For people with mild autism, a closer analogy would be an aspect of your personality. Do you like to travel and explore new places? Imagine it was a major aspect of your life, to the point that you'd get uncomfortable staying in one place too long. How would you like it if someone told you that you should be cured of that, and you'd be better off able to settle down and be "normal"? Do you feel that you would still be you after that kind of change? If it helps, take the exact same question and reverse it. If you were told you had to be "cured" to love travelling to that degree, would you consider that a major change to your personality?
I'm purposely not speaking for severe autism here. I think the big problem with this debate is people arguing past each other, both sides saying "autism" and meaning wildly different things. I really wish they had different names.
Sure, it's easy to see the difference between a very mildly autistic person and a non-verbal, highly interesting impaired person who can't possibly live alone. But when you fill in the population of all the people between them, it becomes clear that there's no natural place to draw a line.
If all humans can be placed somewhere on the continuous spectrum of autism, then that's just a measure of humans. Just like how height or weight are continuous but normally distributed measures, autism is beginning to be seen as a normally distributed measure (more research required though).
Granted, how autism is measured is not at all the same as how something like height is measured. As we continue to advance with social media, digital tracking, etc, we may find a window into how to measure autism empirically, but who knows.
If/when that occurs, then yes, you could at least talk about standard deviations and start drawing borders between highly/mildly/average/low/lowest autism that a person has.
But, again, we're a long ways away from this.
If you disrupted class in the 1980’s, you got taken out of general population, and put into special education with a high ratio of teachers or aides, and received a proximity of attention as needed, and that was your generalized clinical marker for genuine problems. The consensus of the elementary grade day-care center we call kindergarten through fifth grade in public schools resolved who was incapable of participating at a reasonable level.
Meanwhile, being a weirdo with eccentricities and preferences wasn’t something that demanded medication and diagnosis and labels and highly precise rules for what’s normal and what’s not. You could be awkward. It wasn’t a big deal.
Now, that is no longer true. People are keeping score starting at five years old, boxing kids into limited futures of medication and unrelenting demands for strict behavioral protocols.
So, what changed? The schools. The doctors. The kids didn’t change. The adults did. The trend was to demand more from children, and thus force them into tighter constraints in adulthood. The trend was to try and force a society to do more with less, and to weed out the weak.
Kids have to do homework in kindergarten, and that is bullshit. They shouldn’t have homework until middle school, really. They should just be kids. They shouldn’t have anxiety about grades when they’re little. They should be permitted to exist as tiny little humans, getting a first look at a gigantic world. Up until age ten, they should just be exposed to what it means to be a person. By ten, their personality is developed, and with puberty around the corner, a few short years to tighten up the basics would work, if public schools were competent. Big if.
But, when it comes to “spectral autism” the premise is a joke. If you can brush your teeth, comb your hair, tie your shoes, and iron and fold clothes but choose not to then you aren’t autistic. If you’re capable of working at McDonald’s but choose not to then you aren’t autistic. If you could theoretically wait tables or tend a bar, as a capable server but choose not to then you aren’t autistic. If you can drive a car across town, you aren’t autistic.
Ain’t no spectrum about it. Either it’s debilitating pathology or it isn’t. People aren’t suffering from syndromes at unprecedented scales. The rules of society changed in the late 90’s, and judgement is passed with greater scrutiny than ever before.
My personal example is I was diagnosed with autism in the early 1980s. And it really was warranted. I had serious difficulties with school – I had problems speaking, dressing myself and tying my shoes (amongst other things). I got into rages and fights. And my personal relationship skills with anyone outside of my family were zero. But I also had a pretty decent IQ, and I learned to manage the overstimulation and emotional tsunamis. Then I was able to survive.
There was also a high-IQ program in my school district, filled mostly with people 'on the spectrum' (not generally as disadvantaged as myself though), and the teachers involved with that helped me through school generally. But I couldn't go to college, it was just too much.
Life since hasn't been easy but I've been able to work as a technician and take care of myself. So I don't fit in either of your camps, and lots of other autistics don't either.
In our opinion the problem is that regular school is just not flexible enough to accomodate children like him. So we are going to enrol him in a Montessori school where he already knows people from the playgroup. The headmistress told us that they accept him and they will employ a therapeutic education teacher for him and two other childrens who are also special.
We will see how it works out.
"Choose" is an awkward word here. There are autistic people who will do alk these things, have a slight road bump on life, and it will all fracture apart. Then they will self-isolate for awhile and eventually emerge and try it again. There's a sort of category of people who can do these things, want to do these things on a genuine and honest level, but can only manage them with great difficulty.
I do agree with the general notion that todays conception of autism was generated out of thin air due to the hypercompetitiveness of society. The entire concept of a "spectrum disorder" is a bit odd. I also notice how nobody seems to be correctly measuring if this new paradigm is actually helping the patients. The amount of stigma that exists now that did not exist in the 80s towards the exact same kind of person is incredible. Many of these people would manage, with difficulty, completely unassisted.
I sometimes wonder if the mental health field has damned the people they call autistic while believing they're helping them. The insistence on labelling peoples psychological quirks as a "disorder" it hurts people in profound ways.
This happens to everyone, including neurotypicals. It's what used to be known as a nervous breakdown, and more recently is labeled as acute stress disorder. Sure, the level of stress resilience can differ greatly among individuals, but that's the point: it's a difference in degree, not in kind!
I would argue it's messier than just variation in magnitude - there are different groups of behavioral changes that happen under different levels of duress.
I know people who, under heavy stress, aggressively clean everything, even if it's just been cleaned, as a coping mechanism. I also know people who fail to clean anything under mild stress, and lots of somewhat odd subsets.
I would suspect you could pattern match these and get subsets which will be more commonly comorbid with some autistic traits, but the patterns can matter for what you can predict about other often-comorbid things, as well as which coping mechanisms may or may not work.
Being socially awkward is neither sufficient nor required for an autism diagnosis.
> If you can brush your teeth, comb your hair, tie your shoes, and iron and fold clothes but choose not to then you aren’t autistic.
None of these are symptoms of autism.
There was a different name. Aspergers.
The low functioning with autism by the way tend to be happier than the high functioning. So from the perspective of the person being curee I'm not certain being low functioning would make them want to be cured more.