Monday, April 27, 2009

Is Autism a Difference or Disorder?

Blogger Freddie DeBoer busts a gut today in explaining that autism is not a difference, but a disorder that needs to be cured. Here is just a sample:

Let’s not mince words: autism is not just a difference. Autism is not a category of diversity that has to be respected. Autism is a disorder, one which medical science should work towards curing. If you’d like to use the more inflammatory language, rather than cure, we can use “eliminate”. Autism has debilitating effects on many that have it, often with profound negative consequences for learning, self-control, communication, and the restraint of physical violence. I cannot personally comprehend the emotional toll of dealing with autism in a family– nor can I understand the depth and love found within the relationships between families with autistic members. The value of autistic people or the relationships austic people have are unquestionable. Who would want to question such things? But there is something wrong, and deeply sad, in eliding a love and respect for the people and relationships that are affected by autism into a respect for the disorder. Autistic people are beautiful. Autism is not beautiful.

Like Mr. De Boer, there was a part of me that used to not like the whole "differently abled" tag. And I don't necessarily have a problem with the word "disabled" if it means that people have lost the function of their legs or body. But that said, since I discovered that I have Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum, I have had less desire to see myself as "broken" and in need of a cure. I don't think that I need to be cured as much as accomodated. I would tend to see it as a disorder, but one that has to be managed, not "cured."

What bothers me is that DeBoer doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are people with autism that are living full lives as adults. There are negative consquences, but there are also positive ones as well (witness Temple Grandin).

Frankly, I wished DeBoer would have chatted with people who have autism instead of making these sweeping assumptions.

I am curious what others think. How would you respond?


Jess said...

I agree we may need a "cure" for the extreme cases, but I also as a special educator, know that many of my students will lead full and productive lives as adults. It's all about early intervention for the severe cases, and for the less severe cases, help to find ways to make their lives fit into the "mold" we call normal. What I mean by this is give people tools to ease their struggles with the sensory things they have difficulty with, and help them work around the feeling of "being different." I still haven't decided that the spectrum is the "difference" rather than the norm. I feel MOST people are on the "spectrum," and the spectrum is really normal, we may just classifying the "extremes" of the spectrum of NORMAL.

Two Twists of Faith said...

Finally had a chance to read it today Dennis. Thanks for your post. God made us all different, diverse, unique and special. I don't want you cured! You would not be the Dennis we know! Thanks for sharing!