Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Autism Newsflash - Neurodiversity and Autism Deficits

I recently posted a list of "Neurodiversity's 10 Autism Commandments| . While referring to themselves as autistic persons, or their children or clients as autistic, based on autism disorders, from the DSM-IV, Neurodiversity (ND) advocates don't actually consider autism a disorder and object to others speaking of it as such. Hence the first of ND's 10 Autism Commandments. After reading a comment on the blog site of Neurodiversity Hub blogger Steve D of "One Dad's Opinion" I was startled to read his interpretation of a recent autism conference hosted by USD Autism Institute in which, according to Steve D, the message of the conference's "Prime Movers" was:

"we need to move away from the "deficit model" of autism. The DSM-IV-r defines autism specifically by what autistic people cannot do compared to NT's (by the end of the conference, I must state here, EVERYONE was using the term NT - ever since Amanda's video was shown. Amanda - it really does work - you know, Getting the Truth Out :) ). This, in their view, improperly biases observers to look for "voids" of good behavior or existence of "bad" behavior - without ever considering the root cause of any given behavior at all. It leads to the (classic behaviorist) conclusion that "If I can just isolate this one behavior and eliminate it, my subject will become less autistic."

(highlighting added for emphasis - HLD)

Well, here is a news flash for Steve D and the "Prime Movers" of the conference. Parents seek medical attention for their children when they exhibit "deficits". That is why autism diagnoses are made. Because children show "deficits" such as lack of speech and other communication, lack of social interaction, even with parents, repetitive self absorbed behavior, self injurious, even life threatening behavior, and aggression towards siblings, parents, teachers and school mates. My son Conor has many strengths. He is a great and tremendous joy in my life. But I do not and can not ignore the reality of his "deficits". It does me no good, when Conor grabs my arm or head as I drove the family car, or puts his hand through a window, again, to think of Conor's many strengths and pluses. It is his deficits, his autism deficits, with which I have to deal. It is those deficits which resulted in Conor receiving professional attention and an Autism Disorder diagnosis.

Steve D mentions "epiphanies" in his commentary. Personally I hope that some day Steve D and the Neurodiversity movement have a different sort of epiphany and stumble onto a "concept" they have long abandoned and forgotten - reality.

University of San Diego
School of Leadership and Education Sciences
Autism Institute

Presents the

Summer Autism Conference

People Not Packages: Dynamic Approaches to Personalizing Supports for People with Autism

July 9 – 11, 2007


Suzanne said...

Thanks for raising awareness about autism.

Yesterday I came back from an appointment with my daughter's psychologist. She diagnosed my daughter with a Developmental Co-ordination Disorder. Basically, she's so klutzy and unable to do two things at a time, it has a name.

If my daughter would improve on this motor organization, her speech would improve enormously. Her potential would be unleashed.

How is it wrong to want to improve on that? My daughter is so anxious from being unable to co-ordinate her movement and speech that she shuts down. How is wrong to want to HELP her co-ordinate?

If a child who was NT had similar issues, no one would think twice about getting the kid some help. What makes autistic kids so "special" that they shouldn't get help?

The whole notion that we're doing something wrong for helping our kids makes me mad.

J said...

Mr. Doherty -
Two things.
First, you have totally misunderstood what I meant by "deficit model". You are taking it in a value-based sense - that the word deficit implies autistic behaviors are "bad". You, then, would be understanding my statement to mean that autistic behaviors are "good".
What it really means is that it may be a mistake to take any one defined "deficit", such as, for example, repetitive non-functional movements and view it in an isolated fashion with the intent to "eliminate" the deficit.
Instead, it was discussed that research on dynamic systems theories in biology may provide a better approach to understanding, then treating autistic behaviors.

Let's use your real example of Conor. A "deficit model" approach (at least my understanding of it), would take the behavior - Grabbing people from behind in a car - and use behavioral modification approaches to eliminate the behavior. That will work in some cases. My understanding of their point is that maybe there is a better solution to be found by looking at all of the systems at play in this case. Is Conor hungry or distressed and this is his attempt at communicating this feeling - by grabbing you? Did he see a deer on the roadside and is trying to get you to notice it too? I admit this is not a great list of examples, but I am no expert in this. The point is that there may be ways to improve our understanding of and resulting treatment of behaviors, and if we stick to the traditional model then new solutions will be difficult to find.
Does this help clarify anything?

Second - I am in no way associated with USD and am only writing my take - my opinion - of the content of their conference. My comments should be taken as such.

AutismNewsBeat said...

Steve D, thanks for clarifying. The "deficit model" seems to draw upon a very solid principle of psychology, that all behavior has a reason behind it, and that understand the reason is the first step in modifying the behavior. Still, it's hard for some parents to wrap their heads around that idea without introducing value-based notions of good and bad. The deficit-based model is a scientific approach to treating and accommodating autistic children, and is best understood without such baggage.

Navi said...

Heraldblog, you word that nicely.