Every year, when April rolls around, we are deluged with images of multi-colored puzzle pieces and blue light bulbs. The Autism Awareness movement has been an attempt by parents and loved ones to educate society about the realities of autism, and to move towards acceptance and support. For many who are on the autism spectrum themselves, autism awareness is about much more.
Autism is about teaching the world to accept those with autism as they are, not as a problem or a puzzle piece to be solved.
Basically, it is based on the premise that the world needs different kinds of minds. A 2011 study by Dr. Lauren Mottron, Phd., from the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders, found that in certain niches, autism can be viewed as an advantage. He found that autistic brains rely less on verbal centers and demonstrate stimulation in regions that process both visual information and language. This leads to advantages in spotting patterns in distracting environments, auditory tasks such as discriminating sound pitches, detecting visual structures, and mentally manipulating complex 3-dimensional shapes. They are also able to simultaneously process large amounts of perceptual information as data sets, and often have instantaneous and correct recall.
Their lack of interest in social mores lead them to be unmoved by office politics or public acclaim. In many circles, this can be viewed as a negative trait, but for areas where precision and technical expertise are required, social politics may be viewed as an unnecessary distraction.
“Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it’s time to start thinking ofautism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear.”
While there are many who would agree with Dr. Mottron, others express concern over the difficulties faced by many who are on the autism spectrum. Jonathon Tarbox, Phd, BCBA, director of research and development at the Center for Autism and Related disorders, says,
“I think it’s critically important to acknowledge the potential strengths associated with autism, but it’s equally important, if not more important, to reiterate the notion of the right to effective treatment.”
He goes on to say,
“If an individual with [autism] is having a difficult time in their life because they don’t know how to do something that they want to do, and there is a proven effective method to teach that skill, then we as fellow humans have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide the treatment that addresses it.”
Clearly, the debate over neurodiversity is complicated. There are many talented individuals on the autism spectrum who have used their gifts to make the world a better place, but there are also those who struggle with everyday tasks, and who may have debilitating co-morbid conditions that need treatment.
There are parents who view autism as a thief in the night who stole their child, and there are others living with autism who only wish to be accepted for who they are. There are no easy answers, but both sides have valid concerns.
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