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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

How One Looks at a Disability--A Personal View

The latest brouhaha on some Autism sites is Greta Thunberg and her diagnosis of "high functioning Autism" or Asperber's Syndrome. To add to the controversy, Trump ridiculed Greta, obviously not showing the same respect we give his youngest son. Back to Greta--first and foremost, I do not know her. I have not seen her neurodevelopmental or psychological assessments. I do not know the adults supporting her and for what reason. So these are major caveats. She is a young person who is still developing. If I had been analyzed at 16, the conclusions would not be the same as an analysis of me at 26, 36, 46, etc.

To quote someone who wrote on Facebook--"She doesn't have the kind of Autism I see at my house." I could not say it better than that. Surely, she may have social issues, and that could be the reason why she has shunned school. Or she could be an angel or a child prodigy put on earth for us to come to our senses. I do not criticize her opinions or actions. For the most part, I agree with her.

I take umbrage with the idea that high functioning individuals truly are disabled. I am not including individuals who are blind, deaf, or physically handicapped. These people certainly are able to function at a very high level and still have a physical disability. To have a disability, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, one must be disabled. If one has completed post secondary college levels or vocational education and has landed a job as an engineer, doctor, professor, writer, artist, plumber, electrician, etc. and is living a reasonably good life, one is not genuinely disabled. One may have issues, problems, concerns, and limitations. However, there are millions in our country who are sitting at home, languishing on the streets, or scrounging out a living due to some disability; could be Autism or any other number of diseases. A disability is not an excuse for not being at the top of the heap; an authentic handicapping condition impacts life at a fundamental level.

Autism is a serious, severe brain disorder, which is now viewed as a spectrum. I do not believe the originators of this diagnostic category or researchers of this condition foresaw that highly successful individuals would be categorized with this disability. Of course, there are a few rare exceptions. But let us focus on those who need our help. Let us shine the light on them, not on the rare genius who makes all of us feel good.

Not one of us is as successful or happy as we would like to be. We all display dysfunctional behavior. We have oddities, anxieties, weird habits, and strange quirks. But we do not qualify as having a serious neurological disability.

The difference is impact. What is the impact of our psychological or learning problems on our lives? Can we overcome our weaknesses? Can professional help alleviate the impact and facilitate improvement, such as the disorder does not interfere with our living? Is most of our life proceeding smoothly, positively, and productively? If the answer is "yes", one has overcome one's disability. One may be vulnerable for a recurrence and a reapplication of the diagnostic code.

The DSM--5 is the current source for diagnostic criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This section most clearly decribes the impact of the disorder; here is the decription at its mildest level.

"Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. Difficulty initiating social interactions, and clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful response to social overtures of others. May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions. For example, a person who is able to speak in full sentences and engages in communication but whose to- and-fro conversation with others fails, and whose attempts to make friends are odd and typically unsuccessful."

"Inflexibility of behavior causes significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts. Difficulty switching between activities. Problems of organization and planning hamper independent living.

"Supports", "decreased interest in social interaction", "problems making friends", "difficulty switching between activities"; "hamper independent living". These are the watchwords that distinguish a disabilty from an "issue", etc. 

In conclusion, our research, funds, educational and vocational programs/opportunities should be for the most needy, not for those with issues most easily solved. We are attempting to help people not look for poster children or sound bites.

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