I can distinctly remember the first time that I ever heard of autism. I was in high school and there was an article in Rolling Stone called "The Kids With The Faraway Eyes". I was completely intrigued by it, and I'm pretty sure that I even wrote a school paper about it.
I was curious if my memory served me correctly, so I went back into the magazine's archives and found the article. It was published in March of 1979, which would have made me a 16 year old sophomore. Ted Nugent is on the cover -- I'd like to say that he wasn't the reason that I bought the issue, but I couldn't swear to it. I had, after all, seen the Nuge at the Super Bowl of Rock at Soldier Field, headlining a bill that included .38 Special, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and REO Speedwagon. Devil horns, y'all!
In addition to the scintillating interview with Nugent ("I'll be cuttin' some real nostril-flaring farts by the time we hit Fort Wayne"), there are stories on the Clash and Toto, reviews of albums by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Firefall, and Phoebe Snow, and an obituary for Sid Vicious. Sandwiched amongst all of that 70's fabulousness is the article that I remember. When I read it back in the day through my teenage eyes, I could never have dreamt that almost precisely 25 years later I would give birth to a child who would be diagnosed with the very same disorder.
Before I re-read it, I wondered if I would be struck by how much in the dark ages it would seem compared to today or if, 31 years on, I would be depressed at how little had changed. My first time through it seemed to be unfortunately the latter. Much of the article could have been written today. The author visited self-contained classrooms and described behaviors that he seemed bewildered by, but are old hat to us now: self-stimulatory behaviors (he mentions them flicking fingers in front of their faces and rocking), sensory processing (one child had a meltdown when he had to transition from walking on a rug to linoleum) speech delays and echolalia (one child sang "McDonald's is yer kinda place, it's such a happy place!" Who else remembers that jingle?). The teachers were using behavioral therapies that aren't all that different from Audrey's therapies today. But there were some important differences, and I will highlight those in my next post. In general, I wish that we had come further in three decades, but I'm still happy to have an autistic child now rather than 31 years ago. But I wonder what they will say about us 31 years from now?