Re-thinking Autism and Diagnosis
What is this thing called ‘autism’?
- Do you feel suspicious that there is such an increase in the diagnosis of autism?
- Are you puzzled because children with an autism diagnosis seem more different?
- When someone receives a diagnosis of autism, do you wonder what exactly they have they been diagnosed with?
Autism diagnosis has been with us for over 70 years, since the 1940s. Diagnostic categories have gone through many changes. But the change to the current definition of an ‘autism spectrum’ has not been the result of new scientific knowledge, but of ideological changes.
Autism has become a commodity in the contemporary capitalist consumer society, that is produced and consumed, and that allows a great deal of selling, buying and packaging of products.
Numbers of children diagnosed with autism are increasing, - or proposed for an autism diagnosis by schools. Where parents have been able to resist this kind of push for diagnosis, but found help to identify and address the specific difficulties their child (or the school) was struggling with, I have seen many children able to move on to do well in all areas of their development both at home and at school.
Nowadays (2016) a diagnosis of an ‘autism spectrum disorder’ or ASD requires only 2 criteria:
- Persistent deficits in social communication and interaction
- Restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests
No wonder that with such few and general criteria there is a huge increase of diagnosis. But the diagnosis of autism does not shed any new or specific light on what might be contributing to the child’s difficulties or how they might move forward in their development.
In fact, ASD as it is currently defined, does not represent a meaningful natural kind or any unique form of disease of disability. There is no single underlying condition which can be regarded as the defining characteristic of autism. The concept of autism as in an ASD diagnosis has become so broad that it is neither scientifically meaningful nor clinically useful and has therefore no value in terms of description or prognosis.
The dominant underlying assumption behind autism research is the belief that autism is biological in origin, despite the absence of any consistent biological markers for the condition. But despite billions spent over 30 years on international research into autism, scientific knowledge to date has come up with
- no consistent neurological pattern underlying all (or even most) cases of autism
- no specific genetic defects to account for the condition of autism
- no psychological theory that can accounts for all the symptoms of autism
The conclusion, however, that the absence of any clear evidence, after so many years of expensive research, demonstrates that there is no such thing as ‘genes that cause’ autism remains unmentionable. The assumption is fiercely held on to, that there are, there must be, such genes. We just can’t find them yet. - Perhaps the assumption needs looking at?