Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rebutting the Lie: The New York Times Article Kids Who Beat Autism

With chelation, cannabis, sauna treatments, and bleach being widely believed by ordinary people to be legitimate treatments for people with autism, this article I read came of being particular disgust to me.  Recently, the New York Times did an editorial called Kids Who Beat Autism, describing as its name suggests, that certain kids who were, at least, autistic now no longer have autism, by Ruth Padawer, which you can read here for a balanced perspective on my rebuttal:

As I finished this article, I find myself fairly unimpressed with its findings and studies.  To be fair Padawer stops just short of condoning the idea of eliminating autism.  She admits that certain marketed treatments out there, such as vitamin shots, special diets, and nutritional supplements, are dangerous, yet the rhetoric of this article appears to be that autism is a prison for children, to say nothing of what it is for parents, making them unable to have real relationships, and be a perpetual hostage of their own world, but that they have found a way through safe treatment (e.g. Applied Behavior Analysis) that delivers them from this cage and makes them non-autistic, and thus now able to lead happy, meaningful lives.  Throughout the article, Padawer consistently draws from studies which demonstrate greater social progress for children who received more hours of A.B.A than less, such as full, or at least greater language ability.  What Padawer does not mention is autistics who are non-verbal and who also lead productive and socially successful lives, such as Amanda Baggs, Amy Sequinza, and Sue Rubin.  For the first eight paragraphs in Padawer’s rather long article, she mostly discusses a young child named B.  Her article begins with saying B. was a perfectly developmentally typical child until he was around two, when he retreated into his own world, stopped using eye contact, had tantrums, and frequently banged his head.  About nine paragraphs into her article, Padawer also talks about another child, Matthew, who at the time at least had autism, and states quite clearly that Matthew was not interested in other children, and who also had limited communication.  Seven and eight paragraphs into her article, she points out that through years of A.B.A, B., gained language skills, talked frequently, and abandoned his need to perseverate about his special interests in dinosaurs and fish, and eventually his doctor claimed that B. no longer had autism. 
Now to me, this seems like an incredibly oversimplified idea of what autism is.  I can carry on a conversation, make eye contact, read social and emotional cues, have discussions with peers that are interesting to both of us, yet my parents and family would raise an eyebrow if they heard a professional say I wasn't autistic.  I still exhibit fixated interests, have trouble sleeping (mostly during highly stressful periods), can be averse to certain food textures, even though that is gradually changing.  Two paragraphs after Padawer states B. was diagnosed as being no longer autistic, Padawer states that autism is based on certain diagnostic criteria, which children can grow out of and are thus no longer autistic, even if they do display some autistic traits.  But maybe a fair question is, “Who decides the diagnostic criteria for people with autism?”  The criterion has changed over decades.  The criteria by which I was diagnosed as a young child is now very different from what it is now that I am twenty-four.    In any case Padawer and certain psychologists may say I or other children outgrew what defines autism.  Yet from what I see many diagnostic traits, such as the lack of interest in other people are merely impressions of psychologists.  Autistics do have interests in other people, yet don't always know how to express it, many of whom don't have the language skills to do so in the ways that come naturally to verbal neurotypicals, or the lack of innate ability to read non-verbal social cues, so I am not impressed by the findings that children's "interests" in people increase with language skills, and the ability to read social cues through intense training.  The article made no mention of the frequent overstimulation autistic people experience when it mentioned head-banging and tantrums.  Autistic people learn certain things differently just as children with dyslexia and AD/HD do.  In Padawer article, she makes no mention of historical people believed to have autism, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Harry Truman, or Abraham Lincoln.  In the words of 2011 autistic Miss Montana winner, Alexus Wineman, “Autism doesn’t define me.” 
Padawer mentions nothing as to whether the brains of autistic children change after their treatment.  She simply mentions that no one knows about what differences there are in the autistic brain.  I would also point out that there is knowledge on the differences between autistic and non-autistic brains, Time magazine did an article in 2006 on autism, which showed many ways in which certain parts of the brains of autistic people are different than in non-autistic people.  You could probably find it if you googled "Time magazine autism 2006."  Padawer merely quotes, vaguely, that psychologist Geraldine Dawson’s believe that the autistic brain could change.  Padawer makes no mention of Dawson’s tenure as a board member of the group Autism Speaks, which then held to the belief that vaccines cause autism.  The fact that Dawson was paid over half a million dollars for her role as an executive should automatically remove her from a list of non-biased sources.  Padawer also makes no reference to the fact that A.B.A is not an appropriate treatment for autistic people.  My father, a PhD psychologist in Overland Park, Kansas, claims that A.B.A would have been a horrible treatment for me and that the right school was the right path for people like myself.  Padawer does not lie, to be perfectly honest, but her facts lack the insights and complete picture that can only be gained with other equally important stories of several individuals with autism.  For me it is necessary to refute this article because people are ensnared and led to dangerous decisions by ideas like Padawer’s.  These children's autism is clearly not cured, and promising this illusion simply creates shame for parents who fail to "cure" their children, rather than redirecting their energy to advocate for services for their kids and let them make it through life.  The so-called findings in this article seem to merely be a by-product on our culture's useless war on autism.  I would not say my life is worse than for people who haven't been cured.  I am a college student, an artist, a writer, a flautist, and a friend to autistics, neurotypicals, dyslexics, Downs people, and a part-time retailer.  For me, being able to tell people I am autistic allows them have sympathy for my unique behavioral traits and it entitles me to test-taking services at my university.  From the material I read I find this article shows the typical culturally idiosyncrasy of the idea that autistic children are science experiments, and ignorance of us as first-class citizens.

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