Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors, and the History of a Disorder

By Chloe Silverman | Go to book overview

3
Expert Amateurs: Raising and Treating
Children with Autism

This is a love story, and it begins with a sensitive child. Benjamin (“Ben”) Lettick was born on April 7, 1955. He was the fourth child of Amy and Birney Lettick of New Haven, Connecticut. Amy Lettick had trained as a schoolteacher before her marriage to Birney, a portrait artist. Their son Ben suffered from severe food allergies almost from birth. Amy Lettick took the susceptibilities of her youngest in stride. Dealing with the allergies of her three older children had armed her with strategies for treating him, including keeping a detailed record of diet, immunizations, and reactions. Her diary entries indicate the delicate balances that had to be achieved.

Feb. 17David—one pimple on cheek. Had liver today??
Mar 17Gave Sharon cooked carrot. Skin on arms & legs improved.
June 7S had ¼ c. raisins. Terrible hives all over body. Gave benedryl. No more raisins for anybody!1

It soon became clear that Benjamin Lettick had developmental problems far beyond those of a typical, if delicate, child. Although he developed on schedule for the first six months, he then “grew very quiet” and began to sleep for most of the day. Lettick, trained in education, knew what normal behavior looked like. The “peppy, smiling, chubby baby” turned into an unsmiling child who no longer seemed to recognize anyone, including his mother.2 At eight months, Ben’s pediatrician told Lettick he suspected that her son was retarded and referred him to the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven for evaluation.

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