My wife, patty, and I had a disturbing reminder of why the truth matters when we visited our autistic grandson's special-needs school one afternoon. The school, Melmark, is housed in a two-story, clay-red brick building, located at the intersection of two main arteries about 20 miles from Boston. Max's school is on the first floor, where school officials have managed to rent enough space to take care of 80 special-needs children, most of them seriously autistic.

Autism is not the same thing as Down syndrome or congenital birth defects that result in physical deformity. Most autistic kids are as normal looking as their peers. Some do have a vacant, distant stare; others walk with an awkward gait from motor damage. Several of the kids carried computerized speaking pads that allow them to answer questions. These children have suffered so much neurological damage that they would be effectively mute if not for these devices.

When Max saw us, he broke into a big smile and started skipping with arms wide, looking for a hug. He's a very loving kid, and we were glad to shower him with affection. He then grabbed both Patty's hand and mine and started to pull us into the school, excited at the prospect of showing us where he studied and eager for us to meet his teachers.

At the end of each school day, when the students are dismissed at three o'clock, the teachers' workday is far from over. The faculty members gather to discuss the behavior of each student, meticulously planning the next day's activities. The student-faculty ratio is high: four teachers staff Max's class of seven. The job requires great physical stamina. The kids can be aggressive at times and must be gently restrained. Gentleness in this situation often demands as much ...

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