Autism Has No Expiration Date
A brief history of autism and how autism acceptance does not end on April 30th.
The end of April is upon us, but that does not mean Autism Acceptance ends here. Autism acceptance means learning to accept and understand life from an autistic perspective. The autism spectrum has long roots in society. Those roots are part of the cause of the discrimination and inequity that autistic face every day.
We had the opportunity to research the history of autism for our psychology course last month. Here is what we learned and our autistic perspective o the information.
A short history of autism
Autism is a developmental disability that impacts how you function in a neurotypical society. The autistic brain is simply different from the neurotypical brain that the majority are born with. Thought processes and reactions to various stimuli are never one size fits all, especially if you are autistic.
The month of April was deemed Autism Awareness Month. However, this year in 2022, it has been changed by the autistic community to Autism Acceptance Month. Part of autism acceptance is understanding the medical model and the diagnostic criteria associated with the medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- 1911 — German Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler created the word
- The 1940s-1950s — The diagnoses of schizophrenia, psychosis, and autism were commonly used and swapped out based on symptoms.
- 1960s — Autism begins to be looked at as a developmental diagnosis, not mental health
It is interesting that in the history of autism, Eugen Bleuler created the word. His focus was on schizophrenia and had used the term autism to label a patient. Autism was seen as a problem or deficit characterized by a lack of emotion and logic.
The diagnosis process for psychological disorders was fresh and it meant that you could be diagnosed with psychosis or autism. It was a toss-up. The argument of if autism was developmental or not was raging in the 1960s. The debate has since been settled. Autism is not a mental health issue it is a biological difference in the brain from birth.
Autism is noticed more often in boys, but that research is ongoing since previously there were not as many women or girls tested for autism. Autism impacts every race, ethnicity, and gender. (Evans, 2013).
Statistics of Autism as of 2022
- 1 in 44 children is autistic
- Anyone can be autistic no matter gender or race
Autism has no known cause. While it will have developmental factors that impact the functions of life, the idea that autism is a disorder is generally rejected by the autistic community.
There are comorbid disorders like sensory processing disorder, cognitive delays, mental health issues, and physical disabilities that exist with autism. These types of disorders have symptoms that can be worsened by being autistic. Some autistic people will use forms of sign language like ASL to communicate.
Myths & Facts
Like everything in the world, there are myths and facts. Autism is surrounded by myths due to the lack of understanding and information available to form conclusions.
Common myths about autism:
- Autistic people cannot communicate
- Everyone with autism has an intellectual disability
- Only boys are autistic
- Functioning labels accurate describe the autism spectrum
- Autistic people don’t have relationships
Autistic people can communicate. Even if someone is not verbal, there are technologies available that create communication accessibility. Another thing people may say is that everyone on the spectrum has an intellectual disability, which is a myth.
Not everyone will have an intellectual disability will be autistic and not every autistic person will have an ID. Even if they do, ID is not a reflection of intelligence or capability. Functioning labels are often put on the autistic community.
Functioning labels damage the autistic community by creating a lack of support for individuals seen as “higher function” or infantilizing autistic people that are considered “low functioning.” Autism is a spectrum which means everyone’s needs and capabilities are unique.
Lastly, people assume that autistic people are lonely and incapable of making friends or forming romantic relationships. Myth! Yes, social interactions are harder when you are on the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean you can’t form relationships. Some autistic people may not want friends or romance, so they don’t pursue it. But they are capable of it just like a neurotypical society.
Now, let's switch to some facts about autism:
- Autism impacts social interactions
- Autistic people have sensory issues
- Autistic people can work, have relationships, and thrive in society
- Some autistic people are not verbal
Sensory issues are a common issue for autistic people. Sound, light, taste, and smell can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. Sensory processing disorder is a common diagnosis for autistic people. Even if you are nonverbal that doesn’t mean you have an ID or are not able to communicate.
Some autistic people will struggle to speak during burnout or a meltdown. It takes a lot of energy to speak to others when you are exhausted by neurotypical requirements on your behavior.
The ability to always speak does not measure your intelligence.
Also, autism does impact social interaction. Understanding social rules, and social norms are hard for autistic people as a community. Even though assumptions are made about autistic living, they can thrive in society and contribute.
Our autistic thoughts
As autistic adults and advocates, we do not see autism as a medical condition or a disorder. It is important in our advocacy to clear the misconceptions, stereotypes, and biases that negatively impact autistic life. The medical profession views autism from a clinical perspective without the voices of autistic people included.
Autistic people are being silenced by people that support ABA and electric shock devices to forcibly remove autistic traits.
The abuse of autistic children at the hands of ABA services is not healing but hurting. Treatments like electroshock therapy are beings used at the Judge Rotenberg Center and are being fought at a legislative level. Forcing an autistic person to change their behavior to conform to neurotypical behaviors is damaging the mental health of this autistic generation.
Autism acceptance means that society needs to embrace difference instead of shunning or forcing it to change. Being autistic is a beautiful thing when accepted by allies, autistic people, and organizations that promote inclusion.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 2). Data & statistics on autism spectrum disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
Evans B. (2013). How autism became autism: The radical transformation of a central concept of child development in Britain. History of the human sciences, 26(3), 3–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695113484320
Myths and causes — autism. Autistica. (2019, October 17). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.autistica.org.uk/what-is-autism/autism-myths-and-causes
Rujeedawa, T., & Zaman, S. H. (2022). The Diagnosis and Management of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Adult Females in the Presence or Absence of an Intellectual Disability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031315
#stoptheshock: The judge Rotenberg Center, torture, and how we can stop it. Autistic Self Advocacy Network. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://autisticadvocacy.org/actioncenter/issues/school/climate/jrc/
Vivanti, G., & Messinger, D. S. (2021). Theories of Autism and Autism Treatment from the DSM III Through the Present and Beyond: Impact on Research and Practice. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 51(12), 4309–4320. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-04887-z
Credit to the assignment we created for our assignment in March 2022.
Tas is an autistic neurodivergent writer. They are advocates for social justice, and equality, and are scholars of life.