Autism Is Not a Curse

I feel it's important to write in response to a letter you published in this week's Willamette Week. It was written by my former pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas, and included the much-quoted but disproven belief that vaccines cause autism ["Anti-Vaxx Is Not Anti-Science," WW, March 27, 2019].

As a non-speaking autistic, I probably embody all the fears that Dr. Thomas and his young parents have about autism. I lost my ability to speak before I turned 3, couldn't attend school because it didn't know how to teach me or handle my behaviors, and had to endure 40 hours of therapy every week. I was born autistic, but had no way to tell anyone what I knew and was capable of learning. It wasn't until I was 12, when I learned how to use a letterboard to communicate, and took my place in high school fully included. I will be graduating in June, and have started taking classes at Portland Community College already.

My point is, being autistic hasn't been a curse or the worst thing that could have happened to me and my family. In fact, I'm pretty OK with it. But what I'm not OK with are physicians who are profiting off a fear of my very existence. I remember one of the last times I saw Dr. Thomas for something to do with my foot. He checked it out, and then started telling my mom she should do some genetic test on me that his office charged $200 for. I remember how surprised and interested he was to see me letterboard during the appointment and take part in it.

What I took away from that was, he didn't have enough exposure to adults who are autistic or anyone who is living with it in a way that doesn't feed into the doom-and-gloom model of raising a child with autism. I think it would serve him well to put as much energy into advocating for positive outcomes for people like me who are considered "severely autistic" as he does into eradicating our existence. He is a kind and passionate advocate, but I'm afraid his intentions are misplaced.

Niko Boskovic, Age 17, North Portland

Last week, WW wrote about a bill being considered in the Oregon Legislature that would ban coyote killing contests ("Coyote Ugly," April 3, 2019). One clause—entertainment—has created an unexpected roadblock for the bill. Oregon's free speech laws offer broad protection for entertainment—thanks to a court ruling that protects strip clubs and adult video stores. Here's what readers have to say:

Neal Wadley, via Facebook: "Keep Oregon weird, I guess. I'm a hired gun on problem coyotes, and I believe in predator control but don't hate them and certainly don't celebrate their deaths. They are a fascinating creature and extremely smart; when you have to trap specific coyotes, you learn to respect the hell out of them. Just my take."

Sean Fleckenstein, via Facebook: "Shooting dogs for entertainment is so Rome-before-the-fall."

Tyler Gardner, via Facebook: "Is this just because coyotes are doglike? Or are we going to be outraged by openly accepted fishing derbies as well?"

Comicsgod53, via wweek.com: "Not really a hunt, more like a slaughter. The funny part is that the coyotes rebound with larger litters to fill up their habitat when this occurs. We are not very smart collectively as a species if this is the only way these ranchers use to protect their foreign livestock."