Monday, February 26, 2007

Is The Neurodiversity Movement Ashamed of Lower Functioning Autistic Persons?

It seems at times that the Neurodiversity Movement is ashamed of the lower functioning members of the autism world. Autism is defined by the ND movement as simply another natural variation of human wiring. "Autistic intelligence" is defined as a different, perhaps even a superior form of intelligence. Doubt is cast on whether lower functioning autistic persons even exist by the more strident ND'ers. Even autistic persons who have demonstrated no communication skills, engage in seriously and repetitively self injurious and dangerous behavior should not be treated or cured in the view of the ND movement.

Parents who seek to help their OWN children, not the ND'ers themselves, but their own children, through attempts at cures or treatment are vilified by the ND movement. Every major parent driven autism advocacy organization from Cure Autism Now to Autism Speaks, Autism Society Canada, Autism Society America, National Autism Society UK, FEAT organizations, all are roasted for their efforts. They are derided as self centered whiners by the proud members of the ND movement. Pejorative labels such as "Autism Squeaks" and "curebies" are used to dismiss those seeking to cure or treat autism.

Recently CNN's Dr. Gupta featured the story of Amanda Baggs, diagnosed as being a low functioning autistic person, but clearly very intelligent and, with the aid of technology, an excellent communicator. The implied message - even low functioning autistic persons are really quite intelligent and do not need a cure or treatment. Unfortunately Dr. Gupta played into this denial of the existence of truly low functioning autistic persons by continuing a long history of media focus on autistic savants and other high functioning autistic persons while ignoring the sometimes brutal realities which confront low functioning, seriously disabled, autistic persons.

My autistic son, Conor, is a low functioning autistic person who brings me great joy. I delight in talking about how happy he makes me every single day. But, unlike members of the Neurodiversity I am not ashamed to admit the severe challenges he faces in life and I am not afraid to talk about them publicly. Unless such public discussion takes place there will be no improvements for Conor and other autistic persons like him. Of course that is exactly why the Neurodiversity movement attempts to censor such discussion. Content with themselves they wish to deny the opportunity for lower functioning autistic persons to be treated and cured. Is the Neurodiveristy movement ashamed of its lower functioning autistic cousins? It certainly looks that way to this "NT" (Neurotypical).


Is autism simply in the wiring?

Ailments come and go. I don’t mean in a personal sense — although my lumbar vertebrae are creaking again after a blissful period of quiescence — but in a social and historical sense. Homosexuality is no longer an illness. Lefthandedness no longer merits a cure. Could autism be next?

Some people argue that the developmental disorder — which compromises communication, social interaction and imaginative play — is merely an example of human “neurodiversity”. Just as disabled individuals sometimes prefer to call themselves differently abled, some people with autism would like to be regarded as differently wired. To try to alleviate or cure autism, they say, is tantamount to oppression. And genetic tests, which are in development to identify autism in the unborn, are a mere step away from eugenics.

This movement, which boasts groups such as Aspies for Freedom (a reference to Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form) and the Autism Liberation Front, does not accept the image of autistics as odd loners. Instead, nonautistics are portrayed as sad conformists unable to operate outside the social horde. It opposes any attempts to “cure” or even treat autism.

The movement is driven, unsurprisingly, by those at the high-functioning end of autism. It is ironic that they have been accused of not empathising with others at the low-functioning end, who are less able to cope with everyday life.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading autism researcher at the University of Cambridge, says: “I agree that high-functioning autism is better characterised in terms of neurodiversity. Low-functioning autism may also be, but is probably best characterised as involving additional disabilities, such as learning disability, language delay, epilepsy and so on. I don’t think we are looking to ‘cure’ autism any more than we are looking to cure lefthandedness or being gay. But if there were treatments or interventions that help without affecting the areas of strength [such as the excellent attention to detail] I imagine these would be welcomed.”


John Best said...

Do you think any sane persom actually believes what Neurodiversity has to say? Do you think any of the Neurodiverse actually believe what they say themselves?
I can't picture myself telling any parent that they should not take measures to improve a suffering child's condition. Are these people all insane or do they have an ulterior motive?

Unknown said...

fore sam

You and I disagree about cause and treatment but we agree that autism is a disability which requires treatment. Some parents are overwhelmed when their children first receive an autism diagnosis. Some will look to the comfort of the "natural variation" message of the Neurodiversity movement when in fact they should be facing reality as soon as possible so they can start working on behalf of their children.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I do worry about prenatal screens for ASD. In the DS community 90-95% of parents who recieve a prenatal diagnosis of DS choose to terminate preganancy. It has echos of eugneics. This rate of abortion occurs in spite of the positive message that DS advocates present... given the darker message autism advocates have presented (ie cancer, a death of life sentence etc) I worry that even more parents will elect to terminate pregnancy if ASD is detected.

Aside from this issue I do think that the challenges that present for many folks who have ASD do need support and services (and that ABA is amongst such services).

I am pretty sure that most of the ND folks are not "ashamed" of those that have been described as lower functioning. Michelle Dawson indicated in one of our "discussions" that she was not suggesting that "doing nothing" was the correct path to follow and she went on to point out that "doing nothing" might very well be a form of neglect...


Judi said...

Mr. Doherty,

I really do not understand your post at all. I have been reading the posts of the individuals you are speaking of for quite a few months now. I fail to see what you are seeing. Just because some people choose to embrace their children, accept that autism is part of who their child is, it doesn't mean they are advocating doing nothing! I have never once read that in any blog. You are failing to see the larger picture here.
I can speak only for myself and my own son, but I was able to do much, much, much more for my sweet boy once I recognized what a wonderful individual he is, once I realized and accepted the autism. Why is focusing on the positive things that autistics can do doing them a disservice?
Not one of the people I have read has advocated to do nothing, and they certainly are not ashamed of low functioning autistics. Can you point me to a blog where they have said that?

Unknown said...


We all, or certainly most of us, love our children, autistic or not. If you check the "Conor" posts on my blog site you will see numerous references to the joy he brings me each day. You don't really think that the ND movement is necessary for parents to love their children do you? Why do you think so many parents struggle so hard to treat and cure their autistic children - because they don't love them?

The problem arises publicly when parents try to speak about the negative realities faced by their children or family members who care for those children. When parents speak about these truths as they did in the Autism Every Day film shown at the Sundance film festival, or in organizations such as Autism Speaks, Autism Society America or FEAT organizations they are derided as "whiners" and worse. Seeking to find a cure for their OWN children they are derided by the ND movement as whiners and curebies.

ND advocates like to discuss the wonders, the joys, of autism but they do not like to discuss the negative, and at times dangerous attributes, that afflict the more seriously disabled autistic persons. They do not want to admit that some autistic persons are intellectually impaired and will not be able to live independent lives.

There are many seriously impaired autistic persons in the world. They need treatment and cures.