Neurodiversity – Part 1: Potential Consequences of a Cure for Autism

Introduction:

Lately there has been a lot of controversy on-line due to comments made by autistic blogger Jonathan Mitchell, and counter comments made by people who oppose his views.  Mitchell has stated that he believes autism to be a disease and a profoundly negative disability.  He has advocated a cure, and is condemning in his attitude towards neurodiversity.  Others who believe that autism is simply a different way of thinking rather than a disease have been quick to condemn him, accusing him of being a traitor to the autism community, and a negative influence on young people.  Some people are asking if neurodiversity even exists.

But what is neurodiversity?

And what would the potential consequences of a cure for autism be?  And should any one man`s personal view of an aspect of his own life really cause so much controversy?  This first article will look at the concept of a cure, and what the potential consequences of this could be.  And the second article in this series will examine the concept of neurodiversity itself.

Let me state that I do not want a cure for my autism, and do not want a cure to be sought.  The following is hypothetical, exploring the idea of a cure for autism, and how this might impact on the autistic community.

People have been talking about a cure for autism for many years.  Some believe it can be done through diet, some through electric shock “treatments”, and others believe there is not yet an effective method, but that there will be sooner or later.  But does the autism community want a cure for autism?  And if there was a cure, what might this mean for autistic people?

Cure for self, or cure for all?

Now here is the thing about a cure: I personally don’t feel that I would want one for reasons that will become apparent below.  But I do know, as I am sure all autistic people do, how hard it can be living with autism.  I see and embrace a lot of positives, but of course there are things about autism that are negative.  On the one hand, if I had been born neuro-typical I would probably have a lot more personal friends than I do now, but on the other hand, I most likely wouldn’t be a writer.

But let’s imagine there is a hypothetical pill that would completely remove all traces of autism; I wouldn’t take it. Despite the negative aspects that I live with every day, I would have no desire to rid myself of autism.  But I wouldn’t look down on, or insult somebody who decided to take this hypothetical pill.  As long as they had the capacity to make an informed, educated decision, and a full briefing of any after effects, then I would not stand in their way.  The point of this is that as long as that person didn’t turn to me, and try to force me to take the pill, we could happily co-exist.

I think when anybody talks about wanting a cure for their own autism then it is not my place to tell them that they are wrong.  There is a huge difference between wanting to change something in yourself, and wanting to change it for everybody else.  From what I understand Jonathan Mitchell was talking about wanting to cure his own autism, and not saying autism itself should be eradicated.

brainWhat is a cure?

This might sound like a strange question, but actually stop and think about it for a minute.  Even though some people do refer to autism as a disease, this might be perhaps wishful thinking on their part as diseases either can be cured, or have the potential to be curable.  Autism is neurological.  It is the way the brain works.  Now how would you cure this?  You are talking about changing brain activity, changing the way people feel, think and view the world.  This might sound like I am attacking the very concept of a cure, but in reality I just don’t understand how it could feasibly be accomplished.

We know that brains can be manipulated to think and feel differently than they normally do; whether through drugs, or some other form of control.  But this doesn’t actually cure anything.  It takes nothing away.  It just manipulates, and changes the brain.  What would you be willing to put in to your body?  How many chemicals, or how much electricity, to cure your autism?

I talked about being respectful to those who would want a cure for their own autism, and I stand by this, I just think that they have to be careful.  The concept of a magic pill that could be taken, and would remove all traces of autism is obviously a fantasy.  In reality when you start changing the way the brain functions you often run in to serious problems.  Take ECT – some people will tell you it works, and it helped them or somebody they know.  Other people can’t even remember how to write their own name after an ECT session.  The reality is that there will most likely never be an injection or pill that completely changes the neurological activity in somebody`s brain permanently, from an autistic setting to a neuro-typical setting.

A so-called cure would most likely be something that dulled the autistic parts of the brain, and manipulated them in to behaving differently.  This is not a cure.  Using a substance to alter the way a person`s brain works isn’t healthy, and should be avoided.

Risk of a cure, continues here.