Two American grandparents are raising the global profile of the condition starting with a controversial debate in London tonight. Cassandra Jardine reports.
Autism might have kept a low profile in the United States, if it hadn't affected Bob Wright's grandson, Christian. The chief executive of NBC Universal - the American television and film company - is not the kind of alpha male to take a problem in the family lying down. He's used to shaking trees, kicking ass, making things happen - and that is exactly what he has done in the five years following his grandson's regression into autism.
Christian was doing just fine, he and his wife, Suzanne, tell me in between meetings at Downing Street and the House of Commons. "He was talking, he had met all his milestones and he was becoming potty trained. Then, shortly after his second birthday, he started to regress." Soon they no longer had a grandchild whom they could imagine becoming a world-beater like Wright himself, but a crisis. "The doctor told us it was normal to regress when a new sibling arrives," he says, evidently still furious. "We lost nine months."
Once Christian was finally diagnosed, they were horrified to discover that they didn't know what to do next. "I had nowhere to go for advice," says Suzanne, "and Bob was running NBC so we thought we were well informed." When they discovered that one child in 100 is autistic they were even more enraged. "If a cancer struck one in 100," he continues, "that wouldn't be allowed."