“SAN DIEGO – At 18, Ethan Hirschberg has become a recognized authority on autism.

He has a blog on which he posts about the condition every two weeks or so; has authored a book on sale on Amazon, in which 20 of his most trenchant columns about autism are included; and he lectures to a variety of groups, commanding a speaking fee of $175 an hour.

Recently, the Helen Diller Family Foundation conferred upon him a $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award in recognition of the work he has been doing—and hopes to continue—to demystify autism not only among his peer group, but also among educators, parents and siblings of autistic children, and the general public.

How did he acquire such knowledge?  He replies that he, himself, is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.  While today he is a composed young man, comfortable being interviewed, and relaxed while giving speeches at schools, therapists’ gatherings, civic groups, and to law enforcement agencies, it was not always thus.

“I was diagnosed when I was 2 ½, and my parents first tried to tell me when I was 8,” he related to me over coffee at the Trails Eatery in San Diego.  However, at age 8, he wasn’t ready to deal with the issue.  As his parents, Barry and Shelly Hirschberg of Carlsbad, read to him the book, Blue Bottle Mystery: An Asperger Adventure by Kathy Hoopmann, “I immediately began to fuss, scream, and cry, and begged my mother to stop because that character was too similar to me.”

His parents waited two more years, until after young Hirschberg began seeing a therapist, to bring up the issue again.  On separate pieces of paper, his mother had him write down his strengths and his weaknesses.  Then his mother told him that people with similar strengths and weaknesses have a condition known as autism.”

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