Is ASD Level 1 Simply a Difference Rather Than a Disability?

"What are you thoughts on this concept of viewing people on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum as 'differently able' rather than 'disabled'. Would this shift in the public view do more harm than good? Or would this be a better way to understand the 'disorder'."?

If one examines the facts, attempting to be non-judgmental about them, high functioning autistic (HFA) kids could be said to show the following differences (these are based on diagnostic features):
  1. communicates less than other children do
  2. has a strong preference for experiences that are controllable rather than unpredictable
  3. has strong, persistent interests
  4. is very accurate at perceiving the details of information
  5. may be fascinated by patterned material, be it visual (shapes), numeric (dates, timetables), alphanumeric (number plates), or lists (of cars, songs, etc.)
  6. may be fascinated by systems, be they simple (light switches, water taps), a little more complex (weather fronts), or abstract (mathematics)
  7. may have a strong drive to collect categories of objects (bottle tops, train maps), or categories of information (types of lizard, types of rock, types of fabric, etc.)
  8. notices and recalls things other people may not
  9. possesses a view of what is relevant and important in a situation, which may not coincide with other people’s view
  10. shows relatively little interest in what the social group is doing, or being a part of it
  11. spends more time involved with objects and physical systems than with people
  12. tends to follow their own desires and beliefs rather than paying attention to, or being easily influenced by, others’ desires and beliefs

The list could be expanded, but these 12 behavioral features are sufficient to illustrate that HFA kids are different in ways that can be described in value-free terms, none of which imply any necessary disability. 

Most of the above facts show the youngster as immersed in the world of things rather than people, which might be a basic way of defining the difference between a child with HFA and one without it. Being more object-focused than people-focused is clearly only a disability in an environment that expects everyone to be social. These young people would cease to be disabled as soon as society’s expectations change.

For many years now, there has been a movement underfoot to reclassify this disorder as a condition of being “differently able” rather than “disabled.” Although parents and advocates of their "special needs" youngsters may beg to differ, those in favor of changing the classification do make some compelling points. 

Here are the main ones currently:

1. Routines are symptom of the "disorder," and it has been documented that kids on the autism spectrum have the hardest time functioning in a classroom setting where such order is frequently interrupted or even missing. This may be seen as a disability to some, but others simply believe it to be a sign that the youngster has a very serious affection for that which he can control versus the unknown.

2. The mere fact that these young people are seen paying attention to those things for which they have a general interest (as opposed to those that teachers believe they should notice) does not make HFA a disability. Instead, it may be viewed as a tacit nod to absolute honesty in one’s desires, and therefore is simply an ability to overcome social conditioning.

3. The systematic organization of things and items may be of unique interest in a youngster diagnosed with HFA. It does not really matter if this is the means of taking a picture with a camera by holding down a button, turning on and off a light, or delving into the intricacies of a physics equation. The problem arises when the system in which the youngster shows interest is simple, and soon has some clamoring at needing to be outgrown.

4. What earned these children the description of ‘little professors’ may not be a disability, but could be much more aptly described as a strong interest in a given field of study. This causes the child to notice nuances others do not and thus renders him differently able and perhaps even superior in perception.

5. What has been referred to as latent antisocial behavior so often exhibited in young kids diagnosed with HFA (characterized by their inability or unwillingness to interact with moms and dads extensively) is found to be an expression of their desires to pay more attention to the world of objects as opposed to subjects. This may be attributed to a simply matter of preference, not a disability.

6. Perhaps the most convincing fact used by those suggesting that HFA is not a disability rests in the fact that the mere decision to value one trait or situation more than another is one of personal preference, not one born from a lack of ability. Therefore, a child who does not interact well with others – but instead finds it far more important to invest time in physics and other subjects he deems important – may be considered eccentric, but it does not render him disabled.

It is not clear why the object-focused child is seen as doing something less valuable than the people-focused child - or why this behavior should be seen as an indication of impairment.

To all our readers of this post, we would be interested in your opinion on this matter. Feel free to comment below...

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