Sunday, April 26, 2009

Salon – autism is not a disorder

Salon has an article on the autism is not a disorder movement, sometimes called the “neurodiversity” movement. I don’t like to surrender the term neurodiversity, so I’ll call this the “autism is ok” movement.

We’ve been through this sort of thing a few times. Famously, some deaf people resent the use of nerve implants that diminish the appeal of sign language. On another front lesbians and gay men successfully transformed same gender sexual preference from a disease to a trait.

These examples are well known, but there’s a third example that’s been forgotten. In the 1970s it was a fad for a while to consider schizophrenia to be just another worldview; and that the disease was an biased social construction. That idea was, how shall I say, bull poop.

Reality is a lot messier. The term “autism” is an all-but-obsolete category for a wide range of neurologic variations. Many “autistic” persons are absolutely disabled, unable to support themselves in any employment and unable to survive in any world past or present without extensive support. Others are quite successful electrical engineers (sorry, famous example).

I wouldn’t want to render my autistic children “normal”, but I would like to boost one IQ about 50 points and give another child more control over his emotions. The former is unlikely to happen, but we might succeed with the latter. Similarly, we’d like to help another neurotypical child pronounce the “r” sound at the start of words.

In the end, whether you call something a “disorder” or a “trait”, we still try to make life better for the person.

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