In Appleton, Wisconsin, a family is breathing a sigh of relief. Their autistic son’s constant, loud screaming has been greatly lessened.
This “miracle” occurred, not because of a new communications breakthrough that enabled the child to communicate what was causing him to scream, but through a surgery on his vocal chords that quieted the noise.
The article mentions that other therapies were tried and were unsuccessful.
The article talks about the “success” of the procedure and how delighted the parents are that they can now take their child out in public or to a restaurant.
What the article does not discuss, is how the child was affected other than having lost interest in the behavior, as it does not produce the same effect.
Caregiver stress is important, and it is also mentioned that another autistic child in the family was distressed by the screaming; however, nothing else is mentioned about how the surgically altered child was affected.
If it made him happier and took away distress and pain, then, yes, the operation was a complete success.
Without knowing the cause of the behavior, it cannot be determined if an important health or psychological problem has been resolved, or if a symptom has been eliminated. A symptom that affects those around the patient, but not necessarily the patient himself.
The opinion of many in the autistic community is that the patient’s rights have been violated as he cannot consent to surgery; that no thought has been given to how it affects him and what caused the unwanted behavior in the first place.
They would hope that the parents will continue to seek the cause of the child’s behavior and continue to work to break through the communications barrier.
From the outside, people can only speculate what the experience of this family was, and the intentions of the parents and physician.
The biggest problem with the situation, from the autistic standpoint, is not that the surgery took place, but that it is being called a success and an answer to a common problem that other parents might want to try.
Technically, if a man has his leg amputated and it saves his life, then the surgery was a success. Yet the infection was not healed, and the procedure was done as a last resort because the reason for the illness could not be determined.
Ask that same man if he wants to celebrate the “success” with his surgeon.