Autism is not an illness: The problem with the way we speak about Autism

Here is the last in my ‘Autism is not an illness’ series. I’m thinking about the problem with the way we speak about Autism. What do I mean by “the way we speak about Autism”? First I’ll say that when I use “we” I am referring to society in general. Let’s look at some examples. 

Todays news headlines from a google search of the word Autism:

“Autism uncovered: Brains of people with the condition work in ‘idiosyncratic’ ways, claims groundbreaking study”
• The finding helps explain why some studies claim people with autism have more brain connections, while other research says they have less
• Scientists say there are many brain profiles under umbrella of autism
• This could lead to better diagnosis of autism and improve treatments

“Circumcision ‘doubles autism risk’: study”

“Ballarat autism blogger threatened with death”

“Etobicoke mom embarks on walk to Ottawa for national autism strategy”

“Families fighting for diagnosis, treatment, facing crippling financial costs ‘simply not right’, she says”

“Maternal thyroid autoantibody and elevated risk of offspring autism”

“The US Is On The Verge Of An ‘Autism Tsunami'”

“Rise in autism cases a growing challenge”

Here is some of the explanation of Autism provided by Wikipedia:

Autism is
a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. It is distinguished not by a single symptom, but by a characteristic triad of symptoms: impairments in social interaction; impairments in communication; and restricted interests and repetitive behavior. Social deficits distinguish autism and the related autism spectrum disorders from other developmental disorders. People with autism have social impairments and often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted…….. Etc. etc. etc. 

Autism Awareness Australia” tells us

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. People with ASD have problems with social and communication skills. Many people with ASD also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to sensations. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In most cases its causes are unknown. Today, 1 in 100 individuals is diagnosed with autism.

and in their promotional video uses phrases such as

More children will be diagnosed with Autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined

no-one knows the cause, there is no cure

Autism is stealing the minds and personalities of a generation of Australian children

30,000 Aussie kids have been kidnapped….. by Autism

Don’t let Autism have the last say in a families life

while their video aimed at children and distributed to every school in Australia says

…it sort of seems like you’re in your own world…”,

You can tell someone has autism if they… um… like, make weird groaning sounds.”,

…not making very much sense, flapping their arms about…

Do you see a pattern? I do.

diagnosis treatment risk

threatened strategy

diagnosis treatment

crippling financial cost risk

Autism Tsunami

growing challenge

disorder impaired restricted

symptom impairments

impairments restricted deficits

disorders impairments lack

disorder problems unusual

diagnosed cause cure




Now imagine all those things are being said in relation to you. About you. In front of you.

Do you see a problem? I do.

I see a society bent on believing that being a bit different than the majority is bad and something that needs fixing.

I see groups of self proclaimed experts , declaring they are helping, while using shock and awe tactics and striking fear into people to get them to donate money.

I see a media system selling stories of tragedy to the detriment of an entire group of people.

And I see parents buying the stories, claiming the fear and believing the lie.

Entire industries exist to find ways to help parents cope with their terrible children and to figure out a way to prevent any more suffering like theirs.

And all the while the voices of the actual Autistic people are drowned out by this rhetoric and drama, when all they are trying to say is “we are OK just as we are and we don’t need you to fix us”.

That is the problem with the way we speak about Autism.

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