Measuring “increased understanding and knowledge of autism” is indeed not something that one can do and the “better diagnosis” theory is roundly disputed by proponents of theories of environmental agents as causing autism. Allen’s criticism of this theory differs though: He seems rather to mock those wishful thinkers who have, later in life, sought an autism diagnosis. Either you’re severely autistic, or you’re just a label-seeker.
Our son Charlie can be said to fall under the latter category, as his speech and academic and cognitive abilities are very limited, he will require 24/7 care for all of his life and has a history of sometimes extremely challenging behaviors that have made schooling in a separate center for autistic children necessary and preferable. However, Allen overlooks the fact that just being able to have more academic and communication abilities, to have a normal IQ, to go to college and even be married, does not mean that one does not have extreme challenges that can limit one’s opportunities and have effects on one’s health, income and many other areas.
Allen’s limiting an autism diagnosis to only a few who are severe according to his definition is dismissive and overlooks the fact that many do need support and understanding about their differences. He bases his claims on an assumption that, “back in the days” when autism was rare, we — well, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists — knew precisely what autism was, diagnosed it accurately and did not miss any cases. Has he forgotten that “back in the days” many believed that the cause of autism was parents? That people would hardly seek out a diagnosis for their child that carried such a huge stigma? That an autism diagnosis was the equivalent of having a scarlet A on your forehead, as parents were blamed for causing autism by emotionally withdrawing from a child? That one reason for the increase in autism diagnoses is that we as a society have become more accepting of and open about having a child with a disability?
That, in other words, it might really be better that autism has become so “popular.” At least children and others who need help and support have the chance of getting these rather than suffering due to some unknown, unnamed condition.
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