Monday, May 26, 2008

Neurodiversity Primer

If you have the time, I urge you to check out this excellent article on the autism neurodiversity movement from the most recent New York Magazine. It's called The Autism Rights Movement.

It does a nice job of explaining why the "what is autism?" issue is so complicated, and how the sickness vs. personality debate is as seemingly intractable and polarizing as the debates (can you even call them debates?) surrounding abortion or evolution.

It's unfortunate, though not surprising, that the different sides are so hostile towards each other. And, as is the case in most American political discourse, the spokespeople on the extreme ends of an issue are inherently more quotable and interesting than anyone expressing a nuanced opinion.

But my sense is that the vast majority of people whose lives are affected in some way by autism inhabit a middle ground captured nicely by autism activist (and person with autism) Temple Grandin:

Autism is a continuum from genius to extremely handicapped. If you got rid of all the autism genetics, you’d get rid of scientists, musicians, mathematicians. Some guy with high-functioning Asperger’s developed the first stone spear; it wasn’t developed by the social ones yakking around the campfire.

The problem is, you talk to parents with a low-functioning kid, who’ve got a teenager who still goes to the bathroom in his pants and who’s biting himself all the time...His life is miserable. It would be nice if you could prevent the most severe forms of nonverbal autism.


I wonder if some day, there will be research that shows that what we think of as autism is actually a bunch of different brain conditions with distinct etiologies that respond to different treatments. This will explain, perhaps, the spectrum we know as autism from "lovably quirky" at one end to severely disabled at the other.

Until then, I'm grateful to those like Grandin in the neurodiversity movement whose stories are helping to create understanding and acceptance that will surely benefit all of us, no matter what we think about the issue.

1 comment:

jaki said...

I don't know how to comment on this post. The whole situation is so very complex and somewhat "mysterious". My hats off to you and my heart goes out to you!