Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have been in the news a number of times lately. The spectrum describes a range of disorders varying from severe forms like autistic disorder and Rett Syndrome to Asperger’s Syndrome (which some researchers argue is not significantly different from high functioning autism [HFA]). While recent research has broadened our knowledge about the autism spectrum it has also demonstrated how much we still need to understand.
A recent study in Nature showed that autism actually has a number of related genomes. The findings of the study were something of a surprise to those involved who may have been hoping to isolate a gene for autism. While the findings explain why symptoms can vary so widely (even within the same family) it seems to negate the possibility of a simple DNA test.
In another development, a 2009 paper published in Disability and Society argued that Asperger’s Syndrome may in fact be a poorly understood mode of being, “a socially constructed human difference rather than a pathology.” The paper posits that the medical establishment’s view of Asperger’s Syndrome may in fact be similar to previous generations’ “medicalization” of homosexuality and other sexual orientations, a view now widely accepted as mistaken.
Schools and therapy for autism and Asperger’s
What is clear about Autism Spectrum Disorders including Asperger’s Syndrome is that children with these disorders respond better to treatment and therapy than to institutionalization. This is one aspect of our current understanding that has simply arisen out of experience and open-mindedness.
Schools and programs that specialize in dealing with ASD have been shown to help bring autism sufferers “out of their shells” and help Asperger’s sufferers integrate more effectively with other learners. In many schools, for example, remedial therapy can mitigate some manifestations of the syndrome. Therapies for all ASD’s can include the repetitive training of some social skills, cognitive behavior therapy, medication and speech therapy among other remediation. This help is more typically available at schools – especially private schools – specializing in the ability to deal with autism and its related disorders.
Positives About Autism and Asperger’s
It is well known that autistic people often have astonishing abilities. Some people note that autism sufferers are prodigiously innocent in a way that is missing in too many “normal” children. As one parent has said: while caring for her autistic child is hard, the originality and creativity of her child make autism’s eradication completely unappealing to her. Our deepening understanding of autism may in fact deepen our understanding of what it is to be human.