“The idea of a cure for autism doesn’t make sense. Autism isn’t a disease or an injury; it’s a neurodevelopmental disability that shapes our brains differently,” Julia Bascom told me via email. Bascom is director of programs for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, or ASAN, an advocacy organization run by and for autistic people.
She continued, “If I can’t talk, does it make sense to look for a pill for that, or should my speech therapist help me learn how to type or sign instead? Is flapping my hands or intensely and obsessively loving something ‘weird’ or wanting to be by myself the psychological equivalent of diabetes, or is it a natural and beautiful part of human diversity?”
Just as homosexuality used to be seen as a disorder but is now accepted as part of the range of human diversity, a neurodiversity proponent sees the classifying of autism as a disorder as a socially intolerant mistake. C.M. Lim is a research associate at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics, National University of Singapore who just published a paper on the debate between treating and accommodating autism in the journal Bioethics. He thinks autism and homosexuality are fundamentally disanalogous in this way.
“[Until] the 1970s, because of then-prevalent theories of homosexuality, it remained an important factual matter whether homosexuality was in fact associated with being defective in other areas of everyday life, including social effectiveness. It was important for members that they were in fact equally socially effective as heterosexuals. The neurodiversity claims do not assert for equal social effectiveness, but rather that autistics can be socially effective if society changes to accommodate their differences,” Lim told me in an email. “Also, what is practically involved in accommodating gay people and autistics differ significantly.”The article links to this study:
Dev Psychol. 2013 Jan;49(1):59-71. doi: 10.1037/a0028353. Epub 2012 Apr 30.
Deficit, difference, or both? Autism and neurodiversity.
Kapp SK1, Gillespie-Lynch K, Sherman LE, Hutman T.
The neurodiversity movement challenges the medical model's interest in causation and cure, celebrating autism as an inseparable aspect of identity. Using an online survey, we examined the perceived opposition between the medical model and the neurodiversity movement by assessing conceptions of autism and neurodiversity among people with different relations to autism. Participants (N = 657) included autistic people, relatives and friends of autistic people, and people with no specified relation to autism. Self-identification as autistic and neurodiversity awareness were associated with viewing autism as a positive identity that needs no cure, suggesting core differences between the medical model and the neurodiversity movement. Nevertheless, results suggested substantial overlap between these approaches to autism. Recognition of the negative aspects of autism and endorsement of parenting practices that celebrate and ameliorate but do not eliminate autism did not differ based on relation to autism or awareness of neurodiversity. These findings suggest a deficit-as-difference conception of autism wherein neurological conditions may represent equally valid pathways within human diversity. Potential areas of common ground in research and practice regarding autism are discussed
As the study forthrightly acknowledges, however, the sample was self-selected, so the results are not necessarily representative of opinion among autistic or non-autistic people.