Tuesday, January 01, 2008


The inability to agree on a definition of autism has always fueled the debate over appropriate responses to Autism Spectrum Disorders. The truth is that one could easily define autism in as many ways as there are autistic individuals.

I have occasionally read the musings of Donna Williams, a/k/a “the arty autie.” Although our views rarely intersect, I have usually found her to be thoughtful and a good writer. Last week, I came upon her latest piece, What is autism? Beyond the symptoms and stereotypes. She hits this one out of the park:
In my view, autism is NOT ONE CONDITION and hence there is no one-size-fits-all approach which will best fit ALL people diagnosed with autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Ms. Williams refers to the constellation of autistic manifestations as a “fruit salad,” the ingredients of which are sometimes inherited and sometimes acquired. Leaving aside the question of how much is inherited and how much is the result of external factors ⎯ and that is likely to differ with each individual ⎯ the focus turns to our response. Ms. Williams seems to believe, as do I, that the appropriate response depends upon the manifestations:
What determines the abilities and progress of any person with autism, is how the fruit salad is respectfully managed based on solid understanding of those components. Some aspects of an ‘autism fruit salad’, in some people (and may not be present in all for them to be equally ‘autistic’), will require treatment, others management, others adaptation and some only understanding, respect and acceptance.
I’m not familiar enough with Ms. Williams’ views to speak for her. Based on her background, though, I can surmise that she does not approve of many of the “biomedical” or “alternative” interventions many of us believe are appropriate in the individual cases of our children. As a statement of general principle, however, I could not agree more with her on the nature of ASD, and the spirit with which we must formulate a response.


Blogger Tom said...


As per usual, yours is a voice of reason attempting to bring us all close enough together to. . .well, at least close enough together to actually hear each other.

I think if we continue to use "disability" (or "set of disabilities") as a definition of autism, then anyone who is happy enough (good luck defining "happy enough") and functioning well enough (good luck defining "well enough") in whatever setting they find themselves in or can place themselves in--then that person--by definition--doesn't really have a disability, although they may have differences.

And I am happy to "leave alone" most anyone who wants to be left alone (not cured).

As the mother of a six-year-old boy who was previously sick and disabled--no question about it-- but is now just different (from almost all measures that we currently have) I feel that I understand where both sides are coming from (although I cringe even as I use the phrase "both sides").

And it sometimes seems that we're all using words to just purposely misunderstand each other.

But to anyone out there who thinks I don't love my son because I wanted him to be better, I can only say this: My son was suffering greatly, and now he is not.

He's still pretty different--and I know that some people still see him as disabled by those differences (which surprises me, but shouldn't).

But I just see a boy who was so sick that his development was affected--affected in a way that was painful to him and to those around him.

I just wanted to help him feel okay again, and I think that's what most parents of autistic children want.

Wade, keep up the great work with your blog--please!

You are providing a very valuable commentary and shedding light, rather than just generating heat!

Terri Lewis

1/9/08, 7:38 AM  

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