A few days ago, Stephanie Lynn Keil of A Grand Illusion wrote a response to “neurodiversity”. In the specific letter Stephanie responds to, a woman with Asperger’s challenges autism parents who make the automatic assumption that she isn’t like their children. I haven’t read the original letter, so I don’t know what Ms. Vanport discloses about her childhood. Therefore, I am not going to compare her experiences to mine, or to the stereotypical “low-functioning” autistic child’s, for that matter. Besides, as Stephanie herself acknowledges in her next post, autistics may function differently as adults than as children. Even though her acknowledgement of the possible changes in functioning as autistics grow up, is not perfect – for example, she neglects the possibility that autistics lose skills in adolescence or adulthood -, I really hadn’t expected her to be as biased towards the woman whose letter she quotes, as her post reveals.
On the simple fact that Ms. Vanport claims to have Asperger’s, Stephanie bases the conclusion that clearly her mother didn’t face the same challenges as Stephanie’s mother. She proceeds to list the challenging behaviors she exhibited as a young child – self-harm, screaming, not being fully toilet trained -, apparently with the connotation that obviously Ms. Vanport did not exhibit these behaviors. How does she know? Even if we accept that Asperger’s children by definition do not exhibit these behaviors, which isn’t what the DSM says, we cannot be sure whether the clinician who diagnosed Ms. Vanport (presuming she has an official diagnosis), was fully aware of her early development. If she was diagnosed in adulthood, it is quite likely that not as many details about her early development were available to the clinician as would’ve been the case if she’d been diagnosed as a child. We do not know whether Ms. Vanport self-injured or had severe tantrums as a child, unless she stated specifically in her letter that she didn’t (in which case Stephanie would’ve done a much better job of criticizing Ms. Vanport by quoting that part of her letter). The fact that she has been labeled with Asperger’s, doesn’t determine this. As Stephanie points out, Temple Grandin is diagnosed with Asperger’s by some clinicians, while as a child quite obviously she met the then much stricter criteria for autism. No-one would deny that her parents had the same challenges as today’s autism parents – quite likely, they were more challenged, because autism services weren’t as widespread as they are now.
Stephanie concludes by asking “neurodiversity” what is so “fun” about self-harm, about not having a job, about not having any friends, about not being able to do what you want because of autism. I have been in the position to meet all of these “criteria”, and at this point meet all but one – I have a boyfriend -, and my explanation is that I don’t contend that these are the direct result of my impairment. That does not mean that there are no parts of autism that are truly impairing. As a side note, I never said that autism is “fun”, and I don’t know any neurodiversity activist who says so, but let’s assume here that “fun” means “not worth curing”. In that case, if Stephanie had asked what’s so “fun” about mind-blowing overload – from which self-injury may result, but not necessarily -, I’d have agreed with her that this is an autistic symptom I’d like to find a treatment for. There are other symptoms that fall within this category, some that I do have to a significant degree and some that I don’t personally have. However, that is not the same as saying that autism is altogether bad. Neurodiversity isn’t about autism as all positive; it’s about autism not being a tragic disease in need of a “cure”.
The other apparent criteria of non-”fun” autism Stephanie lists are not intrinsic in the impairment, but a result of intolerance, poor support and lack of accommodation, insofar as they don’t even apply to everyone, disabled or not, to some extent. After all, many people without any disabilities at all cannot do what they want for one reason or another. Only if the person is disabled, it is automatically assumed that the reason is the disability.