Today’s autism vocabulary word is clinician. I was not familiar with this word until we started the autism evaluation process. Our son was evaluated by a group of clinicians. What is a clinician, you say? Well, apparently a doctor is a clinician but a clinician is not always a doctor. Still confused? Me too. Basically what I can extrapolate from multiple definitions is that a clinician is a person who does business in a clinic versus a research facility. For example, I teach cheerleading and dance classes. Were I to hold one of these classes in a clinic, I must therefore then be a dance and cheer clinician, right? I have searched high and low for a medical doctor to evaluate my son so we can get a second opinion on his diagnosis. I can’t find one. The closest I have come in the University of Minnesota Autism clinic has a pediatric neurologist on staff. I desperately wanted this person to see my son for an evaluation. However, I am told that usually the neurologist only gets involved when a child requires medication. The only person I can find which would seem to be the most qualified to diagnose autism is a neuropsychologist. Our son was evaluated by a psychologist, not a neuropsychologist. Another confusing question, what is a psychologist versus a neuropsychologist? Well, it seems that a ‘clinical’ psychologist is someone that can assess, diagnose and treat psychological and mental health problems. Whereas a neuropsychologist can assess, diagnose and treat psychological disorders associated with brain-based conditions. Autism clearly falls under the latter. After calling multiple autism specialty practices, I have found that almost all of them use a psychologist instead of a neuropsychologist to diagnose autism. For me, that is a problem. Right now, believing in autism is comparable to believing in Jesus and God. I believe in Jesus and God because at a minimum there were eye witness accounts. No one has ever seen autism.
I am 36 years old. My first 31 years were spent in Denver. I remember knowing two autistic children my entire life. I worked with both of them in high school when I was employed in a day care center. These two kids were both non-verbal and both were girls. I gave birth to my first child in Colorado and he doesn’t have autism. In 2011, we made the decision to move to Minnesota.
We had lived in Minnesota for five months when I got pregnant with our second child. I heard the word autism mentioned more times than I can count during my pregnancy. I was so paranoid about it. Why is this such a hot topic here? I was so relieved when we did the pull up test with our son at 6 months and his head did not drop back. I thought we were in the clear. Fast forward 3 years and we have an ASD diagnosis and I am told that it is likely caused by genetic and environmental factors. I will have to get into the genetic stuff another time. That is another can of worms (stay tuned for ‘Now my husband and I both have autism’). It is the environmental part I find intriguing. Why does Minnesota boast some of the highest rates of autism? All the experts keep telling me it is because there is better detection and funding here so more cases are found. I don’t know if I buy that. With a rate of 1 in 42 boys, that is an epidemic. Maybe the state should be spending some of that money in research because that number is startling to me. I definitely feel like there are more people here who want my child to be autistic. Minnesotans have a social etiquette that consists of passive-aggressiveness, indifference and a strong dislike for honest and direct people who go against the status quo. I think spirited children that don’t fit the public education mold are very easily labeled as autistic. All I know is that I have to consider the possibility that Minnesota caused my child’s autism or Minnesota just labeled my child with autism. Either way, it’s Minnesota’s fault.
P.S. The best information I have read about autism is one by Steve Phelps in The Atlantic. It references a book by Steve Silberman called NeuroTribes. The following statement is our new household motto. “Autism advocates coined the term ‘neurotypical’ to label normalcy as a disorder of social obsession and chatty conformity; this playful inversion is a reminder that sometimes people suffer simply by the numerical accident of rarity”.