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Low Functioning Autism

Posted Sep 12 2008 3:23am

Anyone who has read this site from time to time knows that I am not a fan of the so called Neurodiversity movement. In its essence it is irrational. Neurodiversity (ND) is a group of people who embrace the term "autism" to describe themselves (autistic, autist, autie etc.) a term given to a neurological or neuropsychiatric disorder, but who claim, despite embracing the name of that disorder, that it is not in fact a disorder or disability. They also object to the use of terms like "low functioning" and "high functioning" autism.

Well the truth is that there ARE low functioning autistic persons. Typically they exhibit little or no communication ability or understanding of language. They also may not understand many of the complexities and dangers posed by every day life. My son Conor is low functioning and I am not ashamed to say so. He is a great joy in my life. When I come home from a tough day at work and see Conor's face pressed against the window, waiting for Dad, my spirits soar. I get a "happy buzz" when Conor walks into a room. But he is low functioning. He will never drive an automobile or live independently. He can not be left unattended by adults. And he cannot negotiate crossing a busy street by himself. I am not ashamed of him because he is low functioning. I love him deeply. I enjoy his company. He makes me stronger. But the reality remains that he is low functioning. It would be both foolish and dangerous to his well being to pretend otherwise.

Recently reported stories, some of them very sad, describe the realities of life for some low functioning autistic persons. In a tragic case the body of a 40 year old autistic man with diabetes was found in East Troy Wisconsin after he fell through the floor of a barn. This autistic man did not speak and had wandered off in the past but had been found in unlocked cars.

In the Chicago area a 12 year old autistic boy who never learned to speak had no way to explain to his parents what had caused the horrible bruises on his shins. It turns out that a teacher had forced him to jump for 40 minutes on a trampoline even as he screamed and tried to get down and eventually fell bruising himself on the metal rims of the trampoline. A teachers' aide witnessed the incident and reported it. The teacher has been charged.

In New York a middle aged autistic woman who can not speak was assaulted on several occasions by staff of the facility. Some have been arrested and charged.

In a story with a happier ending a 7 year old boy autistic boy who never learned to speak and who has not been attending school was finally placed by New York city officials in a private school which specializes in teaching children with neurological disorders. The placement was found after the boys story was publicized on the New York Daily News.

Sometimes as in the last incident problems end well. Sometimes autistic children who wonder off and get lost are found safe. But the underlying reality is that there are in fact low functioning autistic persons who can not communicate and display very limited understanding of the world. These recent stories present different aspects of their realities. They are not the realities of some very high functioning autistic persons who claim to speak on their behalf. It is parents, family members and ultimately public officials who actually care for and provide for lower functioning autistic persons. The Neurodiversity movement can help them by not appearing before courts, legislative bodies and the court of public opinion arguing that autism is not a disorder and should not be cured or treated. Such statements do not help lower functioning autistic persons and ... they simply are not true.

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