Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Autism Revealed

I'm officially one week late for last week's Hump Day Hmm but thankfully, it's hump day again. Last week's Hmm was about society's need to fix what it deems as "broken" children. While traveling, I read a fascinating article titled The Truth About Autism from Wired Magazine. Admittedly, I know very little about autism or Asperger's syndrome and this article really opened my eyes. They featured a video made by Amanda Baggs which shows her normal actions which appear bizarre to the non-autistic: flapping arms, repetitive motions and singing. But then she goes to explain all her actions in extremely articulate terms using a synthesized voice. Here is the video:

She emphasizes that she simply thinks and interacts with her surroundings differently that other people. This doesn't make her any less human, or have less value. With this video and the internet, she has communicated to the non-autistic world how rich her own world truly is, and that we simply cannot understand it. In the Wired article, neuroscientist Thomas Zeffiro said, "If Amanda Baggs had walked into my clinic five years ago, I would have said she was a low-functioning autistic with significant cognitive impairment. And I would have been totally wrong."

In another example, the article cites a paper which says that autistics generally score much higher in intelligence tests using Raven's Progressive Matrices, than the more commonly used Wechsler Intelligence Scale. The Raven test measures non-verbal abstract reasoning skills such as solving patterns or geometric puzzles. The Wechsler test is based more on learned skills such as vocabulary and comprehension. This indicates that many autistics are more intelligent than previously assumed.

Intelligence does not mean that autistic people are normal functioning members of society that just think differently. The fact is that "low-functioning" autistics do need caretakers to help them with everyday tasks. But because they are intelligent beings with genuine feelings, they need to be treated with respect. It's time to stop labeling and disparaging and to start making an effort to understand and embrace their world. Consider this quote from Jim Sinclair:
Autism is not a disease. It does not make people sick, and it does not kill people. There are different opinions about how much suffering and misery autism causes. Some people do suffer a lot from it, while for others the suffering is caused primarily by other people, not by autism.
Spend money for autism on special education, vocational rehabilitation, supported living, and community accessibility.
Autism may be many things to many people--a way of being, a way of relating, a sense of self, a sharing of culture, a strength, a challenge, a shield or a tool, a gift or an impediment. But one thing autism is not is a disease.
The overwhelming message that I hear from these autistic adults is that it is not a condition that needs fixing from the medical community, it is something that needs support from the community at large.

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