Rigidity & lack of empathy why some high-functioning autistics deny reality

It is long past time that I publicly questioned the rigid and incomplete assumptions held by some high-functioning self-described autistics who have Aspergers (like Michelle Dawson and Ari Ne’eman), and their supporters. For example, I read an article last week that supported the view that autism was changing the world for everyone.

Suggesting to me that, no matter how informal, there is a type of marketing or re-branding campaign going on. For example, the article’s author, George Dvorsky, stated:

“Even if some people still see autism as a condition that needs to be ‘treated,’ it’s increasingly obvious that people on the autism spectrum are finding ways to succeed in our neurotypical-based society. Not only that, but autistic people are changing the nature of our society as well — in many ways, for the better.”

Changing the world for everyone? For the better? Our neurotypical-based society?

Without a doubt, the article is an example of political correctness taken to the extreme. As a society we do not have “neuro-typicals.” As a learning specialist I can say, unequivocally, that we have only people who are normal within a wide range of learning styles. No two people think or learn alike. Meaning, in fact, that just as no two individuals with autism think alike, there are no normal “typicals” either.

Do I empathize with those who have Asperger’s? Absolutely. I worked with people with learning disabilities for over a decade through my private practice. They simply don’t want to be labelled as disabled and they want to be treated as everyone else is treated. However, the reality is they are not the same as everyone else.

Specifically, psychiatrists and psychologists are able to diagnose when someone has aspects of a spectrum of disorders we call autism. They know because the criteria for such a diagnosis has been in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)  for a couple of decades now. 

Read, for example, the pending revisions to the DSM-5. There is nothing positive written there.  There is nothing that can change our society for the better, other than an understanding of the disorder. In fact, just looking at two criteria would indicate such negative aspects as: (1) stereotypical rigid thinking through repetitive patterns of behaviour and speech, and (2) deficits in social-emotional reciprocity.

And, therein lies the problem. People with autism, even if they are highly intelligent and articulate, can be rigid in their thinking and that reality is made worse by an inability to empathize with others whose autism is more severe.

Need proof? Then read this recent post by Harold Doherty which is extremely important because it indicates that some well-meaning individuals, like Dawson, are actively campaigning “against” ABA treatments that will help children compensate or accommodate their autism. Why? Because, in Dawson’s view, the theoretical foundations of ABA are unethical.

Of course, it is a free country with free speech and Dawson can have whatever opinion she wants. However, she doesn’t seem to understand that sometimes we have to do negative things in order for there to be positive outcomes. Chemotherapy is one such example.  Having physicians put poisons into our bodies would seem counter productive. However, it can mean a renewed and longer life to those who persevere.  

So, the crux of the matter is that aspects of autism disorders (such as Asperger’s) attributed to individuals who are highly intelligent and highly articulate, make it very difficult, if not impossible, for those individuals to truly understand the needs of those who have been diagnosed with far more severe forms of the disorder.

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