I read an interview with Temple Grandin, the noted author who has autism, here. To my knowledge, Grandin has not been an advocate for any of the “new” autism groups like TACA, groups that support biomedical treatments and research for a cure. That is why some of her answers pleasantly surprised me:
Cases of autism are rising. Why do you think that is?
Some of it is probably due to the way autism is diagnosed. I saw people on the HBO lot that probably have Asperger’s but never got a diagnosis as a child. There has been an increase in regressive autism, children who develop normally, have speech, and then lose it. I think there’s something going on with some type of environmental contaminant. Some insult is getting to the child whose genes are susceptible to autism. I think we are going to be hearing more about epigenetics and autism. With epigenetics you look at how the genome responds to the environment. How things like toxins and diet and other things turn on the switches that regulate how certain genes are expressed.
I’ve read this a few other places, and it resonates with me. Perhaps there is no one “cause” for autism, and something that contributes to causing autism for one child (e.g., vaccines) might not harm a neurotypical child at all, because that neurotypical child’s body isn’t susceptible or predisposed in the first place.
I was also pleased to read that Grandin mentioned toxins and diet. From our family’s experience, we know that diet makes a huge difference–not just for Nate, but for all of us!
“Autism pride” or neurodiversity is a growing movement. Do you think there needs to be a “cure” for autism?
I believe there’s a point where mild autistic traits are just normal human variation. Mild autism can give you a genius like Einstein. If you have severe autism, you could remain nonverbal. You don’t want people to be on the severe end of the spectrum. But if you got rid of all the autism genetics, you wouldn’t have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social ‘yak yaks.’
I agree that not every minute autistic trait should be erased. Any “autism” still left in Nate is at the “quirky personality trait” level, and I wouldn’t change those traits. (I am instead trying to help Nate learn how best to deal with some of the quirks, like when he gets super upset if he doesn’t win a board game.) For children whose autism is more severe, I believe in embracing the child and working to help that child be able to function in society through language, understanding social cues, and improving what’s going on inside the body to heal what might be hurting.