Today in class seemed like any other day -- sleepy-eyed students shuffling into the classroom awaiting another lecture. The only difference was that it was the day we were getting back our first written papers for the semester. Before handing them back, the teacher gave a strong lecture concerning argumentation, citations, and handing in assignments on time. Then came the paper-returns. Upon receiving my graded essay I proceeded to leave the room. I didn’t want to see what my grade was in the presence of my professor or the TAs. As I walked away from the building to take a look on the back page where my grade would be, I was shocked at what I found: “C/C+.” It was the lowest grade for a history assignment I had ever received. Reading the comments, I found that I had not cited the sources much, which made the teacher irate. I lost a lot of credit, what gives?
It then made sense to me: I am terrible at multi-tasking, I have difficulty making simple transitions from writing papers to inserting quotations and citations in them. Such a problem is one of many organizational difficulties commonly experienced by people on the autism spectrum. Throughout my life, everything had been somewhat of an uphill struggle for me, even learning how to talk. Sociability was obviously impaired, as were academics. Although I could now function at a level of academic proficiency for my class, I was not always capable of such perseverance. I still have to work harder to overcome the problems I face that most others do not.
This was amplified when I asked a fellow student from that class about how he did on the assignment. He said the professor complained his paper had no argument, yet then told me his grade: A-. “I guess I must have done something right on accident,” he told me. “Done something right on accident,” I thought. “So many times I’ve tried doing something right on purpose, and ended up doing something wrong. What I would give to be accidentally right.” Unlike me, that student participated in class frequently. I often shied away from doing so. It was a big class, and while I gave my fair share of contributions, I found it jarring to lead discussions in front of my professor and a large audience of peers.
I’ve been docked a lot of credit for not making clear arguments in past assignments, so as a result I always make sure I’m making an argument in an essay when required. That’s not as hard to do, it doesn’t involve diverting attention away from the paper intermittently to plug in some quotes or reference the Chicago Manual of Style to make proper footnotes or a works consulted -- ending old initiatives and starting new ones. Such a mental process is confusing for me. I would wonder: “Do I add citations while writing the paper, greatly slowing down my progress, or add them in later, having to retrace to where I left off?” Neither solution seemed desirable, so as a result I typically never added in more than two or three footnotes a paper. This challenge coupled by a lack of decisiveness impeded my functioning! I had known how severely autistic children suffer from “sensory overloads,” and as a result cannot function sufficiently. Meanwhile, I am continuously having the same kind of problem, albeit to a far lesser degree of severity. So to my neurodiversity detractors: is it any wonder why I feel the way I do?
I wonder what the neurodiversity crowd would say to this. Faced with the body of evidence against the positivism or even neutrality of autism, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would advocate a de-medicalization of this disorder that if anything has not been medicalized enough. The whole mainstream community has neglected the pathology of the condition, applying only superficial treatments towards behavioral modification such as ABA. Standard psychiatrists will prescribe psychiatric medications to placate some autistic symptoms, often causing terrible side effects and health problems. Not surprisingly, neurodiversity advocates apparently seem not half as concerned with this as they are with presenting autism as a natural form of diversity rather than an unnatural disease. This false prophecy is gaining momentum among the medical establishment, especially since this matches up with the views of those who want to obscure the pathology of autism as much as possible to protect their careers. It’s no wonder that Paul Offit parroted these people as some of autism’s “true prophets” in his book.
Based on my experiences the delusions of neurodiversity, the apathy of medical institutions, and the increasing collusion between the latter two I would say society as a whole has forgotten about autistic people. The only problem is that it never cared about us to begin with.
Jake Crosby is a student at Brandeis University who is majoring in history, and a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism.