Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Autism - Not a disability - But more common that you might think.

One of the most misunderstood neurological conditions is the Autism Spectrum.  I admit I certainly had a very weak understanding until recently.  The most important lesson is that: "Auties" are not disabled.

Why is this so important? Well, in the May Federal Budget, the Government announced over $2b of investment into mental health services (excellent). However, a lot of this money focuses on treating disorders, rather than assisting individuals to recognise and cope with their differences.  Autism is a classic case.

What is Autism Spectrum? It's not a disability. 

There are a lot of different definitions of Autism Spectrum.  Some get lumped in with the disabilities, as shown by the announcement of the $146m Helping Children with Autism package by Senator Jan McLucas, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers.  Here, Autism is bundled together with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Fragile X syndrome, and moderate or severe vision or hearing impairments, including deafblindness. The package is fantastic, but the connection with disability is quite inappropriate.

Here is a much better definition from Open University, UK:

Autism involves three characteristic areas of difficulty. 
  • People with autism find it hard to interact socially with others or to make friends...
  • They also have communication difficulties...
  • Lastly, people with autism tend to have narrow interests...

If you want to take a quick quiz on what is real about autism, click here for a great little exercise.

Auties and Aspies are different to "neurotypicals" - it's neurodiversity

Over the last decade, there has been a growing understanding that some people are wired differently to the norm.  The phrase for this difference is neurodiversity.  Here are a couple of definitions:

People experience the world differently based on their neurological attributes, which are equally valid, unique, and socially beneficial experiences of the world that should be celebrated.

The world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together
- Temple Grandin
[Temple Grandin is a world expert on animal behavior and consultant to the livestock industry.  She is also autistic, and an advocate for autistics.  (For a great 20 minutes, watch her TED talk, especially the last 3 minutes of Q&A)]

Nearly 3% of the population may be autistic

Over recent years, the proportion of people with autism has been rising.  Well, actually, the proportion hasn't changed at all - it's been our improved understanding and measurement that is revealing how prevalent it is.

In 2002, estimates for autism spectrum were around 0.6% (CDC)

In 2010-11, according to Autism Victoria, 1% of people are on the autism spectrum.

But the most recent data from Yale Child Studies Center expert Dr. Young Shin Kim, has shown a prevalence rate of 2.64%. This study in Seoul is predicted to be very similar in other countries and cultures.

So, with nearly 3% of the population having autistic characteristics, that's a lot of neurodiversity to embrace.  If we see autism as a valuable asset to our society, everyone will be richer for it.

Let me know what you think

Mark S


  1. Only from what I realize, People have weakness, and weakness is often kind of similar to a disability. I know from having Autism, that are disability... are common weakness is that we can't socialize appropriately to others standards, even if it means having it be our greatest difficulty, not all disabilities on the other hand are visible anyways.

  2. I understand your point. With the Federal government having allocated $2bn to mental health funding, assistance for people with autism can now be provided, without labelling autistics as having a disability.

    This is also important in providing support for parents and carers.

    Autism and depression are excellent examples of conditions that can be aided in various ways, which the government is trying to do. But neither of these are "disabilities".