Thursday, January 8, 2009

Take a Bow, Kristina Chew

It's hard to believe that Kristina Chew has only been at the helm of the blog Autism Vox since February 2006. If I had to guess, I would have said she had been its author for much, much longer ... because it just seems as if I've been reading her since Boo's diagnosis five years ago this month.

In those three years, Kristina has provided an unparalleled service to families who have a loved one with autism. We're all told at the moment of diagnosis that you have to be your child's best advocate, that you're the voice for your child. But how can you be that child's advocate when you're drowning in an alphabet soup of acronyms like ABA, ASD, IEP, IDEA, FBA, DIR, PDD-NOS ....

As a parent, you not only want to read all the latest research, you have this burning fire of desire to find out everything you can about this damned diagnosis that has, in your mind, damned you and your family. You want to know this stuff, but you have no time to comb through studies and to keep up with all the news from the autism and special needs community.

Enter Kristina Chew, Ph.D. For the past three years, Kristina has done all this and more. Her blog, Autism Vox, has become a highly reputable and highly frequent source of information and commentary about all things related to autism. Kristina posted often, sometimes 5 or 6 posts per day and then some. But Autism Vox wasn't just a collection of links to news items. It was also a chronicle of her life, her trials and tribulations as Charlie's mother, her now-11 year old son who has autism, her job as a classics professor at a New Jersey college. Her readers got to know her, Kristina's husband Jim, and Charlie. And along the way, we got to know ourselves, too.

Because, you see, Autism Vox made you think. Kristina had definite views, and in the beginning, they didn't mirror mine. I'm thinking about the mega-controversial vaccine issue. At one time, I was hell-bent in my belief that vaccines and vaccines alone were the cause of Boo's autism - and all autism. Now ... well, now I subscribe to the thinking that autism has genetic components and that it's emergence is triggered by something environmental, or cells that misfire at a wacky time. And there are days when I think that we're all on the autism spectrum, to some degree or another.

At times, Autism Vox was hard to read. I couldn't read many of the stories about the mistreatment of kids with autism - the bullying, the special-needs kids being left unattended on a school bus overnight, the story of Alex Barton whose kindergarten teacher had the class vote him out of the classroom, Survivor-style. Those stories hit way too close for home, putting on my monitor in black and white type what was a submerged nightmare. But she put those incidents on our radar, and made us even more proactive as parents by doing so.

Much of what I know and what I think about my son's condition is a direct result of something I read that Kristina Chew wrote. And although Kristina will now be blogging about autism over at change.org, Autism Vox will be taken over by someone else.

So thank you, Kristina, for the gift that you have given parents with kids on the autism spectrum. Because of Autism Vox, we have heard your voice and ours, and our children's. And all of our voices are all the stronger because of yours.

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