Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cure for Autism - No Way!

I once subscribed to a prominent newsletter that publishes information about autism resources in Southern California.  In the last issue that I received, an organization was included whose acronym ended with the letters "c a" which stood for "cure autism".  I contacted the editor of the newsletter and let her know I thought using the term cure when referring to autism was not a positive viewpoint.  She responded that she did not agree and had no problem including any organization in her newsletter with the mission to cure autism.

Now, I respect opposing viewpoints that differ from my own as long as that opinion isn't meant to harm or infringe on the rights of others.  The autism community is filled with individuals from all walks for life with varying ideas on a variety of issues, some of which I agree and some which I don't.  I try very hard not to judge others about what they believe as long as those opinions are not inflammatory, insulting, or based on false information. For my own opinions, I try to come to an educated decision on any issue, be it autism or anything else, so I can make the most logical conclusion based on facts.  I stick to my principals and try not get swayed by misinformed opinions.

But the idea of curing autism is one with which I disagree.  Autism is a difference in the neurological wiring of the brain and manifests in a variety of ways that is unique to that individual.  The autism spectrum is very wide, ranging from those that are highly impacted with some individuals that are non-verbal and having severe challenges with communication to those that are labeled high functioning (not my preferred term) or having Asperger's Syndrome with having average to superior intelligence.   Because their are millions of connections within the brain, autism presents in very different ways unique to that individual.

What creates even more confusion is that many individuals with autism have comorbid (or co-concurring) conditions.  The person have may have dietary sensitivities and a casein free-gluten free diet is appropriate.  He may have ADHD and medication may help, but my opinion is to improve thier diet and increase physical activity that is best suited to the individual prior to considering mediation  Every person I've ever met has been extra sensitive to something in their environment involving one or more of their five senses.  They may also have challenges with balance or knowing where their body is in space.  But ADHD, dietary issues, and sensory dysfunction are all separate conditions aside from the autism diagnosis.  Each one needs to be diagnosed and addressed separately by a qualified professional that specializes in that area of expertise  Once the comorbid conditions are diagnosed and remedied,  we can develop effective support program that helps remidate the challenges that are affecting the individual.

Autism is a complex neurological condition.  It is not a disease or sickness like cancer or leukemia.  We can't cure it, but we can support individuals with autism so their challenges can be addressed so they can transition into happy, healthy adults who make healthy life choices and get what they want out of life.  Words are powerful. Using negative words that label autism does not help those impacted by it. Creating accepting communities where people with autism are embraced as the unique individual that they are is one of the best supports we can provide.  If we don't, we will never overcome the stereotype that there is something horribly wrong a person just because they have a difference in the wiring of their brain.

Up until the 1970s, there was a horrible history of how we treated people with autism.  Its now 2014, and it's time to create a new consciousness in our autism viewpoint.  We need to create a world for my son and millions of people like him where they are treated with  respect and dignity and not viewed as any less of a human being just because they are different.

I never did come to an amicable resolution with the newsletter editor about curing autism.  I know it's an opinion that differs from my own, but it's one subject that I can't stand back and stay quiet.  My son has autism and he does not need to be fixed, His autism does not need to be eliminated. It's part of who he is and always will be.  There is nothing wrong with him, so I will never support the opinion that he needs to be cured.

I know that autism awareness has come a long way since his diagnosis in 1997.  In some ways, I think there has been a lott of advancement in the understanding and acceptance of individuals with autism, but in many ways, there is are still many misconceptions and misunderstandings.  Hopefully, that will change one day, but I'm guessing not for a very long while.

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