The “cure” debate

As mentioned in my post yesterday, this is a subject which I have strong feelings about. Over the years, I have been asked on many occasions, “If there was a tablet that cured Aspergers, would you take it?” My answer to this is always “No”, even when I am feeling frustrated or upset due to misunderstandings caused by it.

I hold this opinion for several reasons. Firstly, the word “cure” implies that Aspergers is a horrible thing to live with and that there can’t be any positive aspects to it. For me, personally, I simply consider Aspergers to be part of my make up and part of my personality. It is as much a part of me as my liking for pasta, my love of cats and my fondness for Doritos and Pringles. Yes it has its challenges but it is too much a part of my life for me to want to get rid of it.

Secondly, as mentioned in my post yesterday, along with its challenges, it also brings positives. If I was to get rid of it, (hypothetically of course as there is no cure for something that is hardwired into your neurological makeup), I genuinely believe that I would lose some of these positives, particularly being able to focus so single mindedly on one particular topic and learning everything I can about it. I have met people with Aspergers and autism who are incredibly talented in different areas-Art, Maths and Computing to name a few. Although this sort of talent is not seen in everyone with Aspergers/autism, we are all unique individuals with positive aspects to our personalities and I believe not despite but because of Aspergers/autism.

Thirdly I think a “cure” takes the onus off people without Aspergers or autism to try and understand us. A lot of people who don’t have these conditions do try their hardest to understand us and this is something that I, certainly, am grateful for as I know how socially awkward I can come across as so it makes me appreciate the effort that people take to get to know how I “tick”. Some, however, would prefer us to “blend in” to society more than we are capable of (and, believe me, we do try very, very hard) because difference scares some people. Difference has been and will always be part of life in a variety of ways and I believe that getting rid of Aspergers and autism would be disastrous for society as a whole as we can teach people a lot about tolerance, diversity and about how to appreciate the simple things in life. We process information differently and so have our own unique viewpoints on life but, just because this may be different from the way that those without these conditions see the world, it doesn’t make our viewpoint inferior to yours. I believe that difference should be embraced and that we should all learn from each other. I have learned so much from working where I do as well-some of the people I have learned the most from in life are people with severe autism who don’t communicate verbally. They are unique and extremely interesting. Life is never boring where autism is concerned!

Another point I am keen to express is that wanting to “cure” somebody’s autism spectrum condition is basically wanting to “cure” them of being themselves. A lot of people with Aspergers and autism hear people talking of wanting to cure autism and see that as a personal attack on who we are as people. This obviously does nothing to help self esteem, which is usually already fragile. I sometimes get the impression that people without these conditions see them as an “add on” to who we are as people. We tend to see it as a large part of who we are that has been with us since birth and that we have learned to appreciate and live with. A “cure” is for something like cancer, something which destroys lives and can be targeted to eradicate. Aspergers and autism is not like that-it’s simply who we are.

I don’t want anyone to get the impression from this post that I talk for everyone on the autistic spectrum. I have come across people with Aspergers online who say that they want a cure because they are fed up with being bullied and feeling isolated. A lot of people with Aspergers, particularly those who are in their 50s and 60s, had horrendous childhoods due to nobody understanding them (Aspergers wasn’t a diagnosis back then) and so I can understand why they are sometimes less positive about their condition than I am about mine. However, in this case, I think a “cure” would be putting the onus on the victim of these horrendous acts to change rather than trying to educate people about the reason why someone with Aspergers or autism behaves the way they do. Besides, as most people know, bullies will always find something to target a person about. We are simply often the easiest target because we have problems with social skills. If it wasn’t Aspergers, it would be weight or height or hair colour or academic capability (whether high or not so high) or any reason that the bully can think of. It is not the victim who needs to change-it is those that think they have the right to crush people’s self esteem by subjecting them to cruelty and humiliation.

Whilst I am totally against the idea of a “cure”, I support people developing coping strategies and attending support groups to learn to live with their Aspergers in the best way possible. I myself attended Social Skills sessions run by my secondary school and funded by my Statement of Special Educational Needs. These helped me in terms of turn taking, controlling my anger and frustration when being wound up by classmates and reading certain facial expressions. I also attended a support group for people on the autistic spectrum at university where I made some very close friends. This is completely different from a “cure” as it’s helping to manage the symptoms of Aspergers/autism that are causing the most distress in order for someone to be happier within themselves but it’s not treating Aspergers/autism as something that needs to be eradicated from our lives completely.

In summary, I don’t believe a “cure”, were one to be hypothetically found, would be a good thing. Aspergers is often co morbid with depression and anxiety but that is usually because of the pressures of daily life in a world which is not designed for us. I believe that the only way we can make the world more Asperger/autism friendly is to keep on trying to educate people about what living with this is really like. A “cure” simply takes away the interest that people have to learn how we “tick”. Diversity should be celebrated. Aspergers and autism are nothing to be ashamed of. They are simply different ways of viewing the world around us.

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2 Responses to The “cure” debate

  1. angela goodwin says:

    When I was recently diagnosed and in those difficult teenage sure I wanted to be cured. I had already put up with first glasses, then braces and now to be hit with this? After my accident as I had to learn everything again I also learnt alot about myself as I was a different person now. Some things made more sense but also the world made less sense. I think the emphasis on the cure is that we are damaged and there is something wrong with us that needs to be corrected. I believe that to be totally the wrong attitude to take. We should embrace mental diversity as that helps innovation and the world to be a better place in general. Many famous figures in the past probably had autism but didnt know it so we would be without a lot of inventions if they had been cured too.

  2. Amanda Renard says:

    I totally agree with what you are saying here. Thanks for the insight.

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