Autism is not a disorder that must be "cured"
(Letter to The Toronto Star, Revised)
The Star's recent series of articles and letters on the issue of public
funding for autism treatment have neglected several vital aspects.
First, in conceptualizing autism as a "disease," readers are misled as
to the true character of autism as a behaviourally defined developmental
disorder. Autism is not a medical condition or diagnosis such as cancer
and therefore the need to "medicalize" the disorder - to import the
pathological and curative predisposition of medicine - is entirely
inappropriate. Let the advocates of treatments for autism such as
applied behaviour analysis (ABA) or intensive behavioural intervention
(IBI) make their own case for insisting on "recovery" or "curing" autism
without this false premise.
Second, since the criteria for diagnosing autism capture a
multi-dimensional range or spectrum of developmental disorders, readers
are misled when the portrayal of autistics invariably include aggression
and the inability to communicate causing tremendous sacrifice and
disruption in family life. Why are invariably all autistic children
portrayed as doomed to live in institutions unless treatments continue
throughout childhood and adolescence?
As a parent, I understand the source of any possible despair that a
child may not be "normal." Imagine the despair of the parents of
Einstein, Freud, Yeats, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, and Turing.
These intellectual giants of the 20th century were all autistics. In all
likelihood, their parents no doubt found many of their childhood
behaviours to be unusual but fortunately for humanity, they were no
subjected to intensive behavioural modification techniques to "cure"
them of any symptoms of autism.
Can we not also present the other side of the story? The advocates of
ABA or IBI therapies have so "poisoned the well" for parents of autistic
children that perhaps the time has come to call for mandatory
counselling of parents of autistic children on the diverse nature of
autism and wide array of treatments and therapies available.
Toronto, 2 September 2004
Reproduced by permission of the author.