A medical condition or just a difference? The question roils autism community

A recent article by Alisa Opar examines the question of whether autism is a difference or a medical condition.  It also discusses some of the controversy surrounding the neurodiversity movement.  The article was published in the Washington Post, in the section on Health and Science. May 6, 2019.  Those wishing to read the full content should click on the site link to The Washington Post.

Some exerpts from the article:

“I see many positives in the neurodiversity movement, including fighting for what parents of autistic children want: to get society’s acceptance of them and to get accommodations for them,” says Manuel Casanova, professor of biomedical sciences at the University of South Carolina. But the loudest voices in the neurodiversity camp are causing an “upheaval” by insisting on a strict interpretation of autism and what autistic people need, he says. If these opinions ultimately sway public opinion, “It might end up hurting research, and hurting the delivery of services to those people who most need them.”

Thomas Clements, 30, a mildly autistic man whose brother is severely autistic, says he is dismayed by what he sees as neurodiversity advocates casting autism as a benign neurological quirk.

“It denies the very medical nature of autism and the need for research into ways of alleviating the most distressing symptoms of the condition,” he says. Benjamin Alexander, a nonverbal autistic man who graduated in 2018 from Tulane University in New Orleans, goes even further: “Autism is a living hell,” he wrote in an email. “I don’t want to be accepted for the way I am; I want to be cured just like a cancer patient wants to be free of disease.”

Julie Greenan, who has five autistic children spanning the spectrum, sees three D-words — difference, disorder and disability — in her children: Her oldest is in college, two are in mainstream schools, one attends a school for autistic children and 17-year-old Sam is nonverbal, has intellectual disability and harms himself and others. She says she wouldn’t speak for her son in college, but that Sam is not intellectually capable of advocating for himself.

“For some people it is just a difference; it’s not a disability,” she says. “For others this is a complete, severe disability.”

She says she is frustrated by what she sees as the public’s acceptance of autistic people who need little support as the face of the condition. “Where is the publicity of my child who’s suffering every day?” she says.

2 Respuestas a “A medical condition or just a difference? The question roils autism community

  1. I too have observed the almost militant trend to ‘normalize» autism in some groups of «higher functioning» autistic people. I dislike the separation labels and the insistence on sorting function… You are autistic or you are not.. its not a matter of degrees (like the old saying about being a ‘little bit’ pregnant). Saying i am high functioning is sorting myself as somehow being superior. there seems to be a great deal of anger when protests are made by those who may have different struggles…. I suspect this insistence on normalization is perhaps a form of denial… wishing will not make it less a disability. Not wanting to be labeled, seeing autism as some sort of stigma (it is, in sectors of today’s society, isn’t it?) is understandable. I come down on the side that says, yes, autism is a disability and causes struggles. No answers for a resolution, people will be political creatures no matter what the circumstances or the opinions expressed.

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  2. I think the higher functioning groups (well integrated into society, in spite of not received any kind of treatment) have different problems. They have less autistic symptoms according to current diagnostic instruments, but they talk about burn out and the cost of camouflaging. At the same time many of these people talk about those symptoms that they never experienced as an ableist myth.

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