On fear

The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety. ~Henry Louis Mencken
There are two kinds of fears: rational and irrational- or in simpler terms, fears that make sense and fears that don't.~ Lemony Snicket

As parents of autistic children we are no strangers to fear. It keeps us awake at night, and it unexpectedly grips us with cold fingers during the day. Naturally, some types of fear are warranted in our circumstances. But the trick is, as Lemony Snicket said to distinguish the ones that make sense from the ones that don't.

People have feared things which they didn't understand since humanity began. Be it the ancient man fearing the gods of thunder, the superstitions of the middle-ages or the perpetual suspicions regarding foreign cultures, fear was at the centre of many an irrational act. One could probably argue that human civilization is rooted in fear of the unknown and various consequences of that fear (wars, genocide, holocaust, etc).

Humans have also always been attracted to sensationalism. Nothing is more appealing than a grabbing headline, regardless of how accurate the details of the story below it actually are. Truthfully most of us only quickly scan the headlines anyway, busy as we all are. The problem with that however is- (and I studied journalism so trust me on this) it is significantly difficult to convey the essence of a story in about 5 to 8 words. Some might say impossible even. But papers (online or otherwise) want to be read, so the headline must be able to grab the reader, freeze them in their tracks literally. And nothing freezes better than fear.

Most of us can spot an autism article even when not looking for it. It's as if the word autism is a magnet, pulling our weary eyeballs toward yet another doomsday piece. Because what do we learn from the majority of these "informative articles"? Autism is scary. It might be caused by a multitude of factors (specifics change weekly) and is exacerbated by an even greater multitude of factors, including (but not limited to) diet, air quality, pollution level, maternal health, paternal age, parents' education level (the higher, the greater the risk) and of course by the lack of the ideal and custom designed INTERVENTION PLAN.

Autistic children wander, or more dramatically- elope (isn't that when you run off to Las Vegas to get married?). We all mourned and held our loved ones close at the news that 3 autistic children died these past few weeks as the result of drowning. However, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 children die everyday in North America due to drowning, and actually the group highest at risk of drowning is men (80 percent of all cases!). Curiously, nobody is marketing locks and tracking devices to keep males safe and away from bodies of water.

As autistic children grow into adulthood, they become increasingly more violent, unmanageable, costly and generally a menace to society. The "young autistic male" is becoming the proverbial boogeyman, replacing the unfortunate "young African-American male" as the object of fear among the innocent population. Stories like this one fill every parent's heart with dread and prompt them to eye their offspring warily in an attempt to spot early signs of an inevitably sinister future.

I am by no means insinuating that our life is trivial or worry-free. It is not. I am just suggesting that we tread carefully in the midst of extensive media coverage of the current topic du jour. That we attempt to extract actual news from the fear-mongering smokescreen. And finally, that we remember that everything in life can be written as statistics, risk probabilities and worst-case scenarios. That bad things do happen to good people. But sometimes, good things happen too. And then there's a whole lot of perfectly mundane, not news-worthy things that happen in between.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. ~Marie Curie


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