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Autism: One condition, two definitions

What most people think of when they hear the word, 'autism', an inconsolable, uncooperative child that cannot communicate. Autistic people see things differently.
Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

When a video of an autistic person fighting with their caretaker or trying to harm themselves, is viewed, it is easy to see why so many are so emotional about the fight to “cure” autism.

It is difficult and heart-wrenching to think of families that must plan their entire lives around the care of one member.

They scream, “We want a cure!” at the top of their lungs and autistics scream back, “No!”

Why would anyone not want to cure this hideous condition? Are they saying that self-harming and lifelong dependence on others is good?

No, they are not, but when the battle lines of terminology are drawn, things can get ugly.

Most see autism as the co-morbid conditions that surround it. They see an inability to communicate, self-harming and harming of others, high anxiety, inability to perform the most basic acts of self-care among others.

From the inside, autism looks very different.

The autistic person knows that they have a unique way of doing things that enables them to excel in certain areas of interest.

They have an eye for details that many miss. They can think outside of the box and teach themselves to do amazing things.

They can be brilliant inventors, philosophers and artists.

These special skills and abilities represent autism for the autistic person.

For the non-autistic person, autism is the self-harming behavior, inability to communicate and dependence on others to watch and protect them.

When one speaks of a “cure” for autism, what the autistic hears is: “We want to take away everything about you that is special, that has enabled you to survive in a world that you don’t understand, in order to make you more acceptable to us.”

What the non-autistic hears is, “High functioning autistics don’t care that families and individuals are suffering, they want people to accept the situation as it is no matter where the person falls on the spectrum.”

In truth, neither party desires suffering or continual dependence, but relief from the most severe and harmful side-effects of autism, while allowing the gifts to come to the surface to be shared with the world.

Perhaps, if the word “cure” was replaced with “treatment,” then all parties could come to an understanding.

Then, real progress would be possible.

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