Autism: TV and Books are great, but the Difference Maker will be Policy

Reading John Harris’s wonderful column “We have put Autism on TV but can’t accept it in real life,” made me wonder if England is ahead of the U.S on Autism.

Mr. Harris begins his article pointing to a new and popular television program, as evidence much is being done to educate people on Autism.

Not that long ago, autism seemed to be a subject largely confined to the fringes of the media; now, all of a sudden, it seems to be absolutely everywhere. On BBC1 there is The A Word, a kind of high-end soap opera built around the travails of a family trying to help their autistic son. Last week’s issue of the Economist had autism as its cover story, with the headline “Beautiful minds, wasted”.

John Harris, We have put Autism on TV but can’t accept it in real life

He highlights some of the political activity going on in England, which made me long for a more informed and effective public awareness campaign here in the U.S.

To add to the noise, next Thursday the House Of Commons will host a three-hour debate about autism, which has made it on to the order paper thanks to the Tory MP Cheryl Gillan. The occasion will be a belated recognition of World Autism Week (which ended on 8 April). The motion cites “a lack of understanding of the needs of autistic people and their families”, and calls on the government to “improve diagnosis waiting time” – a big issue that sits at the heart of the predicament of thousands of people who need official recognition of their condition to get any kind of support. It also calls for “a public awareness campaign so that people can make the changes that will help the UK become autism-friendly”.

John Harris, We have put Autism on TV but can’t accept it in real life

He reminds us as far as we have come, we cannot be satisfied with the current state of things, because it is not nearly enough.

Our culture still too often couches autism in terms of pity or fear as an essentially Victorian sensibility lingers on. But we are moving towards a new world in which autistic people and their families advocate for themselves. For them, the current noise about autism perhaps highlights a inevitable phase of any struggle against ignorance: the point at which you know you’ve come a long way but still have light years to go.

John Harris, We have put Autism on TV but can’t accept it in real life

America  has made great progress with regard to disabilities in general and Autism specifically, but after twenty years on this journey, it would be unwise to be satisfied.

TV and books are great, but the real difference maker will be policy.