Sunday, July 01, 2007

Obscuring the Reality of Low Functioning Autism - An Example

Parents of low functioning autistic children do not have the luxury of denying our children's realities. Unlike Neurodiversity icon Michelle Dawson we must plan for their future after we are deceased or for when we can no longer physically care for them. We must also try to ensure they develop and otherwise are educated to the best of our abilities, while also providing them with a joyful childhood and doing the same for their siblings. We do not have the luxury of cloaking our children's well being in illusions. We must deal with the reality of their severe autism.

Ms Dawson, anti-ABA crusader, has appeared before the Canadian Senate and in the Supreme Court of Canada, in a determined effort to prevent our autistic children from receiving the ONLY intervention, health or education, that to date has met the evidence based standard of effectiveness in improving the abilities of autistic children and in reducing dangerous behaviors. She, along with Psychiatrist Laurent Mottron and Psychologist Morton Ann Gernsbacher, want us to believe that, because some autistic persons, whom they classify as low functioning, perform well on tests designed for them to succeed, that we should question whether they are indeed low functioning. We should disregard the real life evidence and experience of parents who struggle to help their children learn basic life skills, endure tantrum behavior in public places, disregard the serious injuries which our children inflict on themselves and occasionally on siblings, and family members and pretend that all is well.

The following example from a blog site called "Figural Effect The psychology of reasoning: theory and experiment" is a perfect example of Ms Dawson's skewed logic. In this comment she accuses me of "writing off" low functioning autistic persons, such as my son, also falsely accusing me of declaring that autistics belong in institutions. These accusations are pure fiction. I try to improve the lot in life of my son by ABA , the only evidence based effective intervention known to do so, an intervention which she opposes and has the audacity to accuse me (and other parent advocates for ABA for their children) as writing off our children? If I was writing my son and other low functioning autistic children off I would do as she does and oppose the funding of ABA interventions for autistic children.

I have never said that autistics just naturally belong in institutions as Ms Dawson claims. But unlike her I do not avoid at all costs the reality that there ARE autistic persons living in institutional care and that many more WILL live in institutional care. With 11 years experience living with and caring for my son I know he will never have the ability to live independently. That is a reality that I, as a responsible parent, MUST prepare for to the best of my ability.

Ms. Dawson has no such responsibility. She is free to continue to fight against ABA services for autistic children and to obscure the realities and challenges facing severely autistic individuals. In the following post she states "It is true that institutionalizing autistics ensures that our outcomes are terrible, no matter what our abilities are (yes, there is published science about this). But this is true of most people confined to institutions." In this comment Ms Dawson attributes "terrible outcomes" to the fact that some autistic persons are institutionalized. It apparently never dawned on her to ask WHY they are institutionalized to begin with. The answers she received would not be convenient for her glorification of autism.

Ms. Dawson and her partners in mischief, Laurent Mottron and Morton Ann Gernsbacher, should give their heads a darn good shake. The time is long past for them to start thinking about those children with autism who require tertiary care services for the violent self injury they inflict on themselves or for the restricted, starvation level dietary compulsions of some other autistic children. They should also visit some of the lower functioning adult autistic persons who can not live independently and who require constant supervision. These people are not "all over the literature performing well". Dawson, Gernsbacher and Mottron should take off their ideological blinders and deal with the autism realities of lower functioning autistic children and adults. The time is long overdue.

# Michelle Dawson Says:
April 8th, 2007 at 7:50 am

As I wrote in response to Mr Doherty on my own blog, of the six studies we cite in that paragraph, three report data from autistics whose measured intelligence was, on a specific instrument at a specific time, in the “low-functioning” range.

Given the opportunity, these supposedly “low-functioning” autistics were able to outperform their non-autistic peers, which leads to the cautious conclusion that–so long as they are not written off by powerful leaders like Mr Doherty–these autistics are not invisible. Indeed, they are all over the literature, performing remarkably well.

That is, the supposedly “low-functioning” autistics who Mr Doherty writes off are, given the opportunity, capable of performing not only at a level equal to non-autistics, but also at a level exceeding this.

It is true that institutionalizing autistics ensures that our outcomes are terrible, no matter what our abilities are (yes, there is published science about this). But this is true of most people confined to institutions. Insisting that autistics are write-offs who just naturally belong in institutions, as Mr Doherty forcefully does, ensures that autistics have poor outcomes, regardless of our measured abilities.


Anne said...

Do you think it is worthwhile to continue researching how autistic kids think and learn, or should we just stick with the status quo? Is ABA/IBI the best we can possibly do?

Unknown said...

First, you are off topic but I will answer your questions. Continued research, real research, in all areas of autism is desireable. I have never said anything to the contrary. ABA is a whole lot better right now in terms of present realities than anything else available.

Second, the research should not be focused solely on high functioning autistics as the Mottron trio has done. Before you argue for the sake of it just run a Google Scholar search on Mottron and see what turns up.

Third, and most importantly, do not pretend that there are no low functioning autistic persons. Do not hide the reality of life for the more severely autistic.

Anne said...

Maybe I'm off topic, but I don't think I really understand the point of your post. What do you think Dr. Mottron and Ms. Dawson could do, that they are not doing, to take into account the needs of low functioning autistic people in their research? Also, what can be done to help institutionalized adults have a say in their lives, or get out of institutional living? I think these are serious questions for a parent who anticipates that his child will need some kind of care as an adult. I'm not arguing with you. I'm asking.

Unknown said...


I am surprised that you say you don't understand the point of my post. It is right in the title. Mottron and Dawson should both:

1) Stop actively campaigning AGAINST government funded ABA for autistic children in Canada. ABA remains the only evidence based effective intervention to help autistic children develop AND learn. Both M and D actively campaign against ABA for autistic children.

2) They could both stop obscuring the fact that there are many low functioning autistic persons who do not share the gifts of higher functioning autistic persons like Ms. Dawson.

Manuel Eduardo Berduo said...

When you have a low functioning autism kid, Like us (male 9 years old), instead that they can be very lovely inside home, you have to think about the future, in central america we don`t have institutions for them, and that make terapys like ABA very important to help us to give to our sun the abilities that he needs to live with his brothers and sisters.

Anonymous said...

There is no point trying to argue with M Dawson. You are right her logic is skewed.
She can not see the forest for the trees and nothing will change that. You are wasting your valuable time and energy with her.
Keep up the good work you are doing and thanks for exposing things like the neodiversity movement and for keeping us all informed about autism

Unknown said...

Thank you for commenting Manuel.

It is helpful to have some one living with autism in a Latin American country offer some perspective.

Unknown said...

l p you are probably right. It is when she alleges that I have made statements which I have never made that it gets really annoying.

Anonymous said...

I am impressed by your ability to blog cogently about this - I avoid Michelle Dawson and her pals because otherwise I would be consumed with rage.

My son at 3 was considered "medium-functioning". At 15, thanks to ABA, he is close to indistinguishable from his peers. I feel very luck and grateful, but it also terrifies me that if he'd been born in another time or in another state, we'd be living a very different life.

Unknown said...


I am happy to see that you had such success with your son.

Congratulations. I am sure it did not come easy.