There are three main schools of thought around how we can support people on the Autism Spectrum. One, “curism” dictates that Autism is a disease or serious illness that should be removed and cured. Two, “treatment/therapy” indicates that there are certain aspects of Autism that should be worked on and treated; the line between this and curism can be hazy at times. Third, “inclusion” is working to accommodate Autistic people within certain “mainstream” environments such as schools and workplaces.
Let’s start with curism. I recently found an article from the New York Post that piqued my interest: “Scientists ‘switch off’ Autism Symptoms using $3 Epilepsy Drug: Discovery.” My immediate reaction was one of skepticism and concern; in my opinion, curing Autism is not the right approach. Why? First, when cures are discussed, Autism is treated as an illness, which it is not. Autism is a developmental disorder that can have different approaches than simply wishing it away. A developmental disorder is a complicated thing; “removing it” may have dire consequences. My mind is wired differently because I am Autistic. If I was “cured”, my brain could change in drastic and perhaps dangerous ways. When a cure is the goal (as it is with “curism”), Autistic behaviors are considered “abnormal”, making Autistic people feel like a problem that needs to be solved. This can be incredibly dehumanizing.
Treatment and Therapy come in various forms and formats and are constantly debated and discussed. There are both ethical and unethical versions of these; thankfully, efforts are underway to take more input from the Autistic community to ensure many more ethical opportunities for treatment. The most common form of Autism Therapy is ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). You may see calls online to ban ABA, and I partially agree. Traditional ABA is punishment-based and teaches Autistic people to be ashamed of who they are. I feel that this type of therapy is abusive and unacceptable and should be banned. However, in recent years, more ethical versions of ABA, such as Play-Based ABA, have become more commonplace. These therapies focus on teaching social skills without punishing or shaming the child. In addition, there are other forms of therapy such as traditional “talk therapy” (or working with a psychologically-trained therapist (especially helpful for Autistics with other mental health conditions), physical therapy, and speech therapy that can all be beneficial.
Treatment is a complicated topic and one that, frankly, I am not the most knowledgeable about. My main point is simple. I believe that therapy that helps Autistic people in an ethical manner must be celebrated and accessible. In addition to therapy, other types of support exist such as group homes (or supported living environments), special education programs, and aides. If these forms of treatment or therapies seem promising to you or your family members, make sure to do your research, ask those who have experienced these therapies, and think about what is best for you or your family member. It’s also important to note that not all of these alternatives are created equally. They can all vary in the level of appropriate support they provide. Find what works best for you.
Lastly, we have Inclusion. That’s what Matan works towards and what I speak about. Everyone has a role in inclusion. This can come in a variety of formats including sensory-friendly environments, social supports, allowing people to take breaks, and much more. The power of inclusion is spread through education. Whenever I speak with a group, whether that is a camp, synagogue, school, etc, my goal is to get everyone on the same page about Autism. As I discussed on a blog on my website, Inclusion cannot be successful if people do not know what Autism is. Education includes dispelling misconceptions and explaining how Autism is an individualized spectrum; while there are commonalities among people on the spectrum, everyone still experiences Autism differently.
Discussions around inclusion and how to create programs and settings that are more inherently inclusive have become far more common in recent years; several companies, many schools, and other institutions are dedicating themselves to discussing not only Autism inclusion but other types of neurodiverse inclusion as well (ADHD, Mental Health, OCD, etc).
I challenge each of you to find a way to foster discussion about inclusion where you live, or where you work. Speak with Autistic members of your community. Learn about what they are struggling with, and how you can include them more. And of course, do your own research and reading. Read books, watch TED Talks, and listen to podcasts. Invite expert speakers like me, Matan professionals, or others. Inclusion takes all of us, and I am learning everyday. We should not be ashamed that we didn’t know how to include someone before, but grateful that we can include someone now.