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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Shifting from Fixing

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the neurodiversity movement and changing attitudes toward disability in general.

Claudia Wallis at Scientific American:
When I began reporting on autism about 15 years ago, therapists would talk about achieving the “optimal outcome” for children on the autism spectrum. What they meant was changing the classic behaviors associated with the condition—suppressing repetitive actions such as hand flapping, drilling young kids to make eye contact, rehearsing speech and social interactions—so that ultimately the children would no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. It was an elusive goal that only a tiny percentage could reach. Today it is widely seen as wrong-minded.

“We’ve moved away from thinking of autism as a condition that needs to be eliminated or fixed to thinking about autism as part of the neurodiversity that exists across humankind,” says Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development in Durham, N.C. “The question then becomes, How do we best support people who are autistic, and how would you measure improvement if you are conducting clinical trials?” Dawson, along with two colleagues, wrote about this shift in a recent article in JAMA Pediatrics. It reflects a widespread reevaluation of the goals of therapy and metrics for success, driven in part by the self-advocating voices of people on the spectrum. They have fostered a greater appreciation for what society gains from having different kinds of brains contribute to our world, as well as a greater awareness of the negative impacts of insisting that people with autism behave in ways that are unnatural for them.