According to NYmag’s recent article on Autism, roughly 1 in 10,000 babies were diagnosed with the brain disorder during the seventies. Fast forward to 2008, the age of the so-called Autism epidemic, and you’ll find this ratio dwindle down to 1 in 150. So, is Autism simply more prevalent, or are medical professionals over diagnosing based on behaviors that once characterized a person as weird?
The onslaught of Autism diagnosis, has brought with it a wave of Autism activists. They have separated themselves into three distinct and incongruous categories who vehemently disagree with one another. The vaccine activist, who feels Autism is the result of over vaccination interfering with normal brain development. The genetic activists, for whom Autism spawns entirely from one’s genetic composition. And the neurodiverity activists, a relatively new and outspoken group rallying in defense of Autism as a gift and not a disability in need of obliteration.
When reading the article I understood the pros and cons of each group and why peace can never exist between them. On one hand I agree with the vaccine activists. I too think we are quick to vaccinate without concrete scientific evidence of their long term effects. But damning something based on a hypothetical does little for widespread reinforcement and support, especially when that thing protects us from other aliments.
Generally siding with science proves to be my main agenda. If by studying the human genome we can eradicate disabilities preying on the quality of life, then why would anyone argue against it, right? On the flip side I see how this would be cause for concern. With little hope of finding a cure, geneticist’s best bet is to develop a test for early detection of a potential Autism gene, similar to the screen for Downs Syndrome. This creates a forced ultimatum for a mother; have an Autistic child with whose level of functioning cannot be determined, or have an abortion. Today ninety percent of all fetuses projected to be born with Downs are aborted. I doubt this statistic would differ much for Autism.
Call me mean, call me crazy, call me terrible, but if a doctor informed me that my child might be born with a low functioning form of Autism, I’m not sure I would keep it. In saying this it’s important for me to defend myself. Of course if a doctor was able to tell me that my child would be born with a high functioning form of Aspergers I would never abort it. I don’t believe it’s quality of life would be threatened in such a way that the pros of not living out way the pros of living. But it’s unlikely that in-depth degrees of detection like this will ever exist and living with Autism so severe that a person is danger to themselves is no life at all.
The neurodiversity activists deny Autism as a disability altogether. Instead, they exalt it. According the the article they feel it’s the world that needs changing, not the Autistic. They blame vaccine activists for considering them toxic and accuse geneticists of attempting to wipe out a community of people predicated on harmless neurological differences.
So who is right? Clearly, no one because each group’s opinion leads to a cyclical stale-mate. In an ideal world we could say, “Those of you who wish to treat Autism as a disability, we offer you help. Those of you who wish to treat it as a mark of commendable eccentricity, continue to exist without interference.” This will never be the case and in the meantime petty bickering does little to aid the afflicted. A decision must be made; Autism is either something to embrace and let alone or a disability worthy of our scientific and medical attention, regardless of severity. In my opinion the most poignant quote came from Dr. Harold Koplewicz, director of the NYU Child Study Center,
"If you’re short, you stand on your toes; if you’re a little person, you qualify for accommodation. They can’t have it both ways."