For a change, the mother of two low-functioning autistics argues against prenatal testing. It’s usually the “higher-functioning” autistics who advocate against prenatal testing and subsequent eugenic abortion – because, after all, if people get prenatal testing, they’re most likely to abort the child if found to have the condition being tested for -, highlighting the contributions highly-intelligent autistics can make to society. Here finally we have not only an autistic who does not meet “genius” criteria, but a *parent* of children who don’t meet these criteria, advocating against prenatal testing. I’m positively surprised to have found this, finally someone who doesn’t discredit “high-functioning” autistcis who oppose cure or prenatal testing by claiming that they’re “not like my children”. and therefore have no say in the matter – except maybe that prenatal testign is not likely to distingiuish between “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” autism. That is not the point in opposing prenatal screening and eugenic abortion at all!
Archive for January, 2009
Last week, Mencap, a UK advocacy group, published a report detailing six cases in which developmentally disabled people died because of poor healthcare (PDF-file). The reasons for these people’s deaths ranged from the failure to insert a feeding tube after a Down Syndrome patient was left unable to swallow by a stroke – a practice that, by the way, is commonplace on the demented here -, to lack of treatment for a broken thigh because the person and his family couldn’t get the doctors to believe he was in severe pain. Some of the cases are outright discrimination, like a woman with a severe cognitive disability who was denied cancer treatment and expelled from the hospital in serious pain because her behavior was “too difficult”. Other cases maybe weren’t intended this way but got this bad due to the staff not having a clue how to deal with the developmentally disabled and not caring to learn.
In the Netherlands, there is a subspecialty under post-graduate general practice schooling where doctors are trained specifically to deal with people with intellectual disabilities. I recently read an article mentioning the value of these doctors, because many problems are overlooked in the mentally retarded (the article talked specifically about vision problems). However, sometimes, I can’t keep from thinking that these doctors could just as well pave the road to disability discrimination, if their association issues unfavorable statements about ethical concerns. I have yet to look up their position on relevant issues, but would be not at all surprised if they’re the frontrunners of eugenics. And this is when it could be so much better: these doctors are trained to work with people with cognitive impairments and to be aware of possible health risks. They could be of great help in situations were the possible cause of death is carelessness. However, where outright discrimination is the problem, doctors specially trained to work with this population could fight on either side of the matter, and it would be a grave concern if they happened to fight on the discriminatory side.
Last week, several articles were published in UK newspapers about the possibility of prenatal screening for autism, and the implications this possibility could have. In this article, Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen worries that eliminating autism through genetic screening and eugenic abortion would eliminate possible genius, too, complete with the inevitable Einstein-was-autistic nonsense. I’m annoyed by this, since you don’t need to be a genius in order to have a right to life, do you? If this genius stupidity is a reason not to abort autistics, maybe we could research the genetic basis of IQ and eliminate anyone with an IQ below 130? Not that intelligence intrinsically determines success, but well.
The connotation in all those autistics-may-be-genius blahblah is, of course, that people only have a right to life if they meet certain standards for success, and the only thing Baron-Cohen et al. are doing is to replace the criterion of social aptitude with that of intellectual capacity. Maybe I should be grateful that Baron-Cohen gives me the right to life because I happen to have an IQ around 150. But maybe that wasn’t what he meant, since I dropped out of college twice and am now costing the state tens of thousands of euros in healthcare funding. It’s not easy to predict whether the unborn child at risk of autism will become the Einsteinian type or the Rainman type, is it? Six years ago, I was determined to move to the United States to study at some major university in 2009 and never return – because, of course, being an academic genius and belonging to several “diversity” groups, I would obviously have no probem obtaining a GreenCard, huh. Well, suffice it to say that it didn’t come true, and I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether autism is at fault. So have I suddenly turned into a “bad outcome”, someone who should’ve been aborted, somewhere in the course of these six years? Or is it that, despite the fact that I’m not likely to become a professor at some Ivy League college, I still may have something to offer? Why is it that disabled people need genius abilities to compensate for their disabilities anyway and non-disabled people can get away with mediocrisy or less?
Another point is, of course, that the way society is constructed influences disability outcomes. Two years ago, when debating the nature of my issues as applicable to a planned autism parent interview, my mother claimed that my problem was societal, “because society sucks”. She probably meant that 99% of people deal with the exact same struggles I do but everyone except for me just placidly accepts that life isn’t supposed to be fair – oh well, I guess if this analysis had been true, I’d been cured sometime in 2008. In any case, I contested her view by stating that, in a way, any psychiatric disability is a social construct. Homosexuality was in the DSM till 1973, while now homophobia is considered a cultural flaw. A current equivalent would be “gender identity disorder” (a valid mental illness in the current DSM). Of course, if society were more tolerant towards social oddities, maybe the majority of autistics would not need their psychiatric diagnosis.
In another way, autistics’ inability to process information in the same way that neurotypicals do, becomes more pronounced the more information the person has to take in at the same time. As I wrote a few months ago, one possible reason why far more autistics are being diagnosed today than, say, fifty years ago, is that people are required to process much more stimuli in a faster pace than they were then. I have no clue when Albert Einstein lived, but I know it was more than fifty years ago. Except for Baron-Cohen, most Einstein-was-autistic supporters believe that he would’ve been institutionalized (or have lived a life in misery if his problems weren’t exactly that bad) had he lived today. I guess no-one would’ve noticed his genius then, so according to Baron-Cohen, there would’ve been no reason why he shouldn’t have been aborted, and maybe he’d just have had Newton to come up with to ground his reasoning upon. The thing is, Einstein’s genius abilities would still have been there, but would not have been recognized. And I’m not saying that every autistic is an undiscovered genius, or that they should be in order to have the right to life, but if families, communities and society at large are friendlier towards autistics’ needs, I’m sure that most will be found to have strengths not noticed before.