In 2011, the book, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic, by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill was published.
Back in 2011 when this book came out, the official autism rate was one in every 110 U.S. children. We’d seen that number dramatically increase before. It was one in 150 in 2009, and by 2012, it would be one in every 88 kids. And it really wasn’t a big news story when in March 2023, it became one in every 36. (And if you live in California, it’s one in every 22.)
How prophetic for Dan and Mark to name their book, Age of Autism, because we truly do live in an age when autism is everywhere, accepted as a fact of life.
Over the last two decades I’ve covered how autism is presented in the media. The main message about autism has been that it’s a mystery, but it’s nothing to worry about. The only point everyone agrees on when it comes it autism is that there is no link to the ever-increasing battery of vaccines children are required to get in order to go to school.
Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Experts have been scratching their collective heads for decades now, at the same time no U.S. official has ever used the word “CRISIS” when speaking about autism. (I’m sure that order was right from the top.)
For years, we were told that autism was a mysterious condition that experts were working on diligently, despite never coming up with any real findings on this disorder.
NOW with almost all of us related to someone with autism in our immediate or extended families, there’s a new message in town: autism is not a disability.
I’ve been seeing it in so many recent stories.
July 6, 2023, Psychology Today: Is Autism a Superpower? By Jessica Penot LPC
It is important to understand the beauty and complexity of autistic strengths.
These were listed as key points in the article:
Many autism advocates describe autism as a superpower.
Autistic people are unique and diverse. Autism can be a superpower, but it can come with struggles.
Accepting autism as a different way of being that is diverse and beautiful is the goal.
The absurd piece made a passing reference “profound deficits” in some people, but mostly autism is an asset. The author tells us that she is herself autistic, but hardly the head-banging, hand-flapping, nonverbal, non-potty trained variety.
Autism can be a superpower and if you have superpowers or gifts, celebrate them. Even if the gifts are small, they are worth celebrating. As we move forward in our understanding of autism, it is important to remember that it is both a blessing and a disability. Those of us with autism are different and there is infinite beauty in our variation. Sometimes this variation can look like a superpower and sometimes it can look like a disability. We are all unique. That is the story we need to tell. As Devon Price states, "My point is to say that Autism is a way of being, neither inferior nor superior to neurotypical ways of being."
I’m sure most parents whose lives are consumed caring for a severely autistic child wonder if this lady has ever looked at the other end of the spectrum.
Then there was the story on July 6, 2023, about Dr. Stephen Mark Shore from Adelphi University in New York. The title was Society must stop seeing autism as a handicap, says expert.
It seems we have to rethink autism.
According to Dr. Shore:
In a world where society still sees autism as a handicap, knowing and understanding the disability can change this mindset, according to Dr. Stephen Mark Shore, Clinical Associate Professor, Adelphi University, New York.
Speaking on the second day of the three-day International Conference on Comprehensive Education (ICCE) for Children with Special Needs, at the Different Art Centre here on Thursday, he said that understanding the abilities of the autism-affected and guiding them according to their interests, would open up vast possibilities for them. Society needs to stop seeing them as lesser humans or disabled, he added.
“Autism is not a medical condition. Rather, we need to accept their differences and prepare a place for them in society. Autistic children have different abilities. They can be brought to the forefront of society by identifying these abilities and training them in a focused manner,” Dr. Shore said. …
Parents of differently abled children need to come together so as to devise projects for such children, and get them implemented through government intervention, said Anita Frey, Clinical Associate Professor at Adelphi University, New York. Participating in a discussion held as part of the conference, Ms. Frey spoke about the impact of family environment on the development of differently abled children and called for forming special teacher-parent associations for the parents of differently abled children in schools. Such organisations should jointly devise economic and social assistance schemes, she proposed.
On July 3, 2023, Geraldine Dawson had her views in Psychology Today. Dawson, if you recall, was the chief science officer at Autism Speaks for five years, where nothing was done to really address the autism epidemic, but I’m sure she was well paid for her time.
The title was Reshaping the Narrative About Autism—Asset framing defines autistic people by their assets, reshaping expectations. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-of-autism/202307/reshaping-the-narrative-about-autism
Here were Dawson’s key points:
Focusing on deficits is associated with stigma and diminishes our ability to see a person's capabilities.
Our words form a powerful narrative that can expand or minimize our expectations about a person’s abilities.
We can harness the power of asset-framing by defining autistic people by their assets before their challenges.
Strengths-based approaches are associated with better health and well-being, and higher self-confidence.
This is Dawson’s vision of autism:
Now let’s consider this area of research from an asset-framing point of view. As I mentioned, autistic people tend to focus more on individual features of the face. Interestingly, when this unique visual processing strategy is used in other contexts, such as solving visual puzzles, autistic people are superior to non-autistic people. For example, autistic people tend to score extremely high on the block design task, a visual-spatial task that is part of most IQ tests. As early as 9 months of age, infants who are later diagnosed with autism have been found to have superior visual search skills. Thus, the unique visual processing skills of autistic people are advantageous in certain contexts, and in fact, help explain why some autistic people do well in fields such as math and engineering. Once again, what is viewed as a deficit is often the flip side of a strength. …
How we describe people is important because our words form a powerful narrative that can either expand or minimize our expectations and beliefs about a person’s potential abilities, aspirations, and contributions to society. Let’s change the narrative about autism by applying asset-framing in our conversations, publications, and other settings, defining autistic people by their strengths before describing their challenges and difficulties.
The truth is, whatever is causing autism is something we just don’t want to deal with. Autism isn’t going away; we have to learn to live with it.
So there’s a new narrative about autism out there: It’s time to be inclusive. Remember, we’re all differently-abled.
That’s why there are now lots of stories out there about businesses, organizations, services and even whole cities becoming autism certified.
You can see all the stories I’ve posted on Loss of Brain Trust
about places doing this. All the folks at these places have been trained to deal with people on the spectrum. It’s good for business and it shows just how pervasive a once rare disorder has become.
Age of Autism (LIES)
With autism being seen today a naturally occurring part of childhood, something to be celebrated every April and a fact of life for anyone dealing with kids, it’s important that we dismiss those with any real concerns about autism.
There are certain things we don’t want to talk about, certain questions we can’t ask because, remember, this is the Age of Autism (LIES).
HERE ARE THE LIES:
Higher autism rates don’t mean there’s more autism.
No one is allowed to ask when the increases will stop. In truth we just have to expect that one in every 36 children with autism is only temporary. By next year things will probably be worse, but remember, it’s all better and better diagnosing.
Children are born with autism, therefore early diagnosing is important.
We never bring up the fact that, as NIH reports on their website, “32% of children on the autism spectrum experience skill loss, known as autistic regression.” So normally developing kids, potty-trained and talking who suddenly lose learned skills are not worth looking at.
Autistic kids don’t have a disability. They’re ‘differently abled,’ in the words of Dr. Stephen Shore.
As we pretend that autism is just an “inability at social interaction and a lack of communication skills,” we don’t mention the fact that 25 to 30 percent of kids with autism are considered nonverbal. We don’t want to talk about this because it would be hard to explain how generations of parents, doctors and teachers could have missed all these non-speaking children.
The rate for eight year olds is the same for everyone across the population.
When we claim that autism has always been this prevalent, we never want to actually look for the adults with autism demonstrating the same signs we see in our children. No study has ever been able to find them, but take our word for it, they’re out there.
These lies have worked for years. Health officials have them well-memorized. Doctors are taught them in med school. The media faithfully and endlessly tell everyone.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.
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