Autism in America

The prevalence of this confounding disorder has reached frightening proportions, changing medicine, politics, parenting — and childhood itself. CHILD traces the ripples throughout our society.

A Disorder That’s Defining an Era

Autism in America

Margaret MacNeil has to be one of the few mothers in the history of parenthood who was happy her baby had colic. Cormac screamed that unmistakable colic scream for his first three months. But as awful as it was, MacNeil took comfort in her firstborn’s daily crying jags. It meant just one thing to her: He didn’t have autism, at least not at 3 months. So far, so good.

MacNeil knows that babies with autism can be unusually easy infants, docile and rarely fussy. The 42-year-old Princeton, NJ, mom knows many other things about autism, as well, because her family has a history of the disorder, which covers a spectrum of neurodevelopmental problems characterized by repetitive, often obsessive behaviors and impairments in verbal and social skills. Her nephew, who’s now a teenager, is autistic. One of her cousins has a similar set of symptoms, and looking back, the family sees now that an uncle who died young was likely autistic as well. “That’s three males in my mother’s family,” MacNeil says, anxiety etched in her voice. “That feels like a lot to me.”

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