Autism is diagnosed more frequently now than ever before, but most people still don’t know what to think about it. Until recently, most advocates wanted to eradicate autism and its effects as much as possible. Recently, however, a movement for self-advocacy and neurodiversity has emerged among some people with autism.
The Struggle Against Autism
The diagnosis of autism strikes fear into the hearts of many parents. The diagnosis is terrifying, probably because it is so mysterious.
Researchers don’t know the underlying cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and treatment is not always effective. Autism is not just one condition, it is a spectrum of problems with varying severity.
Very severe cases can result in self-harm, dangerous tantrums, and a complete inability to speak. The fear of severe autism has led many parents to demand a cure, and has led some advocates to blame autism on various environmental factors, such as vaccines. Luckily, there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Rather, autism is probably largely genetic.
Most cases, however, are not so severe. Many “high-functioning” people with ASD can communicate, contribute, and even excel in many pursuits. Autistic individuals sometimes even display special mental skills that might seem baffling to others.
Because of their unique contributions, some autistic individuals are calling for a shift in the public perception of autism. The neurodiversity movement, as it is being called, wants ASD and other neurological difference to be viewed as natural variation rather than as a disease to be combated.
Instead of trying to beat autism, members of the neurodiversity movement see autism as a difference to be accepted. Some see their autism in a positive light, or at least as an inseparable part of themselves.
Some of these people have banded together to support each other. They organize events on Autistic Pride Day, June 18, to celebrate their shared perspective. They may feel more comfortable with each other because they do not need to explain their characteristically autistic behaviors, like avoiding eye contact and rocking or flapping their hands. Other members of their autistic community intuitively understand.
While many autistic people are capable of holding a job and advocating for their own rights, some individuals are so debilitated by the disorder that they are completely dependent on the support of their family, and some are completely cut off from the outside world.
The world of autism advocacy has become divided: one camp favors acceptance of autism as a different way of thinking and viewing the world, the other wants to focus on liberating those who are completely debilitated by severe autism.
This tension between looking for a cure and seeking acceptance is unlikely to go away, although the idea of neurodiversity is gaining ground. Autism advocacy needs a fusion of these two perspectives to avoid self-destruction. You can help achieve this goal through education, compassion, and persistent hard work.
Image by Eric in the Public Domain.