April 30, 2014

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.

Mottron says,

“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.

Autism Daily Newscast would be interested in your comments on this subject. Please add your thoughts below.


About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

  • I have a son with severe autism and although he is a sweet gentle giant, I would love for him to be able to form everlasting relationships and live independently. Sadly he will always need care and my biggest concern is what will happen to him when I die. Reality for us is not all shiny and bright. It really saddens me that parents who have children with severe autism are given a hard time by those who think that autism is just the best thing since sliced bread!

  • Bright Side of Life: The thing is there is this divide when people hear autism is great! and the reality of the difficulties that their loved one lives with. But, I didn’t hear anyone in this article saying that autism is great, just that autism isn’t all bad. That’s a huge difference. The direct quote was: “in certain niches, autism can be viewed as an advantage.” In some ways, my non-verbal autistic son does have certain advantages which we want to nuture and celebrate. He also has serious difficulties, not least of which are in communication, that we want to help him learn the skills that he needs. (Note: communication is not necessarily verbal). Yes, I worry about his future everyday but I still celebrate him and appreciate the ways autism helps make him uniquely himself.

  • I really don’t know what to think or where to start about this report. I feel Autism effects EVERY child DIFFERENT. We as parents or ANYONE for that fact tell another parent of a child with Autism what exactly is BEST for their child .What they should OR shouldn’t do . Until you step a day in that parents life I feel we need to SHUT -UP. How dare you think you have the right to spend maybe an hour with a child if even that much and think you KNOW their child and situation. YOU know NOTHING. I just watch a clip on family with downs syndrome their battle to keep their daughter in public school in regular peer classes. This family felt that was right for their daughter HOWEVER I myself had to battle to get my daughter in the special class. The minute they put my daughter in regular classes she shut down completely within 3weeks. It took over a year and a half just to bring her back to where she was. That was after I took her out of public school and started homeschool. Now do I wish she could have stayed in school of course she actually made a friend. I cried when she took her hand and smiled, let someone else touch her and run off with her it was amazing to see MY child do that!! Something so taken for granted by other parents. Just a small example. I could continue to write forever but I will end with ……NOBODY KNOWS BEST FOR A AUTISTIC CHILD BUT THE ONE WHO LIVES WITH THEM OR THEMSELVES to group Autism into one general pool is WRONG!! ALSO to never let my child be born I can’t begin to let you know ALL the JOY I would have robbed myself . THANK YOU for your time

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