Years ago HIV/AIDS was the "it" health news item. As consumers of media, we have moved on to the next epidemic: autism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder ( ASD). If Oprah has a show on it and there's a ribbon associated with it, then it must be worth paying attention to.
Armed with a list of symptoms and behaviors, lay people watch for autistic children like a modern-day Myers-Briggs personality test. They think Johnny's parents should know about his possible autistic tendencies.
Recently, a few folks alluded to my husband and me that our 2-year-old son might be "slow" or "autistic," because he's cautious, reserved, quiet, uncomfortable around strangers and almost always holding a book in his hand. People offered their advice:
"Get him tested; the officials say it's best to intervene as soon as possible."
"If you wait until he's 3 years old, it might be too late."
"Enroll him in day care to break him out of his shell."
I took their advice to heart. I even cried a night or two over it. My husband didn't. He reminded me that Einstein didn't talk until he was 4 years old.
I asked our pediatrician about the allegations. Her advice: Our son was more than fine; he was great, and a sweet kid.
Because he is the product of us, two bookish introverts with a small cadre of friends, we're his primary influence until preschool starts. I never imagined being a nanny-free, stay-at-home mom and raising a shy child could be seen as an oddity.
Being shy is not a developmental challenge or handicap or even a flaw. It's part of a sensible disposition that annoys the extroverts. Quiet ones shouldn't have to apologize for it.
If only those mock physicians knew that my son picks a book off the shelf, backs into my lap and stays there for a half hour of reading time often throughout the day. These are not symptoms of autism but a child showing signs of early literacy -- which, if we're lucky, will be the next big news story we can all follow.
Tricia Louvar is a mother of two and a freelance writer/book editor in the Los Angeles area.