From Intolerance to Tolerance to Acceptance

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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13 Responses

  1. E.D. Kain says:

    Try writing a post about how Mormons aren’t Christians sometime. The similarity in response arguments to Freddie’s post are somewhat striking…Report

  2. Freddie says:

    I think the greatest impediment to this dialogue is that we so often think of autism as being a lesser type like Aspergers, or just shyness, or just social discomfort, etc– not, say, the child who breaks his own arms, or the one left entirely nonverbal, or the one whose behavioral disability is so great he is literally incapable of interacting in society. If we’re going to have an honest conversation, we can’t keep imagining autism to produce nothing but beautiful dreamers. That’s a big part of what I’m reacting against; the public conversation on autism has become dominated by a entirely romanticized vision of the disorder, which is profoundly different from the way most families afflicted by autism experience it. Many people with autism are not budding Einsteins having their creativity crushed by the Man; many are deeply, deeply impaired people who are being prevented from living the kind of lives they would like to be able to.

    So the first step is to stop thinking that Aspergers is the correct lens to view this condition. More importantly, I think people need to stop acting as though autism is a set of personality traits, or that personality traits flow from the disorder, and recognize that what makes autism a disorder are the aspects of it that damage human lives. And I think that a tremendous disservice has been done to many people struggling with a host of mental health issues because so many people confuse mental disorders with personality traits that tend to come with them. How many violently depressed people have been chased away from using medication that could materially improve their lives, because they’ve been sold on the story that they’ll turn into some emotionless zombie by anti-depressants? And how many of them have devolved deeper into self-destruction, addiction or suicide?

    Those disinclined to view autism are going to elide the disorder with the aspects of personality in autistic people that they enjoy, for the purpose of leveraging their opinion. “See, this autistic person has (positive personality trait X), why would you want to remove that?” But I don’t. I just don’t think that autism causes dreaminess or curiosity or anything of that nature. Surely, you can be dreamy or shy or unfocused and not have ADHD, or autism, and I believe it is a symptom of an over-medicalized culture that so many people believe that having personality traits similar to a mental disorder is proof positive that one has the disorder. No, I don’t want to use medication to remove artiness or dreaminess or introspection or interiority. I do want our society to privilege a view of autism that recognizes that it is on balance much better to treat people who have their lives deeply damaged by a debilitating disorder, people who can barely or cannot communicate, people who hurt themselves or others, people who can’t live with the full expression of human interaction that they otherwise would be able to. Keep the aspects of personality that you like, but don’t pretend that those aspects are somehow incontrovertibly linked to a historically quite rare developmental disorder.

    By the way, since some commenters insist on strawmanning me, as I have said explicitly, I am not arguing for forcible treatment or any such thing. I am arguing for a society that has the courage to not confront all differences as if they were all of equal moral or practical content. (Which they tend not to apply to schizophrenia, or pedophilia, or a disposition towards misogyny….)Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    “Hey, all I’m saying is that not all downsy folk are like Corky on Life Goes On! I’m the victim here!”

    If only the rest of us had your moral fortitude, Freddie.Report

  4. Freddie: Thanks for the response. I acknowledge that in the cases of severe autism, we are talking about something where the individual is probably unable to function in any meaningfully independent manner – no matter what culture or time period we’re discussing. The trouble is that there’s no clear dividing line between “severe” and “mild” autism or Asperger’s – hence the reason why we refer to an autism “spectrum” rather than just one form of autism. This lack of a clear dividing line is, to my understanding, the biggest reason why diagnoses of autism have so rapidly increased over the last several decades. There is to my knowledge no reason to believe that the cases of “severe” autism have increased proportionately over the last several decades, so I honestly don’t know whether it’s still true that most parents of children labeled autistic have to deal with the severe problems you describe. What I do know is that diagnoses of autism have increased from less than 1 per 1000 in 1996 to over 5 per 1000 children in 2007, which suggests that the vast majority of children now diagnosed as autistic are probably not severely autistic.

    As for the issue of encouraging medication, I think you misunderstand the argument for viewing autism as a difference rather than as a disorder. The arguments for discouraging medication are so far as I know usually made by people who think that autism, ADHD, depression, etc., are just an issue of mind over matter – they’re the real equivalent of people who insist that therapy can “fix” homosexuality, rather than you.

