There was a thread
on a Facebook group tonight with a parent touting that their child had been
cured of Autism. As you might imagine, it quickly disintegrated into the Autism
Wars - parents who ultimately want the best for their kids, and Autistics who have
seen how “the best” can sometimes be “the worst”. Unfortunately, there are many
people without a proper understanding of Autism who grasp on to cures and
remedies and recoveries that can be more harmful than good because they are
attempting to fix symptoms, not the underlying differences.
The problem is
Autism isn't malaria or a cancer you recover from. If you are only looking at
Autism from what you can see, you are missing the 95% going on below the
surface. Autism is a neurological difference, a different wiring of the brain. For me, sure, I can cope and "appear normal", but I see the world
differently, I feel the world differently, I interact with the world
differently. I can make eye contact, but it is easier to stare at the floor and
have a conversation with you. I can also drive a car and run a business and
have beautiful relationships. Most people never think I'm Autistic. If my Mom -
a highly educated medical professional - didn't know better she would think I'm
cured too. But you wouldn't last 20 seconds inside my head. Some days I don't
even last 20 seconds inside my own head. We could talk on and on about delayed
maturity, low frustration tolerance, overactive fight-or-flight, sensory
overload, Autistic depression, communication, cognitive distortions,
prosopagnosia, proprioception, alexithymia, apraxia, misophonia, and so on, but
that is perhaps for another post or twenty.
That said, I also want to
acknowledge that it can be incredibly difficult being the parent of an Autistic
kid. I know. There are days you wonder if you will survive, if they will be
able to take care of themselves as adults, what their future will look like. Will they graduate high school? Be able to be independent? There's
fear and anxiety and worry and doubt. Did you do enough? The right things? And to top it off, there is a serious lack of information and resources, and most that do exist are wrong (the topic of another post) or far too expensive. So when someone brings hope of a brighter
future for them, absolutely we want that.
I am also Autistic
myself, and not diagnosed until age 33. I lived my whole life thinking I was
"normal" (despite all the tests, and doctors, and never fitting in, or
having a single friend until high school, the anxiety, the depression, etc.), but there were no answers that
described me back then. In my mind, everyone else must've be dealing with what
I was dealing with, and therefore I was a failure because I couldn't cope,
because I didn't fit in. I lived 33 years of my life feeling like an utter
failure. Sure, I could talk and drive, but inside I knew I was very broken. I
spent many years depressed and passively suicidal. All of the "don't do this", "do that" surely helped me interact with the world better, but it didn't do anything for my inner world that knew all too well that I was different. In fact, it made it worse. I was more of a failure. More of a screw-up. Getting my diagnosis and
learning about who I am, learning self-awareness, self-kindness, and coping
skills, that is what changed my life. Acceptance is the first key to
providing a better life for Autistics.
Getting someone to
the point where they're more societally acceptable is a great goal,
and it will make life easier for them to be sure. I enjoy learning new techniques and skills. But
that should not be the primary goal. Their happiness is, and that happiness first
stems from self-awareness and self-acceptance and self-kindness. We cannot
dismiss Autism as a disease to be maligned. Autistic people need support
systems and coping strategies because Autism is for a lifetime, stiming or not.
In the end, we all want the same goal - parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, and Autistic individuals: a bright future and happiness. Our place in the world. Our chance to be successful.
That said, if you have found a way to miraculously rewire entire brain
neurobiology, I will personally hand you your Nobel Prize.