In society, we can cure some diseases and offer substantial treatments for other ailments. When we discuss autism advocacy, our conversation magically shifts. A problem arises that few notice; autism is a neurological (brain) condition. Medicines have not effectively re-wired an autistic brain. Therapies treat other symptomologies without resolving autism itself. Too often, we treat autism as a socially-driven variable and ignore its biological roots.
In college, a friend was born blind. No pills would restore her sight. Therapy failed, too. Assisted technologies helped, though never really replaced fully-functioning vision. However, medical treatments and therapies helped in other ways. Since she found difficulties making friends or other social commitments, she battled constant depression. Prescription medications and therapists helped her understand her feelings, and subsequently overcome some fears. Her professional team addressed presenting symptoms, but not her blindness. Due diligence suggests how her team consulted my friend’s medical history to rule-out possibilities of curing her blindness and optic nerve damage. In a visually-driven marketplace, I can sympathize with wanting a cure for blindness.
Finding a “cure” for autism can be seen as morally and scientifically derelict. We wouldn’t give a person a pill to cure their life-long deafness, or suggest they drink bleach. Likewise, we certainly not condone electro-convulsive shock treatments against prisoners of war – even prisoners with valuable military information. Society would riot if we advocate these practices because they are inhumane.
…for anything but autism. Drinking bleach is now advertised as a “cure” for autism, among many other ailments. Everything Mr. Yuck taught me suggest bleach is deadly if consumed, right? The Judge Rotenberg Center promotes the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – which is fine – AND skin shock aversive treatments. Oddly, peer-reviewed literature suggests a fault of ABA lies in its inability to motivate students over time. In other words, kids get bored with some rewards, and need new prompts to comply with rote questions and answers. Society wouldn’t ethically apply shock collars to a young puppy, but go ahead and slap an electrical shock device to a student with autism because…well…what I am I supposed to think? I guess my take-away is that practitioners and proponents of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) must value autistic students with less regard and more contempt than dogs. No, I’m sorry that I can’t accept any amount of voltage running through another human being as a way to “cure” them or help acclimate them to social expectations.
One of the largest non-profit autism advocacy businesses worldwide recently held ANOTHER conference at the Judge Rotenberg Center. At no time did they use their dollars or influence to stop human tragedies at the JRC. To me, this is not positive autism advocacy. Trying to “cure” autism is the exact opposite of acceptance. Some researchers believe Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, and Thomas Jefferson displayed enough historical traits as to warrant an autism label. Where would our world be without different-thinking people, with or without autism.
Some people may absolutely hate this blog post. Instead of alternatives, a sweeping removal of autism from the planet is in order in too many people’s minds. I make this offer to people who want a cure:
- I’ll listen to your claims of an autism cure from authoritative scientists.
- You listen to music I like. When the thrashing European metal chords and guttural lyrics make you cringe, I’ll dub your intolerance of something I find quite normal – sometimes soothing – as YOUR faulty brain condition. To help you overcome your aversion to my music tastes, let’s agree to use bleach and electrocution until you do like it, while I remind you how damaged and wrong you are for liking any other music. Please know that I do this work in kindness and love – I just want YOU to be more like ME, and that includes having a life filled with music…regardless of what happens to your brain or personality in the process. I offer no guarantees about what doing what I say will actually help you appreciate diversity in music, or what may happen to the portion of your brain that translates music and auditory messages.
Is it a deal?
…or, we could treat autism symptoms, but distinguish between other factors. For example, a lot of people contract poison ivy rashes, and statistically-speaking, at least one of those people is also autistic. It seems unfair to take the person to the doctor and exclaim- “He’s autistic. Cure him of his autism and the rash won’t be a problem.” I remember a time when accommodations ruled. Instead of blaming autism for a child’s inability to wear a cotton t-shirt, perhaps consider buying them a NON-cotton t-shirt. Stop pretending that capitalism meet your demands for diversity but let markets dictate how valuable autism advocacy is. If people stopped buying cotton shirts, someone will take notice and the marketplace will fill the gap. Be poised to know who and what sparks these changes. For me, I have a threatening kidney disease- should I blame autism for it, too? If my autism were somehow magically “cured,” would my kidney disease be easier to manage? Also, my kidney disease is more likely to shorten my life experiences than autism. If you want to talk to me about finding a cure, please talk to my nephrologist before my autism therapist, okay?