Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Salon's Elizabeth Svoboda Provides Balanced Picture of Autism and Neurodiversity

I was interviewed by Elizabeth Svoboda for her Salon.com feature on Neurodiversity "I am not a puzzle" and I am impressed by the balance shown in the article for which that interview was conducted.

I have complained in the past that Neurodiversity gets a free ride from the mainstream media (especially Canada's publicly funded CBC) and is permitted to misrepresent the nature of autism. Few in the media even question the right of some persons with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism to speak on the behalf of all autistic persons including lower functioning persons with Autistic Disorder, like my son, with whom they have very, very little in common.

In addition to presenting different perspectives Ms Svoboda's interview allowed some Neurodiversity leaders like Ari Ne'eman, the ASAN leader with Aspergers Disorder, to go on the public record with their distorted representations of Applied Behavior Analysis, the empirically backed autism intervention that has helped so many children with autism disorders and serious deficits to acquire skills and reduce dangerous self injurious behaviors. As his quotes in the Salon article show, Ari Ne'eman relies on outdated caricatures of ABA, arguing erroneously and with nothing to back it up, that ABA, as practiced today, still relies largely on aversives.

I thank Ms Svoboda and Salon.com for practicing real journalism. Unlike the CBC, which routinely promotes Neurodiversity on its English and French radio and television programs, En jeux, Quirks and Quarks and prime time news features like "Positively Autistic", Salon. com has offered a balanced, professional view of this misguided ideology and some of its leaders.

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Marius Filip said...

Unfortunately, I do not share the opinion that the article was well balanced.

While I agree that Mrs. Svoboda tried to present both sides, I think she greatly outweighed the ND side.

She cited more than one person for the ND side and a single one for the opposite.

And she started and ended the article with the ND position, too.

My impression is that an uninformed person reading the article remains more with the ND stuff in mind than otherwise.

Stephanie said...

People with HFA/AS who oppose treatment for those with autism to become "indistinguishable" from people without autism don't understand what they are talking about. People with HFA/AS are ALREADY indistinguishable from their peers: they do not live the same life of someone with severe autism. People with HFA/AS are usually in mainstream classrooms/schools and can go out in public and NO ONE will notice anything is wrong with them. Sure, they may be a bit eccentric but non-autistic people can be eccentric, too.

The goal is to have people with severe autism be able to function like someone with HFA/AS, not a "neurotypical," since that is impossible.

Marius Filip said...

Stephanie, it's in the behavior. To fit in the society means to be able to fit into a certain behavioral framework.

There are things that true Asperger's lack and are quite necessary to function properly. Theory of mind is one example, an acceptable level of sensitivity is another one.

All these can and must be trained. It's not ABA, it's something beyond that named cognitive-behavioral analysis which, besides the behavioral aspects, takes into consideration the cognitive side of the problem.

And, of course, the desensitization techniques which are well known.

I've both read and heard stories about ABA's tremendous success, when children became "virtually" indistinguishable for the NT peers.

This means that if you want find autistic traits, you have to look more or less with the magnifying glass at those kids.

This is what I call the true glory of ABA, and of the hard work of researchers, scientists, professionals, therapists and parents who could make that possible.

This does not mean that the autistic brain after ABA becomes identical to a NT brain.

It means that through hard work and many trials, the young brain develops additional connections that can make all these NT-like behaviors and cognitive processes possible.

ABA is far from perfect a treatment, but it's pretty much the best we've got right now.

Being against such techniques that clearly improve the lives of people with autism is, to me, totally bewildering.

farmwifetwo said...

I was surprised at Michelle Dawson's rebuttal on her blog.

And... what Stephanie said.


Katie said...

Just going to say, that as someone that has Asperger's, and is pro-neurodiversity, I really, really don't like Michelle Dawson and to me, Ari Ne'eman comes off as a self-righteous, angry young man.

Elizabeth Svoboda said...

Thanks for this, Harold. I appreciate the support!