has Asperger Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) and have written about it, interviewed a great many parents, teachers, doctors, and people with autism spectrum disorders. And I worry that the "healing" that occurred with Mr. Isaacson's son Rowan after his Mongolian trip will inspire too many people to go to similar lengths seeking the same results, which seem, unfortunately, unlikely to recur.

The Times article (which, oddly enough, ran on the same day as the full-page, full-color ad for the book on the back page of the paper's "A" section) says Little, Brown, which published "The Horse Boy" paid the advance even before the trip was undertaken, and has received enough orders to justify a 150,000-copy first printing.

That's probably even more books than Jenny McCarthy sold with her book explaining how she "cured" her son of his autism with intensive therapy and a gluten-free diet. I have no doubt Ms. McCarthy's son is doing much better, and it's even possible the lack of bread in his diet helped. But every doctor on the planet will tell you there's no cure for autism, and there isn't one on the horizon, either.

April is Autism Awareness Month. That probably had something to do with the timing of "The Horse Boy"'s publication. And Mr. Isaacson's tale (which I have not yet read) is, I'm certain, an uplifting and hopeful one. Good for him. I'm glad when anything anyone does to help a child or adult with a spectrum disorder seems to work.

But if this leads to a wave of people consulting Mongolian shamans to "heal" their children, or if it makes people think my son has problems with incontinence or "demonic tantrums," (I've lived through Rain Man and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time, so I know how public opinion tends to fixate on one depiction of autism as The Way It Is), then I have to wonder whether it's really the right message to send.

And what's bugging YOU today?
Aspergercopy-sm_border Jeffrey Cohen is the author of two books on Autism: Guns A' Blazing: How Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum and Schools Can Work Together Without a Shot Being Fired and The Asperger Parent: How to Raise a Child with Asperger Syndrome and Maintain Your Sense of Humor. For more information on these books, visit Jeffrey's website.