Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Change in the Air

It's almost spring, the crocuses are popping up all over (mine, which are in a north-facing spot, aren't quite in bloom yet), and the bitter cold air of winter finally seems to be gone.

Another very welcome change that I've noticed recently has been in the mainstream media's discussion of autism and neurodiversity. When journalists first noticed the neurodiversity movement a few years ago, they wrote a few articles presenting us and our views as a curiosity. Even when their tone was sympathetic, it was clear that they believed themselves to be dealing with a tiny fringe group of Internet activists, rather than witnessing a significant cultural change.

Now, even though they and most of their stories still are chock-full of ignorant stereotypes, mainstream journalists seem to be figuring out that the neurodiversity viewpoint is a lot more commonplace than they originally realized. Instead of just writing an occasional story explaining the concept of neurodiversity, as they once did, it looks like some of them are getting the message that curing autism is a controversial idea and that any story along those lines had better discuss the neurodiversity view as a matter of fairness and balance.

Take a look at this Newsweek article. The author obviously started out to write about the lack of scientific knowledge about autism and the widespread fear and ignorance among the public, but the story ends up discussing the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the belief that autism should be accepted as an intrinsic part of an individual. Although the author doesn't advocate the neurodiversity point of view herself, she apparently decided to mention the issue because she recognized that she couldn't present a complete discussion of autism in today's society without it.

I think we've just about reached the tipping point—that is, the point where we are seen as part of the mainstream, rather than a largely unknown group of outsiders. We've gotten here as a result of the hard work of many people in our community over the past several years, including Ari Ne'eman and Kristina Chew (who were interviewed in the article) and many bloggers and others who might not have had any direct contact with professional journalists but nevertheless have contributed—in a very meaningful way—to the change in social attitudes that we are beginning to see. Your efforts have made, and are continuing to make, a tremendous difference. Give yourselves a hearty Bravo! and then open the window and take a deep breath of that springtime air.

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  • I was also pleased to see Kristina and Ari in the story. As a parent who doesn't subscribe to the vaccination theory, and who is concerned about other people's ignorance regarding my son's condition, I'm very excited to see the neurodiversity movement growing. I may not agree with some of the activists' messages, but in order to promote change in society, we need people who push the envelope.

    By Anonymous leila, at 6:35 PM  

  • ABFH, there's been a change in the air here too.

    I'll tell you later when I can write clearly about it. but it is not negative, I can tell you.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 10:07 PM  

  • In the Newsweek article, after mentioning the fear that a pre-natal test would be used to select against autistics from being born, the author writes: "But the ultimate goal of the researchers, and the many families who support their work, is to solve the mystery of autism"

    I wonder what other results of genetic research to "solve the mystery of autism" the author might think exists. The sort of understanding we need from others is not our genetics, but in the growth of mutual understanding, and the ending of doctors giving parents such grim, simplistic views of autism.

    If the whole "shock and devastation" were taken out of the equation, or at least dampened with useful information to dispel stereotypes and open options, then a lot less parents I think would be desperate for cure.

    I too get the feeling that in the next five years or so a lot is going to happen. And I believe the direction we are going is forward.

    By Blogger geosaru, at 11:23 PM  

  • If I open the window and breathe the spring air - I'm likely to do my lungs an injury - it's minus 7 (Celsius)out there and the daffodils are still hiding under two metres of snow:)

    By Blogger Alyric, at 10:02 AM  

  • Leila and Geosaru: The author of the article misrepresents the neurodiversity movement, although this appears to be unintentional, by suggesting that we oppose research on autism. In fact, Ari and many others who have spoken publicly about autism research have called for more funding of studies on how autistics learn and communicate. Although genetic research may someday be useful in improving medical care, our funding priorities should focus on other research that can benefit autistic people now.

    David: If you applied for the position that Larry mentioned on his blog, I think it's perfectly suited to your interests and abilities, and I hope your interview goes well.

    Alyric: My apologies, I wasn't trying to give my Canadian readers frostbite!

    By Blogger abfh, at 1:47 PM  

  • Check out this 1966 Time Magazine article on homosexuality. Historical comparisons are tricky, but are we roughly at that stage?

    By Blogger Joseph, at 8:27 PM  

  • Joseph -- I've answered your comment here.

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:08 PM  

  • "David: If you applied for the position that Larry mentioned on his blog, I think it's perfectly suited to your interests and abilities, and I hope your interview goes well."

    Just looked there... I wish I had applied for that! Would mean me and Heini moving to the UK; but I doubt we'd miss Finland that much!

    Nah, I got new services. Looking interesting but it's early days.

    I'm writing an article on what happened before though, with a view to publication. A two-three month review of things under the new scheme could provide an interesting epilogue!

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 5:37 AM  

  • We agree: a hearty Bravo (!) to all voices contributing to the "tipping point"...

    By Blogger Blog [with]tv, at 7:48 PM  

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