Autism and the DSM (part 2)

I concluded my last post with this question:

If I think that autism should be in the DSM, am I not admitting that there is something ‘wrong’ with my child?

The answer is, as so many people have helped me figure out, a resounding NO.

Though autism is, as several folks have pointed out, a neurological condition as opposed to a mental illness, inclusion of autism in the DSM has provided a means of making the public aware of autism. It has also served as the basis for parents to get needed services and accomodation from local school districts and communities.

(“Wait a minute,” I hear some saying. “If there is nothing wrong with your autistic child, why does he need ‘services and accomodation.'”

The short answer is that it is ‘society’ that needs to be ‘cured.’ Cured of its misconceptions and stereotypes. Cured of its very short-sighted, narrow-minded approach to what it ‘normal’ and ‘good.’ When that happens, I won’t have to fight for the things my child should already be getting. (OK, that wasn’t so short.) And while this is true of society in general, it is especially manifested in how education is approached here in the US. But that is a whole ‘nother rant that I’ll defer until later.)

Unfortunately, because the DSM is a manual that describes disorders – bad things – it has also served to encourage and reinforce the notion among the un-informed public that autism is bad and that autistics need to be fixed.

It also gives professionals justification to ‘kill’ autistics in the hope that they can be replaced with a normal person, as related by ballastexistenz, an adult autistic:

In 1996, I was living in an institution in which a doctor explicitly told me that he wanted to kill the person I was and replace me with someone else, and that he was going to, psychologically, do exactly that to me.

For now, we need to keep autism in the DSM, because it serves as the way for autism parents to help their children get the services they need to succeed in the world. Every parent of an autistic child who is working with (or, unfortunately, against) their local community to raise awareness is part of the “grass-roots” effort to raise awareness of what autism is and isn’t and what our children are capable of achieving.

At the same time, we need to continue to advocate at the highest levels, to lay the groundwork necessary for the grass-roots work to take hold. As more and more individuals become familiar and aware, it will be easier to implement change from the top down.

Eventually, word will get out that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with our kids and we won’t need to have autism in the DSM. I hope this day comes sooner rather than later.

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