Seeing Autism Differently: Neurodivergence vs Neurodisability

It’s a shame that prejudice often exists against the “atypical.” In a society where conformity is crucial, distinctions are frequently condemned, whether one chooses to be different or not.

This even applies to outcomes  of our genetic makeup like race and sex, which we have no control over. Having autism is not a choice, but people on the spectrum are too often compared to neurotypicals. Instead, we should be regarding people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as their own incomparable category, one with weaknesses but also strengths.

Oftentimes, autism is portrayed as a disability. The disorder’s weaknesses are enhanced through the use of words like “suffer,” “illness,” and “disability,” neglecting the unique strengths exhibited by those on the spectrum. As a result, the common misconception that autistics are intellectually disabled is quite common.

Einstein, Mozart, Warhol and many more geniuses displayed characteristics like obsessiveness, acute attention to detail, and lasting, undisturbed focus. These are qualities that people with ASD often display. Alternatively, people with Asperger’s syndrome often describe the condition as provoking a sensory overload. While this oversensitivity may create chaos and confusion within their minds, it may also inspire artistic creativity. Thus, people on the autism spectrum should be considered a “neurodivergent” population, not a disabled one.

Dr Rosa Hoekstra, a lecturer in Biological Psychology and Genetics at The Open University, conducts research that attempts to disprove the idea that autism is linked to intellectual deficiencies. “Autism and intellectual disability often occur together in clinical settings, and this has made many researchers think that the conditions must share the same genetic causes. Our research challenges this assumption,” she reported. Her research suggested that the genes responsible for autism are not those responsible for learning disabilities.

Research indicates that autism is an example of natural variation. Generally speaking, between 56% and 95% of observed characteristics are genetic in origin, as found by a recent study that used identical and non-identical twins to measure origins of comparable traits. Polymorphisms are the genetic differences that cause autism. Approximately 1% of the world population has ASD, with cases occurring in every racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic group.  

The pharmaceutical industry funds a large portion of the research focusing on autism. This industry, however, frames autism as a disability by developing a “disease model.” Under this model, they plan to discover drugs that will treat and possibly cure autism, but also learn to identify the disorder prenatally, creating the option to terminate pregnancy on these grounds. The question is, then, is it desirable for autism research to be inspired by this sort of mentality? The fact that autistics are at higher risk of developing mental health issues than non-affected individuals does not convince the pharmaceutical industry otherwise.

However, it must be taken into account that the prejudice against autism may actually raise the risk of mental health issues. It’s not absurd to predict mental issues for children who were bullied and left-out, as many children with ASD are. Even in adulthood, autistic individuals often find themselves alienated from society. This sort of abuse and segregation is bound to leave scarring emotional trauma.

It’s true: autistic people may learn, react, and express themselves differently that non-autistic people. Nevertheless, they are still worthy of kindness and opportunity. If one in every sixty-eight children has ASD, it’s quite probable that everyone knows someone who is autistic, whether they realize it or not. After all, not all autistic people have a learning disability (since they are not directly linked to autism) and about 75% of autistic people are verbal.

Prejudice against autistic people, who constitute a “minority group” of sorts, can be reduced through advocacy and compassion. We must start to appreciate their uniqueness and strengths rather than condemn what most would call “limitations” when comparing ASD individuals to non-ASD individuals. We have and continue to fight against racism, homophobia, and sexism; it is now time to combat sanism, too.

By Maude Plucker

This entry was posted in Autism Advocacy, Autism Awareness, Autism Diagnosis, Autism Education and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>