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Viewed As A Disease, Not Accepted

An explanation on why autism acceptance needs to replace the medical approach to ASD.


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This is a topic that we explored this year in our Writ 320 college course. We feel it is an important topic and is sharing it with you today. For the purpose of this paper, we refer to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is not a reflection of our personal choice to identify as autistic and we respect how every neurodivergent person chooses to self-identify.


TRIGGER WARNING: mention of suicide and ABA


 

Neurodivergent is a term to describe different neurotypes that are humanity’s possession. One of these neurotypes is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism research has been conducted for decades and in recent years the CDC revealed that 1 in 54 people are diagnosed in the United States with ASD (1).


In the medical world, autism is considered a disability. However, some advocates on the spectrum disagree with autism being labeled as a condition or disorder. While personal experiences may determine an individual’s stance on this topic statistical facts support the claim that autism is not a disorder. Autism cannot be cured, no medical evidence that explains why autism exists, and treating autism as a disorder is harmful to the autism community.


Cause unknown

There is no medical evidence that proves why autism exists. Research has been conducted for decades and is still occurring in moderns to provide evidence of what causes autism. While some argue it is environmental, psychological, or psychological there is no conclusive evidence that autism is not a naturally occurring neurotype.


Nevertheless, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke produced studies that show that if one twin is born with autism, the other is 36-95 percent more likely to be affected by autism (3). Medical professionals argue that proves there is a genetic factor that produces autism. However, no study has produced any irrefutable evidence that genetics are the cause of ASD.


Oppression treatments

Autism cannot be cured. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological difference in the human body. There is no proven method of eradicating the traits of autism from children or adults. Instead of attempting to cure autism, therapies are used to modify the behavior of children on the spectrum.


The treatments include speech therapy, physical therapy, and the more controversial approach is the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Traits that are commonly a part of autism include sensory processing disorder, struggling with social interactions, anxiety, cognitive processing delays, or intellectual disabilities.


Since autism cannot be cured, the use of behavior modification is imposed on the autism community. In 2018, a research study showed people of all ages were 86 percent more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD (10). Individuals with ASD were traumatized by behavior modification techniques.


It is reasonable to consider the negative impact that behavior modification has on children with ASD when considering if autism treatments are hurting or helping the community. Also, would acceptance of autism in mainstream society change the narrative and allow the autism community to thrive in society.


Treating autism as a disorder is harmful to the autism community. Suicide and suicidal ideations are side effects of treating autism as a condition instead of promoting acceptance of the ASD identity.


One study published by the Autism Research Trust showed that “66.2% of people clinically diagnosed with autism have thought about suicide, and that 34.7% have planned or attempted it”(5).

Behavioral modification has a terrible side effect on the human mind and clearly, this is negatively impacting the mind of people on the spectrum. It is fair to assume that there are other factors that contribute to a person considering or attempting suicide.


The people diagnosed with ASD may have other mental health conditions that impact their ability to function in society. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder are only some of the possible conditions that can cause suicidal ideations and attempts. However, that does not erase the fact that 66.2% of people on the spectrum consider ending their life and 34.7% have created a plan to die according to The Suicide Prevention Center.


ABA has been proven to increase the chances of a person having PTSD which is a known cause of suicide. Ignoring the data does not change the logical deduction that there is harm being done to the autism community by refusing to accept the autistic identity.


Acceptance is the only way

Autism is not a disease that can be eradicated from society. The cause of ASD remains a mystery which is not necessarily a bad omen. Autism is being treated as a disorder that is causing countless harm to the mental health of those diagnosed. Suicide rates for the autism community are high and it has been shown that treatments like ABA are a root cause of PTSD symptoms for those forced to participate. Recognizing autism as a neurotype that needs to be embraced is the first step to curing the real issue which is considering autism as a disorder.


 

“Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet#3082_5. Accessed 1 Nov. 2021.


“Data and Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.

Kupferstein, Henny. (2018). Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis. Advances in Autism. 4. 00-00. 10.1108/AIA-08-2017-0016.


“Mental Health Awareness Week: The Link between Autism and Suicide.” Autism Research Trust, 12 May 2021, www.autismresearchtrust.org/news/autism-and-suicide-through-the-lens-of-research.


Thibaut, Florence. “New perspectives in autism spectrum disorders.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 19,4 (2017): 323. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.4/fthibaut




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