Few with autism are gifted, so why campaign to deny worst symptoms?

This picture reminds me of my son. Click for source.

I am sick and tired of high functioning autistics and their supporters in the field and media trying to make autism the new norm.  Over and over we now hear and read: autistics have unique abilities, autistics are creative thinkers, autistics are gifted and autistics have special talents.

For example, today we even read that autistics have something in common with genius and that child prodigies owe their talents to autism.  I mean, estimates are that savants make up only 10% of those having the disorder, yet somehow that is being pushed as the norm for those with autism.

Yes, there are some high functioning autistics. Those of us who have family members affected by autism are only too familiar with their names.  But, sorry, no matter how intelligent or verbally articulate a person is, not being able to read body language or empathize with others are not positive characteristics or indications of special talents. Nor are such symptoms, in no particular order, as:

  • avoiding eye contact when talking with someone;
  • not wanting to be touched;
  • being extremely sensitive to sound;
  • displaying outbursts of temper when something unexpected happens;
  • showing an inability to socialize and make friends;
  • repeating words and phrases; and/or
  • displaying obsessive compulsive or self-injurious actions. 

Meaning, if those who are claiming to be a high functioning autistic do not have at least some of those symptoms, then sorry, they are simply not autistic; eccentric and creative perhaps but definitely not autistic. For the full list of signs and symptoms, scroll half way down the page of this link because that is the reality of autism.

Readers will note, however, I did not include developmental delays and that was deliberate because we already know the DSM-5 revision team is going to be removing intellectual disability from the diagnostic criteria for autism. Yet, removing it from the autism spectrum category is not going to change the reality that if someone has all the autism symptoms AND an intellectual disability, they still have autism.  

Anyway, this current attempt to rebrand autism is especially poignant today. It is my son’s 47th birthday, a day I can’t help remember.  His was a very difficult birth that should have been a C-section. I ended up with over a hundred stitches and was anesthetized when he entered the world. So, some hours later after I got out of the recovery room, the nurses brought him to me.

I was excited and snuggled with him as most new mothers do. He was my second child and now I had both a daughter and a son. Yet, I still remember the shock I felt when he stiffened his entire body in my arms and screamed at the top of his lungs. The nurses and I made a joke that he had a good pair of lungs. Then, I recall trying to give him my breast but he was having no part of it as he stiffened again and refused to eat.

Eventually, my milk dried up because he was not eating and we had to resort to the bottle. However, once I got him home from the hospital, it became very evident that he could not suck and that he was constantly hungry. If I had known then what I know now after my studies in psychology, I would have realized he either had a brain injury from the difficult birth or autism because the effect was the same. 

By the time he was six weeks old, I was feeding him rice cereal mixed with soy milk using a little spoon because he simply could not get enough to eat from a bottle.  I particularly remember kneeling on the floor beside his crib for ten hours one night with my arm through the bars repeatedly putting the soother back in his mouth. By morning, he kept it in for up to five minutes and I was overjoyed because it not only proved to me he could learn but that he would now have some comfort from crying.

Remember, this was the mid 1960’s and refrigerator mothers were blamed for any kind of disability. Today’s parents have no idea how awful that was. To desperately want help for your child, knowing he is different and receiving only blame. Needless to say, it broke up my first marriage. Other details about my son’s story I shared on a World Autism Day entry.

Anyway, my point is that while few autistics are prodigies or geniuses, they are all loved and appreciated in their own way. And yes, some go on to do some interesting and amazing things as I highlight on my “Autism Stories Archive Header Page.” However, to suggest that being autistic is somehow special is to ignore and minimize the struggles of those who have intellectual disabilities, are non-verbal or struggle with moderate to severe autism symptoms of a behavioural nature. 

To put it bluntly, for most autistics and their families, who deal day to day with struggles related to the disorder, it is a lifelong disability and most definitely not a gift.

Update: Here is an interesting article that is right on topic — The Real Faces of Autism — from the Manhattan Times.