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Profound aloneness.
This observation about children with autism, more than anything, intrigued Leo Kanner, the “father of child psychiatry,” who first described the disorder in 1943. Now, it seems the more we learn about autism, the bigger it gets. Once thought to be an uncommon psychiatric disorder caused by disengaged “refrigerator mothers,” autism today is viewed as not just one thing, but a spectrum of symptoms that vary widely in severity.

Now commonly called autism spectrum disorders (ASD), the name itself reflects the diversity of lifelong problems patients face.

Someone “on the spectrum” could have the less obvious social interaction lapses of Asperger’s syndrome, like Chase Wright of Hendersonville, Tenn., shown on the previous page, or a total inability to use words, interact with others and acquire rudimentary self-care skills. Add to these challenges a myriad of physical and psychiatric conditions – which could either relate to, be caused by or simply coexist with autism – that many of these patients exhibit and it’s easy to see why children with autism and their family members spend many hours in many different medical offices.

“I tend to call these things brain disorders,” explains Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., instructor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, whose clinical practice serves mostly ASD patients and a few others who have obsessive-compulsive disorder without autism. “I think mental illness is an unhelpful term.” continued>>

WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH OLDER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TAMARA REYNOLDS
 
 

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