Can autism be cured?
A common question: can autism be cured? Nothing quite stirs up the hornets' nest of autistic indignation, outrage, and offence more quickly and comprehensively than this.
The simple tl;dr answer is no.
You're born autistic and you die autistic.
And you're autistic every moment in between (we never even get a day off for good behaviour). What you do during those two events is largely up to you, but for most of us, the sooner we accept the fact of our autism and its permanence, the happier we're going to be.
To understand why this all is we need to dig deeper into what autism is and what a cure would entail.
Autism, more properly autism spectrum disorder, is the name we give to a bunch of traits expressed by neurological differences in our brains from what's generally accepted as neurotypical. It's important to understand it's not just one, single disorder, which is why every autistic presents differently.
This is why it's called a spectrum disorder, a poorly-understood fact which, in and of itself, causes much confusion and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Now, this neurological divergence appears to be genetic in origin, although it may be the case some environmental factors could affect the expression of those genes (but we are as certain as we can be after seemingly-endless studies vaccines are definitely not one of them).
By the time you're born your direction is set: you're either neurotypical or neurodiverse, autistic or not-autistic.
You don't suddenly develop autism in response to a jab or an illness or anything else you encounter after birth. When parents say their kids "suddenly became autistic" after vaccinations and other events, they're confusing correlation with causality. Kids typically start showing signs of autism around the same time they start getting their jabs, that's all.
And I can understand why they need answers, even if they're wrong and irrational. It's quintessentially human to want to make sense of an uncaring, senseless, and often brutal universe.
But they're still wrong.
What is the cure for autism?
Well... since autism is a result of how your brain is wired up (and MRI scans have confirmed this), there is no cure for autism. Autism can't be cured in the same way you can't cure blue eyes, blonde hair, or big feet.
There is no cure for autism.
In fact, since it's built-in and a fundamental part of what and who we are, there's nothing to cure. The question doesn't even make much sense. More to the point, it's not possible to make someone "not autistic" and never will be, not unless we ever get to the point where we can somehow get in there and physically rewire the brain.
But the issue goes much deeper than this, because as well as talk of a cure for autism, there's often talk of prevention, too.
And this seems to be where the emotions and outrage run deepest, because many autistics seem to take the idea some women in the future might choose not to have an autistic child is somehow a reflection on them as living, breathing individuals.
They'll come out with non-sequitur like, "So you you think I shouldn't exist, then?", as if it's a personal attack or insult.
No, that's not (necessarily) what they're saying.
They're saying women should have the choice not to give birth to autistic children.
Regardless of what we might think about that (I'll come to it in a moment), it's a totally different scenario from denying the right of an already living person to exist.
It is true living autistic people might not have lived to see the light of day had an in utero test been available in the past, but women can have abortions in many countries on demand already, so I don't see their point or how a child being autistic makes any difference to anything (and this isn't a discussion I want to get into right now — suffice it to say I think it's an emotional argument and doesn't stand scrutiny. I'm also aware my own wiring and profound lack of affective and cognitive empathy means my opinions might not sit well with you).
Back to the question...
Should a woman have the choice not to give birth to an autistic child?
As a libertarian I can answer only "yes" to that.
But even if that wasn't the case, you have no idea how autism is going to present itself in your child as he or she grows and develops.
I'm sure it's one thing to raise an autistic child with low support needs, and entirely another to raise one who needs round-the-clock support and will do for the rest of their lives. It's easy to be judgemental, I'm sure, when you're not the one dealing with it.
My own son has a fairly mild case of ataxic cerebral palsy. It was hard work when he was a kid, although he's improved over time. Intellectually he's fine. His presentation is purely physical.
Would I have chosen not to have him had I known of his condition before he was born?
No, absolutely not.
Would I have chosen not to have him if, say, I'd known he was going to be severely physically and mentally disabled as some kids are?
Probably, yes (assuming it was my choice).
I, personally, would find it hard to judge negatively anyone who didn't want to raise a child with very high support needs (and if you're offended by my opinion, that's none of my business).
My response to anyone judging women for having abortions is to ask how keen they'd be to adopt and rear the child themselves.
I won't hold my breath.
All that said...
As an autistic man myself, I can't imagine why anyone would want a cure for autism even if there was one.
I like being the way I am, challenges and difficulties notwithstanding.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's given me some definite advantages (or, perhaps it's more accurate to say I've turned what could have been disadvantages into advantages by choosing my career and battles carefully — we don't choose the hand we're dealt but we do get to choose how we play it).
Would I have chosen to be born autistic?
At this point in my life, I'd say yes, because I like being me.
But as a much younger man?
I don't know. Probably not, because it was hard.
Thing is, that's just me.
And while I know many other autistics scorn the idea of or desire for a cure, there are many more who don't.
Every day I see autistics saying they hate their lives and wishing they were "normal".
And that's entirely their right.
My heart goes out to them because until they accept and embrace their neurodiversity, they're never going to be happy.
It's never going to change, and they're never going to get their wish.
Ultimately, we all have to accept autism is an intrinsic part of us as autistic men and women.
There is no cure for it, because it's not a disease; and if we could somehow rewire ourselves into being non-autstic, we'd be fundamentally changing who we are.
Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius
Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate