I recently spoke to a group of first-year medical students at Indiana University Medical School. After I had finished and had started taking questions, I was very interested in how many of the questions had to do with the neurodiversity movement, “fixing, autism, or the idea of “taking away” a patient’s autism as emerging professionals.
One student simply wanted my thoughts on the neurodiversity movement: I acknowledged that I do believe that individuals with autism have a right to be heard and be involved in the conversation surrounding autism. The neurodiversity movement is primarily made up of individuals with autism, who do not meet criteria for expressive language delays or intellectual or cognitive delays, their parents, and their supporters. While it is, of course, possible to have normal to above normal cognition and higher levels of independence with autism, one must also acknowledge that for many individuals and families, autism spectrum disorder is a very different experience which may consist of little to no spoken language, stereotypic movement, possible self-injurious behavior, wandering from safety, difficulty interacting with peers, etc.
Although a different experience, the experiences of these individuals and families with autism need to be listened to, valued, and included in the autism conversation just as much as individuals with autism and their allies who have the ability to stand in front of a room and tell an audience how they experience a situation or how autism affects them day to day. No matter where an individual falls on the autism spectrum, they will each have their own areas in which they require support, some more so, and some less but likely to a certain degree throughout their lives.
The more I read online about the neurodiversity movement, and the more posts I see written by individuals with autism talking about clinicians and professionals trying to harm or fix people with autism, the more I deliberately choose not to respond and completely disengage.
I understand that perspective taking can be a difficult skill for many on the autism spectrum. However, I sincerely doubt most individuals who choose to go into fields such as medicine, social work, applied behavioral analysis, clinical psychology, education, etc. do so with the goal of fixing or harming individuals with autism or developmental disability.
All these fields, first, require a license to practice. Second, most people who decide to enter the social services sector do so with the aim of helping their patients or clients achieve a greater level of confidence, independence, and stability in society, not to harm them. In fact, if it were ever determined that a provider did knowingly cause harm to a patient or client, he or she could likely risk losing their license.
As future clinicians, I said I would advocate that they include the patient in the development and execution of treatment plans as much as possible, but that they also develop a very broad understanding of the autism spectrum and for treatment methods backed by science and clinical evidence. While every patient will have his or her own opinion, science and data must also be part of the discussion.
Nassim, A. (2022). Please Don't Search for "Treatment for Autism" Advice on TikTok. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/please-dont-search-for-treatment-advice-on-tik-tok.html