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January 20, 2013

Slate: Is the neurodiversity movement misrepresenting autism?

(Continued)

Neurodiverse sentiments such as these by Baggs and Bissonnette carry a lot of weight, since the public accepts them as the genuine insights of people living with severe autism. They have contributed to a romanticization of mental illness that Judith Warner, author of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication," has called "dangerous" because it can keep parents from getting their children the help they need. Her point isn't hypothetical. A 2010 case study written up in Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association's online journal of ethics, featured parents who refused all treatment for their autistic son because they were "members of the autism self-advocacy movement."

On a political level, "neurodiversity advocates have definitely succeeded in implementing their agenda," says Alison Singer, founder of Autism Science Foundation and a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. "You can see it in the strategic plan [of IACC] — there are more studies focused on higher-functioning adults and the services they need, such as finding employment. But because we're reallocating money, not increasing the budget, that means shifting funds away from the needs of lower-functioning children, who need treatments, for example, to help them control self-injurious behaviors." And that shift may become more pronounced once the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published in May. By eliminating the Asperger's syndrome diagnosis, as the DSM-V is expected to do, and redirecting all those high-functioning individuals into the autism diagnosis, the overall percentage of low-functioning autistics will drop — making it even easier for the high-functioning lobby to shunt aside those who might technically share the same diagnosis but have completely different needs.

So what happens to neurodiversity if its lower-functioning supporters are discredited? The movement is exposed for what it is: a group of high-functioning individuals opposed to medical research that, as Singer puts it, "they don't need, but my daughter does. If she were able to function at their level, I would consider her cured."

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