While I know almost nothing about autism, and I’m sure that his stranger anxiety is troubling, I was hesitant to reply at all. But she specifically asked me to provide any comforting ideas I might have. So I suggested that the little boy might outgrow his fears, as least somewhat, or, to put a positive spin on things, I proposed that fear of strangers isn’t all bad and may be a sign of intelligence—recognizing that people and animals much bigger than he is are threats.
Next, I shared the view that this anxiety (or the repetitive behaviors she observes) are just a few of the many psychological traits this little boy possesses. I know his biological parents to both be exceptionally intelligent and the little boy is both physically adept and attractive. So, from a larger perspective, assuming we all have to play life largely with the hand we’re dealt, his disability is mild. In fact, given that he will be blessed with a loving family in good socio-economic standing, he may end up doing well. (Again let me emphasize that I don’t know much about autism as I stressed to the mother.)
Moreover, as a philosopher, I would say something like this. Get him all the professional help you can and learn as much about autism as you can. But remember too that all you can do is your duty while the outcomes of your efforts are not completely within your control. We study for the test, apply for the promotion, raise our kids as best we can, and then … something will happen; you just can’t guarantee a good outcome. But I did stress that she should try not to awfulize, to imagine the worst-case scenarios since they may not happen and worrying doesn’t help anyway. (I know this is contrary to the Stoics‘ advice.)
I also emphasized how tenuous psychiatric diagnoses can be. They change constantly and aren’t written in stone like theories about atoms or gravity or evolution. I’m not saying this little boy doesn’t suffer from some maladaptations, but that it is easy to overemphasize them and see everything through the diagnosis.
Finally, while you don’t want to give false hope, I shared my best guess that this little boy— armed with his intelligence, good looks, and an educated and loving family who will do their best for him—may very well do just fine. Here’s to hoping that all the world’s problems find resolutions someday.
1. Disclaimer – Let me reiterate. I have no expertise in autism whatsoever. My opinion was solicited. Perhaps I should not have said anything, but at the moment I felt it best to provide some consolation. I hope I was right to do so. As you can see I’m very hesitant to offer advice about topics on which I’m ignorant. At the same time, I’m hesitant to resisting a suffering person’s request. Moral choices are hard.