Home » Autism: A Family’s Journey by Julian Maha at TEDxSarasota (Full Transcript)

Autism: A Family’s Journey by Julian Maha at TEDxSarasota (Full Transcript)

Julian Maha – TRANSCRIPT

All of us have dreams. All of us have ambitions. All of us long for perfection – the perfect job, the perfect family, the perfect life that we think will bring us great joy, happiness, and contentment. So we often choose a path that we feel will get us to this destination of perfection the fastest.

Sure, sometimes, life might come along and throw us some curve balls, but we often find ourselves picking up the pieces and finding our way back to the same path headed towards the same destination. But what if life doesn’t work that way? What if, by staying on this path, you miss out on all the amazing opportunities that other paths might have afforded you? Or worse yet, what if staying on this path only causes you great misery and disappointment?

My friends, I’m here to share with you today, that sometimes, just sometimes, in order to find your true life’s path, you need to be lost. How do I know this? Well, that is our story.

You see, in 2011, we got lost, not lost in a way that asking for directions or consulting a map would fix, but lost in a way of kind of being dropped into a strange country, not knowing anyone there, not knowing the language, not knowing the signs. This was our introduction to the world of autism. Before this, my wife and I were living what you would call the perfect life. We were both successful physicians. We had a nice house.

We could travel whenever we wanted to, and we had just welcomed our first born into the world. His name was Abram. Abram was born a beautiful baby boy. He slept well, we was always happy, and he was very precocious, even beginning to talk at about ten to eleven months. We thought that we were on our way, on the right path headed towards our perfect destination.

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But all that changed when he turned two. Almost in a blink of an eye, he stopped speaking, he stopped sleeping, and would often wake up crying inconsolably from two to six in the morning. As parents, we were very, very distraught. Consulting the physicians in our local community, autism did come up, but we were often told that he didn’t meet all the criteria, or that he was too affectionate to be autistic.

Finally, we got an appointment to see one of the top physicians in the country, specializing in speech delay. He had recently coined a term called Einstein syndrome to basically describe children who were not autistic, but had speech delay but were highly intelligent.

On our way to that appointment to see him, we were filled with hope and encouragement that finally, someone would set us back on our life’s path. That was the moment that we got lost. I remember sitting in the room, the size of a broom closet. The doctor walked in. He examined Abram. And within about five minutes, he told us, “He’s autistic. He’s never going to talk. He’s never going to say, ‘I love you.’ He’s never going to call you ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy.’ And in two to three years, you’re probably going to have to put him in an institution because he’s only going to get worse.”

Keep in mind that Abram was only four at that time. It was as though someone had dropped a bomb right in the middle of our lives, and we were just standing there holding the pieces. But why this fear of a diagnosis? Why this fear of autism? Even though we were both physicians, our knowledge of autism was severely limited to a single paragraph in our medical school books. This paragraph described the condition, but it was very, very heavily emphasized on the bleak prognosis that it had.

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And when our lecturers talked about autism, they would often talk about it in reference to the movie “Rain Man” – a movie about an autistic individual that had spent the most of his life living in a mental institution. So, as you can see, not only was our knowledge limited but it was very much in reference to the cultural viewpoint of what autism was perceived of at that time.

And in terms of the cultural viewpoint, autism had always been built by the media as a diagnosis that stripped away futures, destroyed families, and isolated individuals. Plunging Abram into a world of therapy, we became more and more disillusioned because nothing seemed to be working. It was then that we realized that what we needed was acceptance.

We needed to accept Abram for who he was instead of trying to keep on fitting him into this box. And we needed to understand that he was the same boy that was standing in front of us. Yes, he was autistic, but he had great potential, and he had so much to offer the world .We needed to figure out a way not only to understand him but teach him, and we needed the community not only to accept him but embrace him. We needed to choose a new path, a path to show the world what autism really was, in a new light.

How did we come to this conclusion? We came to it in three separate incidents. The first incident happened at a barbershop. Abram had always hated haircuts. He hated it because it was physically painful to him, because every single blade of hair that was cut was akin to 1,000 paper cuts. So, we would only take him to the barber when there was no one there, so it does not upset the other customers.

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