Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Are Autism Disorders Morphing Into Einstein Turing Syndrome?

Autism disorders are misrepresented in the mainstream media, on the internet and, as has been confirmed many times, in autism research which excludes those with severe autism disorders simply because it is too difficult to work with severely autistic children and adults. One of the sorry ways in which autism disorders are misrepresented is whenever mention is made of historical geniuses like Albert Einstein or Alan Turing whose personal qualities are attributed to undiagnosed cases  of autism.  Autism is portrayed as a different way of thinking, the foundation of genius, with no mention made of those severely affected by autism and the large numbers of autistic persons with intellectual disabilities. Maybe though it is time to divide the autism spectrum into two groups, one for whom autism is a disorder under the DSM and ICD diagnostic manuals and one for whom it is a matter of genius and identity, a different way of thinking?

Arguably the silliest speculation of all is the notion that Jesus Christ was autistic a theory promoted by one Alan Griswold of Autistic Symphony fame and the MDs, PhDs and RNs who co-authored  the article Did Jesus Christ Have Autism? An Interdisciplinary Evidentiary Analysis into the Psychiatric and Medical Literature Supporting the Hypothesis That Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Was the Root Cause of a Terrible Cross to Bear.  The underlying message of such fanciful speculation is simple ... autism is not a disorder ... it is a just a different way of thinking that includes every genius known to history.  

Anniversaries such as the recent 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing the genius who contributed so much to our modern computer world and to the Allies efforts in WWII, and who was prosecuted for his homosexuality, inevitably spur more of the autism as genius rhetoric that obscures the real challenges faced by persons with classic and severe autism disorders: (1) (2, see in particular the comment section).

A significant question to me is whether the DSM5 committee is going in the wrong direction by uniting the autism disorders into one spectrum disorder varying in severity.  Would it make more sense to describe at least two different disorders? 

One for those who actually suffer from the deficits of severe autistic disorder, the vast majority of whom also suffer from intellectual disability. The other for the higher functioning individuals who identify strongly with history's geniuses and some of whom do not wish to acknowledge the existence of  low functioning persons with autism disorders?  

Why combine under one diagnostic umbrella persons with such different challenges in life, one group who clearly have a neurological disorder and the other for whom the term "disorder"  itself is an affront to be erased from public consciousness?  

Autism and Aspergers, (Einstein Turing Sydrome?), two different realities, two different diagnostic categories, now and in the future?  Since autism is diagnosed by behaviors and functioning levels shouldn`t consideration be given to the possibility that the gaps between those who are severely impaired and those who are capable of great feats of art, literature and science should not be grouped in one diagnostic basket?


jonathan said...

I'm a relatively high functioning individual somewhere on the autistic spectrum with intact intelligence. Yet I have deficits in a number of areas and suffer because of this disorder. To imply that at least some persons at the higher end of the spectrum don't suffer from this condition is plain wrontg. I wonder where i'd be placed in your classification scheme.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment Jonathan.

I accept your comment that it is plain wrong to say that some persons at the higher end of the spectrum don't suffer from the condition. That was not my intent but it is a reasonable inference to draw based on what I said.

The primary point though is that there are people who suffer from autism as a disorder and equating it with every known historical genius obscures those realities.

I also think a distinction should be drawn between LFA and HFA with both of those being categories where people suffer from their disorder deficits.

The intellectual disability that affects many with Autistic Disorder aggravates their autistic deficits substantially and that must be recognized. I will never have a conversation with my son like I am having with you right now. There is a huge difference.

For those with no functioning challenges I am not sure why they receive an autism diagnosis or self identify with autism.

Perhaps the solution is to have Low Functioning Autism Disorder and High Functioning Autism Disorder and preclude those with NO functioning impairments from receiving an autism disorder diagnosis.

I believe this is an issue that must be explored even after the DSM5 proceeds with its New Autism Spectrum Disorder after pretending to listen to the final stage of public input.

I appreciate your responding to my blog comment and I appreciate both the courtesy and the candor of your comment.

Cam said...

I think people like my family and yours ( and others) know EXACTLY what Autism is and how bloody horrible it is. I'm with you Harold. I love my kids but I friggin' hate Autism. It's taken years off my and my wife's lives and my kids are still toddlers. The Future...? Don't even want to think about it. Just livin' right now.

Shanesh COLORS said...

Great post. The diagnosis is usually made after a child turns 18 months, when the first signs of deficits are observed. This is the reason early intervention is of paramount importance. The high end and low end of the spectrum being talked about here can be differentiated based on the results of early intervention. Given the progress is reasonably satisfactory, therapists and teachers can then rule out the possibility of an acute disorder.