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Shades of Autism Denial

Posted Sep 12 2008 10:29am

Much has been made in recent weeks of the denial by John Travolta of his son's alleged autism. I do not know if his son is actually autistic although a lot of people certainly seem to think that he is. Some of the language directed at Travolta by inter-net bloggers has been pretty rough. The general gist of the accusations is that Travolta is prevented by his Scientology beliefs from acknowledging that his son is Autistic. Dr. Deborah Serani authors a blog called Dr. Deb and provides a fairly gentle treatment of the issue when she says:

I feel sad about this because there are some treatments for Autism that would not involve medication - something Scientology disdains. For example, Applied Behavior Analysis would be helpful. But the religion denies the existence of any mental/neurological disorders, so it seems that nothing will be done for this boy.

Dr. Serani raises an interesting point about denial and the failure to utilize Applied behavior Analysis (ABA) a helpful intervention, which is to date the only treatment which meets the evidence based standards for effectiveness in treating autism. But there are different types and shades of autism denial. There is, unfortunately, a school of thought amongst some parents of autistic children, albeit a very small group, which says that autism is not a disorder, it is simply a natural variation, a different way of being neither better nor worse than any other variation of the human condition.

According to this point of view parents who seek to cure or treat their children are failing to accept their children for who they are; we are failing to embrace our children's autism and therefore we are not accepting our own children since their autism is the essence of who they are. One of the better known advocates of this "acceptance of autism" is Ms. Estee Klar-Wolfond who publishes a blog site called "The Joy of Autism". It is difficult to be more aptly descriptive of Ms. Klar-Wolfond's brand of denial than the title she has chosen for her blog site. Ms. Klar-Wolfond celebrates her son's autism, chastises parents who speak truthfully about their children's autism by describing it as what it is - a disorder, or describe truthfully the very serious and harmful deficits that can accompany autism. The Joyful perspective Ms. Klar-Wolfond professes to embrace does not prevent her from persistently attacking parents seeking to treat their children with Applied Behavior Analysis.

There are different shades of denial. Mr. Travolta is reported to deny that his son is autistic. Ms. Klar-Wolfond accepts that her son is autistic but denies that his autism is a serious neurological disorder that should be cured or treated. In both cases their children will be denied the benefits that could be realized with ABA intervention.

Sad, in both cases.

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