ABOUT THIS ISSUE
By Elizabeth Taylor
Every parent learns that children can bring both joy and anguish. But few families face the ordeal that David Royko, son of legendary columnist Mike Royko, recounts in this week's issue--the traumas and decisions regarding how to handle Ben, their autistic son. "The Chronicles of Ben" is a wrenching--but brave--story of how a family goes about rescuing itself.
Sometimes it seems as though autism is the condition of the decade, a diagnosis that did not exist a generation ago but is almost common today. The Roykos' experience, though, is a departure from many recent stories that have an almost fuzzy Hallmark sensibility involving cures and salvation. The Royko family survives, but theirs is not a happy story.
"It offers another little window into our life and autistic experiences, which are very different from many of the stories about autism that make it into the mainstream," explains David, a Chicago psychologist and author. Those stories focus on high-functioning autistic people who are idiosyncratic geniuses, like the Dustin Hoffman character in "Rainman."
The fact is, more families are like the Roykos than we might like to believe. "A huge percentage of families with autism face situations closer to ours," says David. "[They're] interesting in a clinical sense but otherwise pulverizing for the autistic individual and the family."
David, though, is an optimist, and writing about Ben has been fortifying for him. "Writing can feel almost like purging--getting it out of my system," he says. He also hopes that this account of an autistic boy rapidly approaching adulthood will lead to more research and consideration of long-term treatment options.
David and Karen Royko take comfort in the fact that they are less alone than they were when they received Ben's diagnosis 12 years ago.
"Karen and I felt that the rest of the world had no clue what life with autism was all about," explains David. "What I've written about Ben and our family, I hope, might offer some clues."
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