Even so, I was taken aback when I saw how autistic children were characterized in this Newsweek article about early diagnosis, in which Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute was interviewed about behavioral treatment for infants. Would you believe... useless readers?
In a typically developing infant, everything is a learnable moment. In an infant or toddler with autism, their attention gets hyperfocused on things that aren't important--like for example, the letters on a wooden block.
How do you stop such behavior?
You redirect the child's attention, you engage them in other toys. You also teach them how to pay attention to really important social signals, like people's eyes, people's faces.
Once upon a time, in a simpler world, I was one of those infants who had a strong focus on "unimportant" letters. According to my mother, when I was about nine months old, I often crawled to the TV and touched the raised letters on the logo at its base. Because I was so interested in letters, my parents bought some Dr. Seuss stories and a set of illustrated children's encyclopedias, and they started reading to me regularly.
I'm not sure if I learned to read before I could talk, or if I developed speech at about the same time, but I could read fluently by the time I was two years old. Books were my constant friends, my loyal companions in adventure. After I started school, writing always came easily to me—all through my childhood, and then university, and graduate school and a professional career.
But now it seems that, as Rebecca Landa would have it, my parents raised me all wrong. If only they'd put me in a behavioral program and systematically deprived me of books and anything else I enjoyed, I might have been successfully transformed into a nice pleasant drone with a lovely smile and flawless eye contact, perfectly obedient to social expectations, a paragon of normality and mediocrity.
Before I go any farther, let me make myself completely clear on one point: I'm not writing this post to brag about my personal accomplishments. In fact, I don't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks about that. I'm writing it in white-hot outrage at what is being done to our children.
Sometimes I feel as if I've fallen through a time portal and landed in the middle of a long-ago witch hunt, among primitive, superstitious, pitchfork-wielding peasants who would happily burn at the stake any child or adult who had the audacity to open a book; after all, only a witch would show any interest in such a useless object.
To put it another way—the barbarian hordes are at the gate, trying to destroy everything that brings beauty and meaning to our world. Grab your children and your books, hide them away in a safe place, and get ready to fight for the survival of civilization.