In the field of autism advocacy some proponents believe that using terms like “War on Autism” is a pejorative term that emphasizes violence. For those that believe that they do not need a cure the War on Autism is tantamount to genocide. Despite available scientific evidence these advocates maintain that autism is the result of a normal variability in the human genome and thus they deny changes in prevalence rates as well as the need for treatment or further research. If war demands combatants and conflicts it will also propitiate a social reaction against the same. In this case some proponents within the Neurodiversity movement could be considered the anti-war activists. This tug of war dynamics has created a peculiar nosological dilemma that puts autism at the borderland between the social and medical sciences.
It may be that the present thinking of the Neurodiversity proponents emulates the romanticism of other medical conditions. In the Victorian era it was believed that tuberculosis, or the White Plague, conferred subjects heightened sensitivity. This was the disease of the artists. Higher class men and women would purposefully pale their skin to imitate the consumptive appearance of tuberculosis. According to Wikipedia, “Even after medical knowledge of the disease had accumulated, the redemptive-spiritual perspective of the disease has remained popular” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tuberculosis). Romantics wanted the so-called positives of the condition and made up stories of previous historical figures as having died from tuberculosis. This is not a far cry for what is happening at present in autism.
I have done a good number of research studies in the field of autism. My results indicate that autistic individuals have a defect of cell migration during brain development. Primitive neurons are forced to migrate towards the cortex at an inopportune time and their functional integration with other cells is faulty. Within the cerebral cortex migrating cells aggregate in columnar arrangements that serve as nurseries for maturing microprocessors. The fact that some autistic individuals have more of these microprocessing units is tantamount to poverty in the face of plenty. The findings go a long way towards explaining some of the negatives (e.g., sensory problems, seizures) as well as positives (e.g., splinter skills) observed in autism spectrum disorder. For my part I do not imbue autism with romantic feelings. Seizures, anxiety/depression, hyper/hyposensitivity, intellectual disability/cognitive impairment, when present, are all medical symptoms in need of both accommodations and treatment. These impairments need to be acknowledged rather than romanticized.
The rising prevalence rates for autism convey a sense of “urgency” within our society. The indignation that something may be affecting our children rallies our efforts in trying to find a cure. Whether it is a war or a crusade against autism, the words are all symbolic. We may be naïve in lumping what may be multiple causative disorders into one. However, the War on Autism is meant to provide political consolidation to our efforts to sponsor more research into accommodations and treatment.
When I visit my autistic grandson I see a stack of papers strewn across the breakfast room table. They are the large number of medical bills for services that have ultimately increased his quality of life. They are also a reminder of the financial anxiety that often looms in my family. As I go thought the house I see a room devoted to his physical therapy with mattresses covering the floor. Having a therapist come to the house or taking him to a hospital clinic is part of the weekly routine. As I go into the pantry there is a stack of diaper boxes along with the special food for his dietary requirements. A jacket on a chair is the latest physical therapy device for helping with posture and coordinating my grandson’s motor movements. When talking about a War on Autism, the words may be symbolic, but all around me I see the ravages of the battle as it is being fought.