[EDITORIALS]The Tragedy of AutismThe tragedy of families with autistic children is being introduced by the special reporting team of the JoongAng Ilbo. Some people may suggest that it is wrong to make an issue out of autism, since it is not cancer or a brain disease and since so many other people are barely managing their daily lives. However, that kind of thinking results from ignorance about the illness and general prejudice about mental diseases as a whole. Many people still believe that autism is a lesser personality disorder that makes people unsociable and keeps them locked up in their own worlds. Those are the same people who mistakenly think all autistic patients have unusual gifts and good memorizing abilities, such as the character played by the actor Dustin Hoffman in the movie "Rain Man."
Autism, however, is a complicated illness that does not offer definitive medical treatment. The reason for the cause is still not well known by modern medicine. Specialists say that medical treatment for autism is much more difficult than schizophrenia. In Korea, there are currently as many as 30,000 to 40,000 autism patients. As indicated in the newspaper series, autistic patients, who are so locked into their own worlds they are unable to even look at their parents properly, are being taken care wholly by their parents. Most of them are not receiving proper medical treatments, many of them wander around looking for treatment and ultimately simply give up. Many families experience a financial crisis because of expenses needed to support their ailing child, and some are even driven to be separated. Sadly, many parents with autistic children wish to live longer than their children only because those parents can take care of their children until late in life.
Currently there are no programs that enable autistic people to receive treatment in a systematic way. Welfare facilities for autistic children are mostly entrusted to private child-care institutes, while there are no special facilities for autistic patients among state-run welfare centers for disabled people throughout the nation. It is shameful that our country, which aims to become a nation with a quality welfare system, is indifferent to such a serious matter. Autism is not a shameful illness that should be hidden, and thus we should not blame patients for having been born with such destiny. No one is free from this issue. The direct and indirect expenses that our society should pay in treating autism is as expensive as treating cancer or brain diseases. Autism is neither a hereditary disease nor the result of an improper education. Thus, the government should start putting a strong effort into solving the problem as soon as possible.
Autism is a complicated illness. At the same time, It is not a disease that can be easily cured. If the illness is discovered before a child is 3-years-old, and is treated properly, a patient can live an independent life, almost like a normal person. In economic terms, the establishment of various plans for the treatment of autism is urgent. The expenses needed in detecting the illness in children at their early ages and treating them are much lower than the amount required in curing adult patients who were not treated when they were younger. The government should train professional caregivers and establish special schools and care-centers for autism to open ways for patients to receive proper care. The government should also organize various associations through which families and specialists share correct information about the illness. Finally, we should open up our minds so that autistic children can study at schools without worry or difficulty.