Everything about autism spectrum disorders (ASD)—the cause or causes, the best treatments, the prevalence, even whether some forms should be considered “autism” at all—seems to generate controversy these days. But beneath the Sturm und Drang of the public struggles waged by highly vocal and antagonistic advocacy groups is the experience of individual families thrown into turmoil when a child receives such a diagnosis.
Alexandra Solomon’s breathtakingly candid article in this issue reveals the harrowing ordeal and enormous costs—practical, financial, and emotional—that arise when a family discovers it must face the challenge of a child’s ASD. As she points out, “parents of neurotypical kids can do a relatively mediocre job, and their kids will turn out just fine. Parents of ASD kids have to do an A+ job nearly every day in order to help their kids bypass and work around their condition.” There are undoubtedly triumphs and rewards in this struggle, as Solomon’s story so powerfully demonstrates, but, as Richard Howlin shows elsewhere in this issue, the struggle doesn’t end when people with ASD reach adulthood.
Most of us were born with an innate capacity to “tune in” emotionally to other people, to “get into” each other’s heads, to see ourselves in the context of relationship with others. Although people with ASD apparently lack this fundamental capacity, part of the fascination with the disorder is discovering how much of the ability to “dance relationally” can be acquired, even in the absence of some instinctive neural wiring. In addition to being a tribute to the love, commitment, and gritty hard work of the families and clinicians who try to help people with ASD, this issue is an exploration of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human.***
We heard some great news recently: the Networker has won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for Health and Wellness coverage. This is the fourth time we’ve won a prestigious Independent Press Award in our 27-year history. In addition, we’ve won just about every other major magazine industry honor. We’ve been nominated five times for the National Magazine Award (the industry’s Oscar) and won once. We’ve been cited for three Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Awards and been named one of the 50 Best Magazines in America for the last three years by the Chicago Tribune. With none of the resources or clout of journalistic Big Guys like the New Yorker and The Atlantic, this is a remarkable track record for a tiny nonprofit like us and its band of gifted contributors and loyal subscribers. It inspires us to stand back and reflect on the improbability of what we do every two months.
We typically begin planning each issue with a flickering flame of a question: “What impact is the tanking economy having on the national psyche—and therapists’ practices?” or “What insights can psychotherapists bring to the immigration debate?” or “How is our love affair with electronic communication transforming our experience of everyday relationships?” The posing of these questions generates a lot of discussion in our offices, followed by a search for people in our field who have something compelling to say about these issues. The articles that come out of that process typically are written, not by professional journalists, but by therapists who are willing to put themselves through the notorious Networker meat-grinder (five or six drafts are routine) in order to communicate their ideas with as much clarity and emotional impact as possible.
Ultimately the success of this magazine is the result of the genuine passion of people who’ve devoted their lives to what they do and to the people they try to serve. We sincerely believe that nobody cares more about this profession than our contributors and subscribers, all of whom help bear witness to the astounding drama that we therapists are privileged to participate in every day.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.