SAN JOSE, Calif. – Jill Escher, a dark-haired dynamo of smarts and stamina, was gently stopping her son, Jonny, 14, from ripping up the mail. He had just emptied spice bottles on the table to make finger paints.Upstairs, her daughter, Sophie, 7, was sending out incomprehensible cries. It could mean that Sophie had opened a box of crayons, eaten some and rubbed the rest into the carpet, or smeared a tube of toothpaste on the mirror. And while Escher tried to calm Sophie, Jonny could be tossing his iPad over the fence, tearing all the ivories off the piano, chewing the furniture, or wandering out into traffic.
For Escher, the anguish of autism is doubled. Both Jonny and Sophie have been diagnosed with autism, the fast-growing category of neurological disease afflicting one in every 88 U.S. children. The Escher children's intellectual development is stalled at an early pre-school level, and they need constant care and protection.For years, Escher and her husband, Christopher, agonized over what could have gone wrong. Why would two of their three children wind up autistic, defying the odds? Was it their genes? Their environment? Their food? The couple tried to hunt down any health problems in their lineage but found none. A glass of wine while pregnant? Paint fumes? Pollution from freeways?