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You are the Mahout

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.


So begins a delightful poem by the 19th century Vermont humorist John Godfrey Saxe, based on an ancient Indian folk tale. One blind man, grabbing the elephant by the leg, declares “To me it’s plain to see, this wonder of an elephant is very like a tree!” Another, who “about the tail perchance did grope,” cries “Bless me, but the elephant is very like a rope!” A third touches the elephant’s tusk and comes away convinced “the elephant is very like a spear.” The fourth, grasping the trunk, concludes that the elephant is “very like a snake,” and so on. “And though each of them was partly right,” the poem concludes, “all of them were wrong.” (For details on JG Saxe, go to , then follow the link to the poem itself.)

We are all still “patting the elephant” of ASD. Researchers are bringing us closer to an understanding of the underlying biology, but we are not quite there. Lacking a biological foundation for making a diagnosis, we are reduced to quibbling: How impaired is the eye contact? How odd is the speech? How intense are the stereotypies? Not quite bad enough? Sorry, you don’t make the cut – no services for you!

Worse yet, some therapists behave as badly as the blind men of the poem. Parents want clear guidance, but often what they get is a chorus of conflicting opinions, with some therapists stridently insisting “Let me treat what I know how to treat, and everything else will be fine.”

It’s up to parents to keep their eyes fixed on “the whole elephant,” and to “ride herd” on all the different therapists, which brings me back to the title of this blog. High atop the elephant sits the elephant driver – the mahout. If you are the parent of a child with ASD, then you are also the mahout. That’s why I wrote my book to give you the information you need to drive the elephant. Good luck!

Dr. Coplan

James Coplan, MD is an Internationally recognized clinician, author, and public speaker in the fields of early child development, early language development and autistic spectrum disorders. Join Dr. Coplan on Facebook and Twitter. Have a question for Dr. Coplan? Ask the doctor.







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