“World Autism Day” & lack of consensus

April 2nd, 2010 is World Autism Awareness Day. As such, it is perhaps a good time to remember that there is currently no consensus in Canada or the United States about what autism is, its possible causes or how best to treat it. As such, I can support Harold Doherty’s of Facing Autism in New Brunswick’s hope of a national autism strategy. 

However, I do not blame any Canadian government, Conservative or Liberal, that there isn’t a national strategy because, as World Autism Day highlights, there is a great deal of anger and debate in the various autism camps. In fact, even now, under the Obama administration in the U.S, we see that the controversies are what is obstructing progress and that ever so elusive consensus.

For example, there is the Ari Ne’eman debate and the controversy surrounding his views. Why?  Because he was appointed by President Obama to the National Council on Disabilities to represent autistics.  Yet, he has said it is wrong to try and cure autism — in fact to do so is reprehensible — and that autism is simply a different way of looking at the world. 

Well, the problem is that the Ne’emans of the world are not the ones we should be talking about because they are managing their lives, seemingly, well. No, the ones we should be talking about are the most severely affected who are in no position to be on national councils or parliamentary committees.

Yet, the high functioning autistics are not only reflecting the lack of consensus in the autism advocacy community, they could also be having a negative affect on practice. For example, if the pending revisions to the DSM-V don’t take into consideration the vast differences on the spectrum between those with Aspergers Syndrome (AS) and those with severe autism symptoms, the latter might not qualify for funding and ABA treatment.

Then, there are the disagreements about ABA treatment itself — such as Michelle Dawson who disagrees with this type of intensive behavioural modification therapy — which helps many severe autistics learn to cope with everyday life.  

However, even with all those disagreements, it should be possible for the majority to pull together for the sake of those most severely affected and need help. Afterall, as Doherty writes today: “As currently described Autistic Disorder is exactly what it says. It is a disorder.  Not a social movement, not a culture and not just a different way of looking at the world.”

So, while this year’s World Autism Day tends to highlight our disagreements and lack of consensus, maybe realizing how far apart many of us are can actually be the impetus to pull us together for the good of those like my son and Doherty’s son Conor — whose symptoms of autism are far more than simply looking at the world differently.