Rich Tucker

Oh goody.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor who’s been investigating the supposed outing of a CIA operative, plans to present evidence to another federal grand jury. “The investigation is continuing,” Fitzgerald announced, just weeks after most assumed it -- almost two years old and counting -- had finally ended.

This will be the second grand jury called to investigate whether or not Joe Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame was outed. In the long run, though, few Americans will care about -- or even be aware of -- the outcome of Fitzgerald’s probe (assuming it eventually ends). But as long as we’ve got a grand jury impaneled, let’s have it ask some questions about something that actually affects countless American lives. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 There are more questions than answers about autism. But unfortunately, it’s no longer unusual. In her new book about manners, author Lynne Truss writes that we’re living in “an age of social autism, in which people just can’t see the value of imagining their impact on others.”

Imagine reading that sentence two decades ago. In 1985, an estimated 4 in 10,000 children were diagnosed autistic. Most people went through life without meeting an autistic person. Autism then was similar to schistosomiasis -- even if you had heard of it, you probably didn’t know what the symptoms were. Today the Centers for Disease Control says as many as 1 of every 166 children is on the autism spectrum. Autism today is something that afflicts a son, nephew or cousin.
Everyone knows what it means to be “autistic.”

Still, the government seems stumped. “There are no effective means to prevent the disorder, no fully effective treatment and no cure,” the National Institute of Mental Health admitted in its February 2005 annual report on autism to Congress. And on its Web page, the CDC lists three things it is “doing about ASDs.” Two are studies tracking the number of children with autism in the Atlanta area and in Brick County, New Jersey. The third is funding various state projects. “These state projects look at how common ASDs are in children. Some of the projects also study what factors make it more likely that a child will have an ASD,” the CDC says.

Well, that’s a start, but a slow one.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for