Introduction by Yuval Levental: I am a person on the autism spectrum who advocates for treatment or a cure, because the evidence for autism as being positive is meaningless in most cases. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from ESIEE Paris. Through researching the cause of my autism, I have developed interests in physiology, cellular biology, and neuroscience. In the quest for a cure, I have successfully progressed by attempting to introduce more potassium and less sodium in my diet, and have recently undergone Botox which mitigated my symptoms. Additionally, I like to spread awareness of arguments against Neurodiversity through social media and Wikipedia. Other hobbies of mine include recreationally solving complex math puzzles, traveling, eating new foods, and learning about different cultures.
Dear Mr. Andersen,
I really enjoyed how your book Fantasyland explains why both left-wing and right-wing Americans are far more susceptible to believing in pseudoscience when compared with other developed countries. The main thesis of your book claims that Americans are strong believers in personal liberty and ultra-individualism, leading them to believe anything that they wanted to believe in, regardless of practical or scientific reality. The book covers how Americans often created questionable religions out of no basis in reality, how they chased imaginary wealth, and how they embraced unsubstantiated fears. Your show once aired an interview with the controversial autism advocate Jonathan Mitchell, and I can relate to some of his criticisms of Neurodiversity.
I grew up in a university town in the United States of America. Supposedly, this town was supposed to be a center of enlightenment and reason. When I was growing up, I was diagnosed with autism. I was strong in performing mental calculations but had difficulty with socializing and communicating, and was even in special education for some time. My parents and some of my teachers claimed that many people in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering were like me, and that I would fit those fields perfectly. I would also read articles from various “reliable” sources making similar claims from a “scientific” perspective with relatively little criticism. However, I would later learn that all those claims were based far more in emotional appeal than in scientific reality.
I didn’t watch much TV growing up, but many TV characters were written to fit the socially-inept genius stereotype, and also many characters were written to fit the “dumb jock” stereotype. This stereotype was highly prevalent in the media, but seemed to be based on vague evidence. I later learned about world autism expert Temple Grandin. She made the questionable claim that high-functioning autism does not need a cure, claiming “I feel very strongly that if you got rid of all of the autistic genetics you’re not going to have any scientists. There’d be no computer people. You’d lose a lot of artists and musicians. There’d be a horrible price to pay.”. She repeats this claim in many talks and books, which can be found online.
When I started learning more about autism in high school, I discovered the Neurodiversity movement online. Many members claimed that being autistic made you good in technical fields, and some even claimed that non-autistic people would never be able to work in technical careers. Wikipedia had many uncited statements claiming that high-functioning autistics were different not disabled, some even claiming that autism was necessary to work in a STEM career (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/05/02/neurodiversitys-waning-on-wikipedia-bias-and-single-sidedness/). Even the medical reference website WebMD in its Asperger’s article once said that engineering is a common career for autistic people.
In reality, if you look at autistic people using actual long-term studies, most are actually unemployed or underemployed, which also applies to high-functioning autistics (I unfortunately am one of them at this time). Additionally, the final realization came to me when I learned the real reason that Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, a world “expert” from the University of Cambridge, claimed that many historical figures may have been autistic. He said that autistics should look up to those figures because, “This condition can make people depressed or suicidal, so if we can find out how to make things easier for them, that’s worthwhile.” Of course, said “expert” provides no alternative for depressed, suicidal autistics that cannot fill such role or possibly any role.
When I was growing up, for some reason, there were no PSA campaigns or rallies from math, science, or engineering groups challenging the media’s socially awkward genius stereotype, which trivialize employment difficulties that most autistics face. Nor did they challenge claims from other sources like Grandin and certain autism professionals that autistic traits are necessary or desired for achievements in those fields. Their lack of action is rather strange, as this contributes to an unrealistic perception of those fields. The only exception was Larry Page of Google, who decided to let the producers of The Internship movie film in the main Google headquarters. Page explained his decision for this movie, saying “I think the reason why we got involved in that is that computer science has a marketing problem. We’re the nerdy curmudgeons.” However, many actual engineers claimed it still reinforced the unrealistic “nerd” stereotype, and was basically an infomercial for Google.
Additionally, when I went to college, I majored in engineering. I studied one year in Paris, France, which as you mentioned, is very different from the United States in terms of believing unreliable claims. Although I was in special education until I was ten years old in the United States, Paris was the first time since that where a teacher said I would benefit from disability services, based on his visible observation of my profound lack of coordination. He didn’t tell the other engineering students this, so obviously, I am not simply different, I had significant problems that were unchecked. But I had to travel outside of the United States to find the view of high-functioning autism as a disability acceptable.
I tried to correct many of those biases on Wikipedia as much as possible, and have recorded my corrections in the following link. (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/05/02/neurodiversitys-waning-on-wikipedia-bias-and-single-sidedness/). As for the WebMD article, I asked them to cite a source, and they admitted there was no proof. I am still debating Neurodiversity online at this time.
We must fight fake news, regardless of political affiliation.