Valerie Foley

One Day on Mars…

In Environment, Medical, Research on August 2, 2013 at 11:10 pm

This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of Autism World Magazine.

One day, the medical profession will look back, from their shiny, flying car, teleporting Martian colony. They will look back at our degraded blue planet and they will see how badly they messed up in regard to autism in the early 21st century.

While they are comparing spacesuits and patting each other on the back about their forebears’ approach to dementia and diabetes and cancer, they will see the disservice they did to our children. They will see it, because they won’t be able to avoid it. It will be as in their faces then, as it is in ours now.

Our children, who are currently struggling to cope with being children, will be adults struggling to be adults.

While a fortunate few of their number may be innovators in useful fields, many may not. Lacking the requisite normalised life skills, their additional needs will be painfully apparent.

This will likely happen for three early 21st century reasons – all solve-able, all addressable, all confronting (and therefore unsolved and unaddressed).


The general population have been convinced to tip toe around adults living with autism. This tip toeing means no-one is permitted to say anything negative about autism, (except the odd anointed adult). We can’t say it’s a medical condition because sickness is a deficit. We can’t say it’s not OK for children to be permanently and unnecessarily disabled because that would be insensitive. So instead we say it’s a gift, a different not less-ism, at very worst a ‘challenge.’ People’s lips go to string when we say the word ‘disability.’

It is almost impossible to rally the forces of medicine and politics when the verbal face of the disorder is frantically yelling that the sky is not falling, they rather like the way it is burning the tips of their ears.


Doctors know a grand total of next to nothing about a disorder taking over the lives of 2% of the population. They have somehow decided that dysfunctional and atypical behaviour just happens – that there is no medical basis to something that stops children from talking, eating and sleeping. They seem agreed that completely disrupted gastrointestinal systems, immune conditions and seizures are nothing to raise flags about. There is little incentive for them to find out more because to do so would be to turn their very world on it’s head and spin it so fast the people would fall out.

It is impossible to arrest the development of a behavioural disorder of no known cause. So, we don’t. Instead, we recommend training kids not to behave ‘badly.’ Just like we would if they had the flu. Or not.


We have normalised the common, and lost touch with the typical. Autism is common – therefore it is normal. We have done this about more than autism. We think pop tarts are food. We think multi-nationals have our backs. We believe chemicals are better than weeds in our gardens.

So, we sit politely and allow doctors to tell us we should accept that every second child is speech delayed, has trouble making friends, screams blue murder because of the tags in their clothes or seams in their socks. We do more than accept their word, though, we then minimise it with platitudes about acceptance.

And by minimising it, we condone it in more and more and more children. Why not? It’s common.

But here’s the thing.

The doctors are trained to fix things. If we tell them we believe our children don’t need fixing, then guess what? They go fix the diabetics instead. They have strategies for that – diet, lifestyle, supplements, medication and ongoing rigorous roll of research aimed at understanding and preventing diabetes.

The kind of things autism needs to explore.

Resources are limited. There’s currently little money in autism prevention (given that you can’t patent a supplement and all those amphetamines and SSRIs won’t sell themselves)  – though all of that’s likely to change as the education/healthcare/welfare/housing systems start realising what’s heading their way.

There are only a few medical research facilities around the world that genuinely investigate autism as a medical condition and demand light be shed on child health policy; that listen to the life stories of autistic people and their carers.

Yet, there are educated and committed families everywhere yelling those same stories to deaf ears.

If we lived by the platitudes we throw around on social media, we would all agree that we would rather children weren’t disabled. No-one gets likes on Facebook by saying, ‘Spina bifida is awesome! Chill out on those pre-natal vitamins.’

We need the medical profession onside, and normalising a growing, debilitating, complexifying disorder won’t do that.

More children are disabled. More children are sick. More children are dying. A small number are coping, clearly buoyed by the power of blue light and rainbow puzzle pieces.

Doctors have nothing. Teachers are overwhelmed. Politicians have no imperative to magically multiply already stretched resources.

Yet, we have allowed ourselves to be convinced ‘autism’ is more important that people. We have prioritised the status of a concept, and the esteem of adults who live with it, over the health of actual people.

Give me a break: Give children a break.

Accept that if we can avoid autism, we should avoid autism. Just like we do with diabetes or dementia, where adults with the condition have the open-heartedness to admit it’s something worth avoiding if you can.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the air-locked schools and hospitals in the shiny new Mars colony weren’t still arguing about autism?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the future money could be spent on supporting clean living and healthy families.

Wouldn’t it be nice if children weren’t being left behind in that shiny utopia because their needs are minimised, confused or misunderstood?

Actually, wouldn’t it be nice if that was happening now?

If you would like to purchase Autism World Magazine, subscribe to the digital download via this page or if you have an iPad download the free app then purchase/subscribe from within the app.

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