Final PBS ‘Autism Now’ report – how to address this public health ‘crisis’

By Alive & Well

In a world of finite (and in some cases, diminishing) resources, the challenge to deliver services to people in need is getting harder. It makes Autism a particularly tricky problem to address, given how little we still know about its causes and how poorly distributed some of its treatments are.

In the final episode of this incredible series, Robert MacNeil discusses the issues with:


The group agrees that Autism now presents a ‘national health emergency’ for the U.S., and I doubt many people would argue that the situation is much different in other parts of the world.

But curiously, according to Dr Insel, for many people without direct experience of Autism, it’s a problem that’s still “very much in the shadows … for much of the country, this is a new story.”

Catherine Lord goes on to explain that “our medical and educational systems are often pretty slow in terms of how we respond. And we’re not yet thinking forward enough about what [we’re] going to do as kids enter this system and … as they get older.”

As parent Jon Shestack points out, given there are around 2 million people with Autism in the U.S., “ten years from now the country’s going be crushed by the needs of these people.”

Catherine Lord believes that inaccessibility and disparity of services are the key issues. “Some kids are getting great help … but you can live across the street from a child who goes to a very affluent school district that happens to have a really good teacher. And your child can’t go there, and you may have nothing.”

Parent and advocate Ilene Lainer agrees. “We [now] have a better understanding of what we can do to help children with autism learn and grow …  the problem is it’s not available to most of the children out there … [and] when you turn into an adult, there is no entitlement. You’re subject to the vagaries of whatever locality you may live in.”

But there was something Ilene said that really struck me. She talked about the ‘soft bigotry’ of the low expectations we place on people with Autism:

“When families get this diagnosis, the diagnosis is as if the outcome is not going to be a hopeful one. And that has to change. It can change, and it should change.”

You can watch all of the episodes in this series via PBS NewsHour’s special ‘Autism Now’ website, which also includes transcripts, answers to viewer questions, extended interviews with the people you see in the episodes, links to information and resources, and much more.

You can also read our posts about each episode here:

Congratulations to PBS for handling such a complex, controversial and sensitive issue with such dignity and balance.