Can You Be Awakened by Autism?

(This article was originally published in Hay House's Blog Heal Your Life)

For many people, it feels natural to perceive their child’s diagnosis of autism as a tragedy. But if we shift our beliefs about this condition and allow ourselves to see the brilliance in who our children are, then their health and well-being—as well as that of our families, and perhaps even our world—will improve beyond what we thought possible. My book, Awakened by Autism, has been written to help you see this possibility for yourself.

The Condition We Know as Autism

When you find out for the first time that a child in your life has autism, how do you feel? Do you feel exhilarated, like you just found out that he is a genius who is destined to become the President of the United States? Or do you feel devastated? Do you feel like the rug has been ripped out from under you? Do you feel that all of your hopes and dreams for the child have been dashed?

Like many other parents or caretakers, you may have felt deep disappointment, grief, frustration, and a level of pain that can be unbearable. I know; I was there. I remember feeling hopelessness and despair when my son Jack was first diagnosed. I remember the fear and uncertainty that constantly gnawed at me when I thought that he would never have any sort of meaningful relationships, and that he might not ever be able to respond to me when I spoke to him. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I certainly couldn’t see any glimmer of hope. I was devastated.

We are told autism is a lifelong condition. We are told that perhaps our child will never talk, or if he does, there is no hope for anything of substance to be shared. We hear that there is not much that can be done other than some behavior therapy and medication to control aggressive behaviors. Or worse, we hear that someday we may have to institutionalize our child.

As an emergency room physician, I had direct access to many biomedical therapies. I knew where to look for the latest innovations, had conversations with a variety of medical professionals, and had a viable frame of reference for implementing plans of action. If a cure existed for the condition we know as autism, I was in a prime position to find it. But the more I searched for a cure, the more disappointment I felt. I would learn about some miracle remedy or modality with a mechanism of action that had helped many different children diagnosed with autism—but it wouldn’t work for my Jack. This constant swinging back and forth between hope and disappointment wasn’t just difficult. It was excruciating. At times, it felt like torture.

The Possibilities of Autism

Unfortunately, tortuous could be a descriptor of our typical interactions with children with this condition. This was the case with a young boy from India named Tito. When he was five, he was brought to San Francisco to be evaluated by a panel of autism experts. He was placed in a room and given a straightforward assignment: he was to interpret a story that was read to him. He was asked by the man who was to read to him if he was ready to hear the story, and he acknowledged that he was. The man began reading.

When Tito was given a pencil and paper to complete his assignment, instead of writing about the story that was just read to him he wrote about other things entirely. He wrote about how beautiful the color green is and thoughts about sunshine on leaves.

When the evaluators saw what he wrote, they were confused. Why did he write what he did? Why didn’t he listen to the passage? They became pretty frustrated when Tito was unable to comply with their requests.

Later, when Tito described the experience, he reported how his senses began to focus on the reader’s voice more than his words. He saw the voice become long green- and yellow-colored strings. He said that the reader’s voice formed threads like raw silk and then he watched those strings vibrate with different amplitudes as the reader varied his tones.

The experts thought he had failed to follow instructions. But he was fully engaged in this vibratory show of colors, strings, and threads. He hadn’t interpreted the content of a story.

He had sensed beauty. When he heard the speaker’s voice, he was transported in his mind to a place where he could see the brilliant yellow light of the sun strike glistening green leaves and he became mesmerized by the wonder of it all.

What the stories like Tito’s teach us is that a diagnosis of autism is not a life sentence of hopelessness, struggle, and despair. With a different mind-set about this admittedly complicated condition, we have the opportunity to learn about a whole new way to relate to the world. We have the chance to tap into a higher aspect of ourselves, to hear something as common as someone’s voice reading a story and experience an exquisite beauty not typically discovered by most people. By knowing a child with autism, we have an opportunity to open ourselves up and reach for a life that far surpasses any previously held notions of what is possible. Such children open the door for us, should we choose to walk through it, to a life sentence not of turmoil and despair, but one of fulfillment and meaning. Through this diagnosis, we have the opportunity to live a life beyond what we ever imagined for ourselves and our child.

We have an opportunity to be awakened by autism and, in doing so, to help our children as well.

May we all be blessed with gratitude,

Andrea Libutti, MD