In recently months I have received three messages from people with autism asking me to stop calling autism a disability or a handicap. I’ve also been told by more than a couple parents that they would not change their child and take their autism from them if they were given the opportunity. I cannot even wrap my mind around it. My son, Tate, is 12 but functions at an intellect of about age 7.
When Tate was diagnosed I never would have dreamed there were people out there who would not mourn their child’s future the way I did when my son was diagnosed. I accept that my son has autism but I cannot rejoice in it. Autism has created obstacles and barriers that we are constantly trying to break down or find our way around. My son suffers because of his autism. He cannot communicate with us well and is often frustrated because we do not understand what he is trying to say to us.
We have done a lot of therapy to help our son and have seen great improvement in his level of functioning. I’ve since seen a tee shirt mocking the therapy we did. The quote was, “I survived ABA therapy.” My son survived it as well and without it he would have been lower functioning than he is now.
The premise of some is that autism is not a disability but just another culture or race of people. I don’t buy into it at all. I see what the doctors at Children’s Mercy see: a neurological disorder, a disability.
I admire Temple Grandin. A. Lot. I mean- I’m a huge fan. She says she would not flip a switch and change herself is if she could. I do not doubt her. I’m even happy for her. However, I still see autism as a disability. She had to overcome a lot of things. MOST of the people that I know in the autism community would flip that switch in a heartbeat. MOST of the people that I know with autism are not going to function at the level that Temple Grandin does.
I wonder if the people who ask me to stop calling autism a disability have ever put themselves in the shoes of someone with severe autism, or in the shoes of their caregivers. Possibly they cannot. Possibly they cannot because their empathy skills are limited or their theory of mind is almost nonexistent. Kids with autism often have self-injurious behaviors. Many are nonverbal, and do not understand their surroundings. Many are a danger to themselves. Many have to wear diapers. Many never learn to read or count. How can that NOT be a disability? The definition of a handicap is “a condition that markedly restricts a person's ability to function physically, mentally, or socially.” Sounds like autism to me.
Seen the news lately? There have been several children with autism who have wandered away and been found in bodies of water. Their mothers probably would have “flipped that switch” and eliminated their children’s autism if there had been one.
|Tate, age 12|
I wrote a similar post "Celebrate Autism?" in 2013.
Also by this author: "15 Truths of Parenting Special Needs Kids."
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