    Those who would hold that autism, ADHD, etc. are best viewed as differences actively believe that medication is a good thing, at least in most instances, because it is necessary to get by in modern society. The view is that people who struggle with modernity, for whatever reason, should be encouraged to take steps that will allow them to get by in modernity, no matter whether their struggle is a result of a disease or a difference. They just don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I’d also add that often times there really is no distinction between the “bad” and “good” aspects of autism, ADHD, etc. What makes someone with, for instance, ADHD particularly good at certain tasks is specifically that they’re hyperfocused on that task to the exclusion of all other things and thus unable to concentrate on other things. You can’t get the former without the latter. This doesn’t mean that this person should not try to mitigate the inherent problems of being unable to concentrate; but it does mean that they will be better able to turn their weakness into a strength if we are willing to culturally accommodate them. By culturally viewing autism, ADHD, etc. as being mere differences, we allow those labeled with those conditions to become more comfortable in their own skin and to take ownership of their condition so that can learn to better cope with that condition in a modern world.Report

  5. Roque Nuevo says:

    Asperger’s, and various other disorders, including ADHD, are in fact things that society should learn to celebrate.

    I’m proud to say that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome over at the Culture 11 blog sometime last fall. In fact, there was a consensus on that particular comment thread confirming the diagnosis. I’d never heard of it before.

    So, needless to say, I’ve very happy to read that me and my ilk are to be celebrated by society. When do the festivities begin? I’ll accept any legal tender and most illegal tender as well. Let me know and … let’s party!Report

  6. Actually, I probably overstated my case in using the word “celebrated.” I was really trying to just say “accepted.”Report

  7. Roque Nuevo says:

    Too bad for you. I now have “celebrated” written down and no fair going back and changing the record. What’s the problem? Does it give you the willies to celebrate me, as an Asperger’s sufferer?
    Here are two photos of one of my friends and me. We’re already celebrating, so there’s nothing you can do about it. I do have a hard time relating to people, so most of my friends are hummingbirds. Here we are at the beginning of the celebrations. Report

  8. Sorry, Roque – the good news is that I didn’t change it in the post itself, so you can go on feeling that you’re being “celebrated.” 🙂Report

  9. Roque Nuevo says:

    Fair enough, Mark. But you’re going to have to convince my buddy (in the photos). He gets pretty wrought up about these things. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if he goes ballistic over this minor incident.Report

  10. Freddie,

    It would be wrong to only look at this through the lens of someone with Aspergers or mild autism, but you seem to look at this through the lens of those with severe autism as if we are all potential murderers or something. Have you actually met a person that has Aspergers or another disorder on the spectrum? Maybe if you actually spoke to some of us instead of thinking we are all the same, it might help you see this is a far more complex issue than you are making it out to be.Report

  11. Michael Drew says:

    …and keeping in mind that he is our resident libera…l

    That was just for me, wasn’t it?! Brilliant!Report

  12. Autism has been around for a while. We all know that it has turned into a global epidemic but since it is not fatal the world does not work on finding a cure as quickly as they should. Being the mother of 2 autistic children, I have been an advocate since my son was diagnosed 12 years ago. That was before I even owned a pc. I had to get help all by myself because in those days it wasn’t taken as seriously. My son received early intervention, never on meds, and on the genious side of the spectrum. So is my daughter who also suffers from Diabetes Type 1. I started the first cub scout troop in west Los Angeles for Autistic boys, and I even had some with Cerebral Palsy. I joined with other parents, us helping each other, becocming an advocate and helped “new” parents of the “tribe”. It was a career I did not choose, but paid off because my son is something, many would be amazed at if they had seen him 12 years ago. Next week he will be 14. He has illustrated a book, we have been televised, and my phone still rings with people asking for my help and of course the only payment I receive is a thank you. We’re suffering from the economy like eveyone else, but this is the type of career that doesn’t stop, and you still get paid by watching him progress. When I watched a certain model come on the Larry King show and tell the world her son was autistic to tell the world many were offened. And then to come back and say he is now cured is a joke. We all know there is not a cure. I suffer from epilepsy myself. I’ve know what extra challenges the disabled have to meet daily. Misinformed people misguiding “new” parents should not be allowed. “Crackpots” seeking attention for a television apperance using their child’s misfortune should be handled more carefully. When my son and I appeared on television two years ago, my mission was to try to let some parents know that it is not the end of the world. Sometimes, the case is so mild it cannot be diagnosed that easily. There are some people like this who have these “eccentric” habits or traits, like wearing hats all of the time and mood swings and they function in the world just fine. But if the word “autism” comes up, people are so ignorant they think the worst. Do your homework. Some of our most brillant inventors and authors suffered from the spectrum. Ever wonder why Einstein’s hair was the way it was?

    🙂 lisaReport