Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Comorbid Disabilities: They're Not Autism

Hello, and welcome to day five of my Autism Acceptance Month post series!

In today's post I'm going to address a common issue faced by those who advocate for Autism acceptance: comorbid disabilities.

What are comorbid disabilities?

Comorbid disabilities are disabilities that occur alongside Autism or any other disability.  Some of them, like Autism itself, are completely benign and have no negative effect on the quality of life experienced by the individuals who have them, but others, like epilepsy, can be devastating.  They aren't caused by Autism, and they typically can't be considered the cause of Autism, but due to genetics it's unlikely for Autism to be a person's only disability.

In short, the disabilities that are comorbid to Autism aren't Autism.

Why do comorbid disabilities pose a problem to proponents of Autism acceptance?

The reason they pose such a huge problem for the people who advocate for Autism acceptance is that not everyone recognizes the difference between Autism and the disabilities that commonly accompany it.

When harmful comorbid disabilities get conflated with Autism it becomes almost impossible to convince the people doing the conflating that Autism should be accepted, not eliminated.  I can't count the number of times I've heard the argument that Autism needs to be "cured" because someone's Autistic child has devastating, life-threatening seizures.  The fact that the seizures are the result of epilepsy or some other seizure disorder, not Autism, doesn't seem to be understood by these people.

The same thing happens with tons of other comorbid disabilities.  I've seen everything from gastrointestinal issues to sleep disturbances to Tourette's Syndrome blamed on Autism and used to defend the idea that Autism needs to be "cured."  I've even been told by one of Talk About Curing Autism's individual chapter leaders that their organization's main focus is curing comorbid conditions (which I doubt), but that they feel no need to change their name to something that reflects that claim.  No wonder so many people think Autism is some sort of devastating illness!

News flash: Autism is not responsible for the symptoms of comorbid disabilities.

What everyone who uses comorbid disabilities to defend the idea that Autism should be "cured" needs to understand is that "curing" Autism won't do a thing about any comorbid disabilities an individual has.  It will significantly alter the way that individual's brain works, likely leaving them unrecognizable to those who knew them in all but physical features, but it will not cure their comorbid disabilities.  The "cure" will have been for nothing, and the individual that used to be will have undergone too significant a change to even be considered the same person.

Every justification about how forcibly rewiring Autistic people's brains is worth it because it will improve our quality of life is reliant upon the belief that Autism isn't benign, a belief that typically stems from the assumption that Autism is responsible for all comorbid disabilities an individual might have.  The reality of the matter - that even after you've destroyed all the Autistic people by metaphorically ripping out an integral part of who we are whoever's left in our place will still have to contend with any comorbid disabilities we had - shatters the effectiveness of those justifications.

What's the takeaway here?

Don't use comorbid disabilities as an excuse to advocate for the elimination of Autism/Autistics.  If you or your Autistic loved ones have comorbid disabilities that are detracting from their quality of life advocating for a "cure" for Autism won't do anything to help.  Advocating for a cure for the comorbid disabilities in question, however, can do a world of good without threatening the existence of the whole Autistic community.  Likewise, it is possible to oppose a "cure" for Autism and to practice Autism acceptance without giving up on finding a cure for harmful comorbid disabilities.

So keep practicing Autism acceptance - be on the right side of history!

Stick around for more Autistic-written, Autism-related content, and feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.  Thanks for stopping by!

Image Description:  The words "Comorbid Disabilities: They're Not Autism" are printed in sketchy letters on a semi-transparent white square that's centered on a background of multi-colored flowers.

Author's Note:  I have given up on trying to make sure every post published by 12:00 noon this month, because I'm often writing these posts the same day I'm publishing them and I have commitments that get in the way of having them done at the same time every day.  Once April is over and I've switched to a once weekly posting schedule you can expect much more consistent posting times.

No comments:

Post a Comment