Hello folks. Today I thought we’d talk about something slightly controversial. Should we cure autism? Well, some people would say a resounding yes and some would say a horrified no. The main argument comes down to whether autism is “bad” and is something that should be changed to improve the life of those with ASD. Whole forums, groups and organisations are investing time and money into searching for an elusive “solution” to being autistic. They spread messages about how lives are being ruined by the condition and how people would be better off if they were “normal”. So, let’s explore where this comes from.
I was first inclined to give examples of autistic people who have done amazing things and revolutionized their fields and the general world. People like Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokémon), Tim Burton (director) and Temple Grandin (Animal Behavior Professional). They are often the first to be put forward in the articles about why autism is a ‘gift,’ and should be painstakingly cherished and nurtured, as if there must be some sort of compensation for a person having autism. However, while I do not wish to diminish the extraordinary achievements that these people have accomplished, it does strike me as odd that we feel the need to prove that autistic people have the ability to better society, rather than expecting those around us to respect our right to exist as we are. To illustrate my point another way, let me use the following example: I am not a fan of peanut butter, and I gag just at the smell, but I appreciate that some people like peanut butter and that is okay. I don’t need people to tell me about peanut butter-loving people who have done amazing things with their life, because I accept that just because they enjoy that spread, doesn’t mean that they are lesser or should in some way be “cured” of their love. Maybe those with peanut allergies would want it to not exist because it would make their life slightly easier, but most people who enjoy peanut butter do not want to be rid of their joy surrounding the food. They wrongly think peanut butter is delicious, and if they want to eat peanut butter sandwiches then they are more than welcome to do so.
The same should be applied to autism. I am not going to say that I am happy 100% of the time being autistic because that would be a lie. Sometimes it is really annoying and tiring and scary. If I go to a party and I have to leave because it is too loud and bright and perhaps crowded and smells strange then that is frustrating, because it means I can’t do the same things that my friends enjoy doing. There have been times when I have wanted to do an activity or sport and I have had to cut it short or not attend because I couldn’t cope sensory-wise. I have shed many tears about why I couldn’t manage things that the people around me could. I felt lonely, isolated and different. However, as much as it can be a problem, my autism brings me a lot of joy. I like the fact that I am excellent at out-of-the-box thinking and am very good at coming up with creative solutions. It gives me passion and motivation in areas which are important to me and which fascinate me. I believe it helped give me strong morals and an open mind because I know what it is like to be a bit different, and it also means that I enjoy learning and researching about all manner of topics. Not only that, but it means I don’t have all the same learnt behaviors as I otherwise might have. For example, I will stand up for what I believe in, but as soon as I get new information that changes my view, I am very happy to admit that I was wrong and to learn from other people. Much like Shakira’s infamous hips, I don’t lie unless another person would be in danger or hurt from the truth, and I get tremendous joy at things that other people may view as mundane or childish.
I am aware that my autism affects other people around me. I know it is difficult if I am having a meltdown and the person with me has to try and manage it and get me somewhere quiet. I have made comments that upset people because I didn’t understand the subtleties of the conversation. I am also the first one to admit that my need for rules and reassurance can be a pain. However, one thing that only occurred to me quite recently, is that actually, those parts of me that some may consider flaws, are also commonly found in non-autistic people. Sure, I may have them all, and to a larger degree, but I know lots of people who make insensitive comments without thinking, and at least I apologize and am sorry when I realise or am told what I have done. I don’t do it out of malice, I do it out of a lack of understanding or awareness. The same goes for other parts of my personality. While the particular combination of all these characteristics is because I have autism, I feel that I want to point out, that they are all characteristics found in different people across all different neurotypes. I work on my flaws because I am a person, and everyone should strive to be better, but labelling them as problems only due to my autism is perhaps misleading. I am the sum total of my parts, and I am autistic, not just because of the perceived problems, but also because of all the ways which it improves and aids me.
I am yet to meet a person who is not a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and the same goes for me and all my other autistic folk. It isn’t fair to only judge us for what we cannot do. If we are in a different environment, we may be able to thrive because of our autism. It raises the question, “are we disabled because we are autistic, or is it society that disables us?” I would say that the two are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, we live in a world which doesn’t predominantly cater to those with additional needs, and so in this way we are disabled by society because it is more difficult to exist happily and safely. However, the fact that we can’t live happily and safely in society indicates that we are disabled, because it is challenging, and we often need additional support. I consider being autistic a disability, and anyone who challenges that should try living with my brain for a day and then they can get back to me… likely while crying. I can live as I do because I put a lot of work into it and painstakingly adapt and plan my day around what I need, what I am able to do, and how the world treats me. I would argue that instead of finding a “cure” for a condition that I, and the majority of autistic people I know, don’t want to get rid of, we could instead look at making the world easier for those who live in it. It isn’t very hard for supermarkets to turn off their music, or for shops to change flickering lights. It is perfectly reasonable for a school to let autistic students leave 2 minutes early from class, so that they can beat the corridor traffic and arrive at their next lesson with less stress. The morning of writing this post, I was treated to a 10-minute bell cacophony from the church next to where I am staying, and to say that it was a gross infringement on legally acceptable noise levels would be an understatement. In a slightly ironic note, if hell does indeed exist and I end up there, the devil can take a leaf out of the book of said church and force me to endure that recital of ringing and clanging as a very effective punishment.
I have always found that those who most advocate for a cure for autism, are not those who have the condition. They are usually those who care for autistic people with additional learning disabilities. I understand wanting to lessen the suffering of those that you love, however, you can lessen the suffering by making adaptations to life, rather than completely changing who people are. I know that I do not have to be at the very top of my field and be revolutionizing the face of our society for me to be allowed to exist as myself. I have continuously found that the more I adapt life to suit me, the more I like myself and who I am. I hated the fact that I couldn’t go clubbing because all my friends were going in sixth form without me, and I knew it was something that I would never be able to do. And then I heard about silent discos and the idea that I could participate in an activity that was so ingrained in the culture I was living was exciting, because I had been so focused on trying to force myself to conform, that I had forgotten that I am also a person and it isn’t unreasonable to ask for alternative accommodations so that I can experience the same things as my peers. This might seem like a frivolous example, but it was a huge moment for me because it was the idea that I could do leisure activities that suited me more, rather than only having accommodations at school or when I put them in myself. It was the idea that activities that were better for my experience of the world were being thought of. While it wasn’t designed with autism in mind, it proved to me that there were new options being not only implemented but embraced.
So, in conclusion, no, I don’t think autism needs to be cured, because quite aside from the fact that it is impossible, it isn’t inherently a problem. Instead the focus should perhaps be on making the world more accessible and tolerant of those with different needs. Catering to minorities does not exclude majorities. It just means more people can use the service and have access to the same things. I don’t want to be cured because I am not diseased, nor do I need to be fixed because I am not broken. All I want is to be included because I am still a person.
Thank you for reading,