Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why Does Professor Baron-Cohen Study Autism?

Simon Baron-Cohen is a distinguished Professor of Experimental Psychology and director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Neurodiversity Advocate who has recently promoted the view that autism is just a natural variation that should not be cured. As a parent of a profoundly autistic son whose life is obviously restricted and impaired by his Autism Disorder I find the Professor's remarks offensive.

His comments clearly indicate that he is at one with
the Neurodiversity advocates who, while they self identify as autistic, deny that the autism disorder with which they self identify is in fact a disorder. It is one thing for these individuals to express their world views in this fashion but a director of an Autism Research Center? Clearly he is not dealing with the very serious cases of self injurious autism or approaching those individuals who must live out their lives in the institutional care of others. And he is not talking to the parents, family members and caregivers for these seriously autistic persons. If he were he would not be so quick to trivialize their life restricting realities with such superficial observations.

What really triggers my curiosity though is the Professor's career motivation. If he does not believe that autism should be cured, that it is just a natural variation of the human condition, like billions of other variations what is it about those who find themselves classified, either through professional or self diagnosis, as autistic, or Aspergers, that would prompt the Professor to spend his life studying these people? Is it just idle curiosity? Does the good Professor study people like my son out of idle curiosity?

Professor Baron-Cohen participated in the recently reported study indicating a possible causal or contributory role of prenatal testosterone in the development of autism. Why did he bother? If autistic persons should not be treated or cured; if autism is just another variation then why does it matter what role might be played by prenatal testosterone? The Professor's musings to the effect that perhaps we should not cure autistic persons, even seriously autistic, dependent, non-communicative autistic persons, is hard to reconcile with his testosterone study comments as reported in Reuters. There he indicated that collaboration with Danish researchers to tap a biological bank that has about 90,000 amniotic fluid samples to test whether there is a direct link between fetal testosterone and autism is the next step:

"This may provide us with a marker to help tell us who might be at risk."

At risk Professor? At risk of what? Developing a natural variation of the human condition that should not be cured in any event? Make up your mind Professor.

1 comment:

Andrew Lehman said...

I would agree with the professor. Autism is a condition. Specifically, autism and other conditions revealing male maturational delay suggest a matrifocal social structure origin.

Autism is an evolutionary, social condition. For an overview click here