In a recent thought-provoking guest post on the NeuroTribes blog, autism activist Brenda Rothman discusses her personal journey coming to terms with her son's diagnosis of autism and shares what she's learned from him. In order to provide better support to autistic people and their families, she argues that society's perspective of the neurological condition needs to shift from "awareness" to "acceptance:"
We need to challenge how autism is defined — as a set of behaviors and deficits – because this description leads us inexorably to “fixing” autistic people. Autism is a way that the brain takes in, processes, and responds to information. This way of processing results in variations in the way the world is experienced and the ways that learning, communication, and movement occur. Autistic people develop skills on a different timetable or in a different order than expected.
But autism also comes with a set of strengths – a deep passion for interests, the ability to recognize visual, musical, social, or emotional patterns, and a strong individuality. When we ignore autistic strengths, we ourselves become stuck on fixing autistic people, rather than building on their natural talents.
We need to examine our response to autism. When we start with the incorrect premise that autistic people don’t understand or misbehave, we end up with behavioral programs directed at training them to act in “normal” ways. By recognizing that they already communicate and understand, we can identify the obstacles that make it difficult for them. We can move from trying to fix the person to giving them the supports they need. These supports include sensory-friendly environments, devices to assist communication, acceptance of moving around and stimming, and methods of learning that come most naturally to them. Creating supports like this are like building ramps for autistic people, instead of forcing them to climb stairs that exhaust and exclude them.
The full entry is worth a read.
Previously: New public brain-scan database opens autism research frontiers, New imaging analysis reveals distinct features of the autistic brain and Using music to improve communication skills in children with neurodevelopmental disorders