May 25, 2012

What is a "cure"? Is it possible; is it needed?

 Autism is a bio-neurological difference in how the brain is wired. Simply stated, our brains are wired a little differently. They have areas where their processing is stronger than ours, and areas where they are weaker. Not better, not worse, simply different. We experience the world differently, and can benefit from learning from each other., over the years, behavior science has thought that by teaching them "behavior" skills, that they will be less "autistic"; that they will be "cured". Like autism is a "behavior" disorder; simply a lack of skill set. Granted, learning these skill sets make it easier for people on the spectrum to "blend in", but don't fool yourself that they are no longer "autistic." Their brain is still wired differently, and they continue to experience the world differently, just more skillful in "fitting in." In doing so, we need to respect their world, and the gifts that they bring us, and learn to bridge the two worlds.

I have heard of many reports of kids being "cured" of autism. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has done wonders in teaching skills so the person appears less “autistic.” Lovaas study used the criteria of being able to function in school without an aid. Others have used the learning of a accumulation of skills that makes the person look less autistic. If Autism is a set of behavioral symptoms, then it is possible to create behavior change so the person looks less autistic. However, the deficits of autism (information process problems, inability to read nonverbal language, difficulty with reading intentions and perspectives of others, sensory processing problems, emotional regulation problems, etc.) are dimensions that we all fall somewhere on. For example, some of us are good informational processers, some of us are poor regarding emotional regulation, others are poor at social relations. Autism is a neurological, informational processing disorder (or should I say a different way of thinking) that renders the person with less abilities on these dimensions, not a behavior disorder. No matter how well they learn to compensate for these deficits, they will always think and feel a little differently than us. That is not good or bad, but unique to the experience of autism. We can learn a lot from people with autism, as they can from us.

We should strive to bridge the two cultures and help our kids learn to compensate and handle our differences in thinking and relating, so that we can all appreciate our uniquenesses. I have chatted with many adults with autism. Most will tell you that it can be degrading for us to focus on changing their behavior, teaching them a host of behavior skills and social scripts, rather than embarrassing their uniqueness and helping them adjust to a world that is not designed for them. We can do more good by accepting their uniqueness and helping them adjust and be "themselves", rather than in trying to "cure" them, by shaping more "normal" behavior.
Autism Discussion Page

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