Monday, February 8, 2016

Autism, neurodiversity and why we can't make blanket statements

There has been a lot of controversy regarding if we should embrace the concept of neurodiversity when it comes to autism.  On the one hand, neurodiversity is a great idea.  I believe people with autism have unique gifts and talents that  should be embraced and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in human society.  Throughout my adolescence,  I always thought society viewed autism as a disease because of the false assumption that vaccines are the cause of autism.  It also didn't help that there were some pro-cure organizations that helped perpetrated the attitude that autism is something to fear. This is why there has been a lot of money that is being spent on research looking at the cause of autism with the possibility of finding a cure.  The problem of  looking at autism as a disease rather than a difference is that it perpetuates the view that ALL autistic individuals are" broken" and incapable which has resulted in negative stereotypes about the condition (e.g. "people with autism lack empathy).  Growing up, I became aware of these negative stereotypes about autism in the books I read that were written by parents and professionals and also on the media.  The way that these clients or children were depicted in these books was negative and the format was framed as a instruction manual in a way that can be applied to all people with autism.   Negative stereotypes about autism are perpetuated by the media by interviewing families who's children are more severely impacted by highlighting how autism"has taken their child" away from them".  All of these factors combined created a view in which autism is something that needs to be combated.  Unfortunately, this attitude angers a lot of autistic self advocates since they believe that autism is a part of who they are and not something that should be normalized or cured.   We want society  to see us as people with feelings with different strengths and weaknesses.  This is where neurodiversity comes in.  Self-advocates like myself like the term neurodiversity because it humanizes people on the autism spectrum and recognizes diversity and embracing different ways of thinking.  The embacing view of neurodiversity was not stressed enough when I was younger and I am glad that people are starting to embrace autism today.

However, then there are those on the autism spectrum who are severely impacted who are self injurous, engage in fecal smearing , have seizures and other activities that makes life more difficult for themselves and their families.   In this case, one is in a difficult position of embracing autism since it causes so much pain for the individual and their family members who have to take care of them.  This is why parents in this situation are resentful of self advocates since they can't understand where they are coming from when they want to" cure autism."  This is why there is such a divide in the autism community because there are those who don't want to cure autism and who believe it should be embraced and then there are those who want to cure autism because it is the reason why their child/ren are suffering. The problem is that advocates on both sides make blanket statements thnking that their opinion is reflective to the lives of all people with autism.  They miss the fact that people with autism are all different.  There is the saying in the autism community "if you meet one person with autism you've met one person with autism."  We all need to be sympathetic to other people's situation or viewpoints.  This means parents of more severely impacted children on the spectrum need to be mindful that when they say "autism should be cured"can hurt the feelings of competent self advocates who can speak out for themselves and self-advocates need to understand the challenges and hardships families face when dealing with a relative that is self-injurous and is aggressive towards others.   This is my take on this issue and like I said earlier on this post I embrace neurodiversity but am sympathetic to parents who have hard lives because of the challenges associated with their child's autism.  This is why we can't make blanket statements regarding autism since it is a spectrum after all.

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