Is The Neurodiversity Movement Ashamed of Lower Functioning Autistic Persons?
Posted Sep 12 2008 11:31am
It seems at times that the Neurodiversity Movement is ashamed of the lower functioning members of the autism world. Autism is defined by the ND movement as simply another natural variation of human wiring. "Autistic intelligence" is defined as a different, perhaps even a superior form of intelligence. Doubt is cast on whether lower functioning autistic persons even exist by the more strident ND'ers. Even autistic persons who have demonstrated no communication skills, engage in seriously and repetitively self injurious and dangerous behavior should not be treated or cured in the view of the ND movement.
Parents who seek to help their OWN children, not the ND'ers themselves, but their own children, through attempts at cures or treatment are vilified by the ND movement. Every major parent driven autism advocacy organization from Cure Autism Now to Autism Speaks, Autism Society Canada, Autism Society America, National Autism Society UK, FEAT organizations, all are roasted for their efforts. They are derided as self centered whiners by the proud members of the ND movement. Pejorative labels such as "Autism Squeaks" and "curebies" are used to dismiss those seeking to cure or treat autism.
Recently CNN's Dr. Gupta featured the story of Amanda Baggs, diagnosed as being a low functioning autistic person, but clearly very intelligent and, with the aid of technology, an excellent communicator. The implied message - even low functioning autistic persons are really quite intelligent and do not need a cure or treatment. Unfortunately Dr. Gupta played into this denial of the existence of truly low functioning autistic persons by continuing a long history of media focus on autistic savants and other high functioning autistic persons while ignoring the sometimes brutal realities which confront low functioning, seriously disabled, autistic persons.
My autistic son, Conor, is a low functioning autistic person who brings me great joy. I delight in talking about how happy he makes me every single day. But, unlike members of the Neurodiversity I am not ashamed to admit the severe challenges he faces in life and I am not afraid to talk about them publicly. Unless such public discussion takes place there will be no improvements for Conor and other autistic persons like him. Of course that is exactly why the Neurodiversity movement attempts to censor such discussion. Content with themselves they wish to deny the opportunity for lower functioning autistic persons to be treated and cured. Is the Neurodiveristy movement ashamed of its lower functioning autistic cousins? It certainly looks that way to this "NT" (Neurotypical).
Is autism simply in the wiring?
Ailments come and go. I don’t mean in a personal sense — although my lumbar vertebrae are creaking again after a blissful period of quiescence — but in a social and historical sense. Homosexuality is no longer an illness. Lefthandedness no longer merits a cure. Could autism be next?
Some people argue that the developmental disorder — which compromises communication, social interaction and imaginative play — is merely an example of human “neurodiversity”. Just as disabled individuals sometimes prefer to call themselves differently abled, some people with autism would like to be regarded as differently wired. To try to alleviate or cure autism, they say, is tantamount to oppression. And genetic tests, which are in development to identify autism in the unborn, are a mere step away from eugenics.
This movement, which boasts groups such as Aspies for Freedom (a reference to Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form) and the Autism Liberation Front, does not accept the image of autistics as odd loners. Instead, nonautistics are portrayed as sad conformists unable to operate outside the social horde. It opposes any attempts to “cure” or even treat autism.
The movement is driven, unsurprisingly, by those at the high-functioning end of autism. It is ironic that they have been accused of not empathising with others at the low-functioning end, who are less able to cope with everyday life.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading autism researcher at the University of Cambridge, says: “I agree that high-functioning autism is better characterised in terms of neurodiversity. Low-functioning autism may also be, but is probably best characterised as involving additional disabilities, such as learning disability, language delay, epilepsy and so on. I don’t think we are looking to ‘cure’ autism any more than we are looking to cure lefthandedness or being gay. But if there were treatments or interventions that help without affecting the areas of strength [such as the excellent attention to detail] I imagine these would be welcomed.”