When my 15 year old son was diagnosed 12 years ago, most people told us "autism isn't treatable." Times have changed.
~ Peter Bell
One of the coolest things about living in the Boston area is the opportunity to have access to some of the most renowned experts in the field of autism. So when the e-mail landed in my inbox promoting the parent lecture series sponsored by the pioneering Ladders Clinic, I immediately started making childcare arrangements.
I was going.
My new friends, the locals, laugh at my excitement. I can’t help myself. I’m still in the ga-ga stage. To think that I can drive five miles and walk into a packed auditorium to hear the latest and greatest news in autism research is tantamount to my daughter scoring Hannah Montana tickets. Last week I attended the first lecture in the 2008 series. Speaking was Dr. Margaret Bauman, neurologist extraordinaire, founder of the MGH Ladders Clinic as well as co-founder of the Autism Treatment Network.
I should clarify that historically, I’ve hardly been the type of person that thought too terribly much about science. In school, I skated by, memorizing enough in my required science classes to make the necessary A, then immediately executed the brain dump as I exited the classroom at the end of the semester. English, history, music, football players … those were the subjects I truly enjoyed. Even now on occasion Andy attempts to engage me in a conversation about global warming or some other scientific subject. I have to focus, focus, focus to prevent my eyes from rolling back into my head, which is generally filled with the never-ending to-do’s of piano lessons, girl scouts, therapy sessions, basketball practice et al.
So I was both excited and admittedly a little proud of myself, lightweight suburban mom, as I settled into the back row at Dr. B.’s presentation. After all, I could be home watching American Idol. I was a little tired and hadn't had time for dinner, so I knew I might have to fight off the nods by the time she got to slide 57, but I sat up straight, pen in hand, ready to take notes.
The nods never hit.
Dr. B was engaging, honest, warm and hopeful. She discussed NIH grant review and the goings-on at the newly formed IACC. She discussed the latest genetic news, the most interesting to me being the discovery of the gene variant associated with the MET gene. (The majority of individuals with autism that have this gene variant also suffer from gastrointestinal issues. The majority of individuals with autism that don’t have this particular gene variant don’t have G.I. issues.)
She also described autism as a multi-organ disorder not limited to the brain. Looking at my iridescently pale little guy, with the hole in his heart and the occasional bout of asthma, that statement made perfect sense to me. My friends who have kids on the spectrum suffering with chronic G.I. issues I’m confident would concur.
Not only does Dr. B spend her time lecturing about the multi-organ nature of autism, she is actually doing something about it. Back when I was still in high school, she was reaching out to children with various neurological conditions, eventually starting the Ladders clinic. The success of Ladders led to the founding of the Autism Treatment Network, which recently announced a threefold expansion from five sites to fifteen. Hopefully they will be coming to a city near you in the very near future.
I stood in line to meet Dr. B after the presentation, wide awake and thankful. As the mom of a beautiful little boy with issues I can’t begin to figure out, I wanted to meet one of the good guys.
I told her about Jack and thanked her for her hard work.
She, of course, asked me how Jack is doing.
I smiled at her and replied with a renewed sense of optimism,
“Great. Just great…”
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