Autism spectrum conditions shouldn't be considered disorders

January 06, 2012

Your article on autism ("Hidden in plain sight," 1/1/2012) was clear, interesting, and also insulting to those on the autism spectrum, since it treated these conditions as disorders.

I know that, officially, they are disorders, but as someone with a number of Asperger-like traits and a number of Aspie friends, I ask you to consider that the official word here might be wrong.

While autism and related conditions (like Asperger's syndrome) carry characteristic deficits, they also involve characteristic strengths. The intelligence of autistics is often badly underestimated, and above-average intelligence is actually distinctive of Asperger's. True, people on the spectrum need coaching and assistance, but everyone does. Everyone needs help sometimes, and everyone needs to be taught how to be a full human being. Some of us have different strengths and weaknesses. My main problem is that since I'm in the minority, people expect me to do things I can't, don't anticipate where I'll get confused, and don't give me credit for what I can do. If most folks were Aspies or near-Aspies, our patterns would be taken for granted — and a lot of our weaknesses would probably go away because parents and teachers would know what we needed from the beginning.

Maybe lower-functioning autistics are just people no one knows how to teach properly? But even if some people are born condemned to require extraordinary care their whole lives long, it does not follow that their condition is pathological. Consider; we say people are geniuses, or are personable, but that people have autism, just like we say people have a cold. If your cold goes away you are still the same person, but if your autism goes away, are you still the same person? Are the minds of autistics somehow less personal than the minds of other people? Do you know what it's like to be told as a child that the things that make you unique are the equivalent of a head cold or a broken leg?

I'm all for helping anybody learn to be more independent, more able to give of themselves to society, but a higher-functioning, well-adapted autistic is still autistic. Can we accept that? Can we accept that even severely disabled people are here for a reason, and that who they are is exactly who they were meant to be?

Caroline Ailanthus, Newark

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.