I am an Autistic woman. Autism has given me challenges – both those related to Autism itself and the more frequent ones where people don’t understand me and discriminate against me because I am ‘different.’ I know Autism can be hard – mostly because I am Autistic and my life has involved a large amount of difficulties. However I have a long list of reasons why I am very uneasy if anyone talks about an Autism ‘cure’. Here are some of those reasons:
- There is currently no known single ’cause’ of Autism. Say charlatans and modern-day snake oil salespeople tell parents of newly-diagnosed kids that they know the ’cause’ of Autism ad therefore have a ‘cure’. None of this is scientific and all of it is total rubbish. At best the cures are ineffective and expensive and at worst they are abusive and put the child in danger.
- The worst sorts of ‘cures’ are things like bleach enemas or ‘Miracle Mineral Solution’ which are actually highly dangerous. Not only can this ‘treatment’ result in physical health emergencies and injuries but it is usually traumatic for the child it is happening to. Imagine if your parent who you trusted administered something which caused pain, was administered against your will and smelt horrendous. (Many Autistic people – including me – find the smell of chlorine bleach overwhelming). Many of the people involved in this horrific treatment are currently before the courts (which in my mind is definitely where they should be).
- Other less abusive ‘cures’ and treatments are in fact somewhat invalidating and come from the premise that Autism and Autistic experience is ‘wrong’. Young children and forced to make eye contact or behave in more ‘appropriate’ ways when in fact they are doing nothing wrong and just being themselves. What kind of message is that to give little people that they are being ‘bad’ and need to change their behaviour when actually they are not hurting anyone but just acting differently to the ‘norm’. I would prefer to ‘fix’ society so that Autistic young people are understood and treated with kindness and respect rather than forcing Autistic people to conform just so people aren’t bothered by them. The message I want Autistic kids to get is that they are valued and not be punished for things like stimming or playing differently to other kids or not making eye contact. The only people this sort of ‘treatment’ is assisting are non-Autistic adults who feel uncomfortable in the presence of Autistic kids being themselves.
- As an Autistic adult I am quite happy to be my unique and unconventional me. As far as I can tell from within my own head, Autism is an integral part of me. So even if a cure were available, I would say ‘no.’ That isn’t to say I don’t engage in therapies and treatments to assist me in dealing with things like my anxiety, but that is not a ‘cure’ in my mind. It is voluntary assistance what addresses some of my difficult experiences. If my Autism were removed I don’t think I would be me any more.
- If you think of ‘curing’ all the Autistic people, the world would be missing a vital element. Professor Temple Grandin famously gave the example that if the human race did not have Autistics within its number we would all be like neolithic people. sitting in a cave still and socialising. Many innovative and creative people who change society in different ways are on the Autism spectrum. So if you ‘fixed’ all of us all that ingenuity and brilliance would be lost.
- Also, the whole concept of ‘fixing’ people with differences and diffabilities is very fraught. Who makes the decision to get rid of Autism? Does it stop with Autism? What about if they get rid of all the people with mental illness? All the people with ADHD? Everyone with dyslexia? Why stop there? All those people with sensory disabilities and mobility impairments? They are suffering. We don’t want a world where people suffer. Let’s just have everyone to be of ‘good’ genetic stock. That will make the world better won’t it?’ No. A big whopping and emphatic NO! At best I am describing the movie Gattacca and at worst I am talking about eugenics and Nazism. Diversity is not a bad thing. In act it is a very good thing. Instead of ‘fixing’ all the Autistic people why not make a world where true respect for diversity is the norm. Instead of seeing Autistic difference as a problem, maybe we could start teaching respect and understanding?
I do understand that parents when their child is newly diagnosed can really struggle. Of course they can, because being Autistic is no barrel of laughs. Life does tend to be more challenging with Autism. I feel for those parents whose only knowledge of Autism may be from movies and popular culture. They worry for their little person and want the best. I understand why they would want a cure. What I would say to these parents is that there are many things you can do to assist Autistic children in their path to being amazing Autistic adults. Get involved with other Autistic parents and share notes, meet some Autistic adults and talk to them about things that worked – and didn’t work – in their childhood. Read some books and blogs or watch some movies (I like the Temple Grandin one. The documentary I am in with Wenn Lawson. Akash Temple and Jame Treffrey, ‘Alone a Crowded Room’, is pretty awesome too).
At the moment there is no ‘cure’ for Autism so it is hypothetical what the world would be like if there was one. However, I think it is most important to change the world we have now. Teach everyone about the challenges and gifts that can come wiht Autism. Don’t see us as broken, see us as unique. Embrace our value. Work to stop discrimination and bullying. That way if such a ‘cure’ ever becomes available in the future we won’t lose all that value and beauty that Autistic people bring to the world.