Monday, February 23, 2009

Does Neurodiversity help autistics with self-esteem?

I have just read another interesting piece about the neurodiversity movement. This piece was good in that it seemed to give a well balanced perspective, showing both the pros and the cons of neurodiversity. One of the more interesting things was the article cited a study that was recently published in the journal dyslexia showing that persons with autism and related disabilities who believed in the neurodiversity movement had greater self-esteem and academic aspirations than those autistics that did not believe in the ND philosophy. This is what the article states verbatim:

According to recent research, people with autism who accept the neurodiversity platform have more self-esteem, and have more academic and career ambition that those who see autism as a medical condition with its array of disadvantages. In one study, students with autism who held the latter view more often applied for special assistance and monetary allowance through disabled students programs.

The abstract of this study is here

As regular readers of my blog could possibly surmise, this statement hits home with me as I am one of those on the autistic spectrum who finds neurodiversity about as appealing as poison ivy or hemorrhoids. I also have very low self-esteem.

I have not read the actual article in Dyslexia myself, but I did read the abstract which was provided as a reference at the end of the blog piece I linked to. Therefore, I suppose I cannot completely comment on the specifics of the study and the findings. I do feel this whole idea raises some interesting concepts and questions which I would like to elucidate on.

Is there a casual relationship between adopting a neurodiverse way of thinking and having an improved self-esteem, having greater chance of success academically, financially in romance etc. than an autistic with a negative point of view such as myself. The results of this research could be interpreted as such by someone who wants to put a positive spin in favor of the ND movement. This could be an argument in favor of neurodiversity.

But when one looks at the typical proponent of neurodiversity we see that the majority of them seem to be females. This is in spite of the literature stating there is a 4:1 ratio of males to females. This ratio is somewhat controversial among some who claim that autism is underestimated in females, but to date, as far as I know, no empirical evidence has ever given this hypothesis any credibility. The neurodiversity persons are also for the most part much higher functioning than many others with autism including myself. Some of them can graduate college, hold down jobs and get married. One must wonder if these are a representative sample of autism. So this is equivalent to the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Does neurodiversity result in higher self-esteem and possible success or is it that really the people who believe in ND are generally much higher functioning and would have greater career aspirations and would not be as inclined to need help from a disability office. This is in addition to the ND autistics being a very unrepresentative sample of most of those with autism.

How would John Best's son or Harold Doherty's son stack up in this. Sam Best and Connor Doherty would probably not function at the level to have the same career aspirations as most ND autistics and would more likely require more financial assistance due to being lower functioning.

Michelle Dawson has told me at one time that she was not unlike myself, that she longed for a cure for autism. At the time her self-esteem was low and she was not in good psychological shape. But since adopting her current way of thinking, she has done much better psychologically. Apparently a change in her attitude now makes her more happy about having a neurologic condition that causes her to self-mutilate herself. Why a person would not want to be cured of this I have no idea, but Michelle is an adult in control of her faculties and is only hurting herself, so if she wishes to remain this way, I am certainly not going to stop her.

But one wonders if this attitude is helpful, or if deep down Michelle and other autistics really feel another way subconsciously. It was Sigmund Freud who postulated the concept of psychologic defense mechanisms I believe this provides the explanation for the higher self-esteem of those who believe in neurodiversity.

Denial is one such defense mechanisms that the ND use. Denial means that they filter out those ideas that are unpleasant to them, such as autism being a defect. They can't deal with it, so they just deny this reality. This is why ASAN engaged in their campaign against the ransom notes for example. They could not deal with autism being a deficiency , so they just denied that fact.

Another defense mechanism used widely by those in the ND movement is reaction formation turning something you truly hate into something you love. Therefore, the ND will say that autism equals genius and greatness and that Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and others had autism. This explains michelle's attitudes. It explains why Kristina Chew would claim that she is satisfied with the functioning level of her autistic child, yet drugs him with dangerous psychiatric medication due to his functioning being so impaired. It explains why Estee Klar-Wolfhond would turn something she hates into something she takes joy in, ergo "the joy of autism" as a blog title. Ms. Chew and Ms. Wolfhond are parents who tried ABA on their children, lured by the pie-in-the-sky promise of a coin flip probability of complete normalcy after a few years of treatment. When the pie-in-the-sky promise in reality turned out to be shit-from-the-sewer, these ladies embraced neurodiversity in disillusionment. They needed this philosophy to help their self-esteem to help them deal with their handicapped children.

Ergo, perhaps the results of this study are not all they seem.


SM69 said...

I think your analysis is accurate; most likely people who embrace ND are higher functioning and therefore will tend to be less depressed, but this is true up to a point. I know of many people who are very bright, very able, but are also very depressed and their awareness and intelligence do not protect them form depression, but rather the reverse. I mean, the world is pretty depressing and the more you know about it, the less sense it all makes… that sort of thinking. But to be part of a group, to be involved in an action is a perfect way to fight off depression, ND or gardening, doesn’t really matter, benefits will be the same, I think.

Your comment on parents turning to ND after trying various interventions is totally correct too. But funny enough many of them actually refuse to say that have done a diet, that they have done a Biomed intervention, they have done ABA etc. And instead they can criticize other parents who are trying their best to help their autistic with today’s best means, they tell them, you don’t accept your child and they can be very aggressive and judgmental. And I think this is cheap and dishonest, towards themselves most of all. Anyone has anxieties about autism to have that condition makes the chance of success, independence, fulfillment, much lower, who would not recognize this simple fact?

Having said this, I want to add one thing to this- I have some families of kids with autism who have returned to live in Africa in more rural village environments and obviously under very different cultural (as well as economical settings). Well, as it turned out the ASD kids were much more outdoors (i.e. more in tune with nature, more physical activity, more play, less computer etc) and were invited to go and play in the streets with other kids in a more integrated and spontaneous way, going in and out of a next door’s house, being welcomed more easily, irrespectively of their difference. Security was not so much of an issue as the collectivity spirit is higher. That sort of setting was very beneficial to the child. So if we were to have a more accepting attitude, I mean a real truly accepting one and more support from the community and more services, together with more trust that it’s OK to be different, things would be almost certainly better for the individuals and their family. But what we do not want is to romanticize ND movement and pulled out services and let people who have more difficulties to cope on their own (or not).

Anonymous said...

This 'study' is innately wrong based on its grand assumption that these self-diagnosed and out-right blatant feigning propagandists of 'neurodiversity' are even autistic

SM69 said...

Hi Anon! I like your style of writing, how more impact in fewer words could you get? I am somehow familiar with this, too familiar I may say. I think you are right, it does not look like this study relates much to autism, though I did not read the paper either, but the points made by J. are valid none the less in my opinion. I think we are talking at a more general level, the study initiated that discussion, and I think this is just fine.

Anonymous said...

I would love for my aspie son to have higher self esteem, but ever since he's become aware (he figured it out for himself) that he's not typical, well, he's not thrilled about it. I've tried the ND approach with him, the "autism is another way of being" speech. He corrected me, "no, autism is a sucky way of being." And I can't argue with him, a lot of his time is spent learning to adapt to a world that is unlikely to adapt for him. He is horribly anxious. How on earth do we put a positive spin on that? I accept him the way that he is, but I won't stop trying to find ways fix it, or at least improve it. For whoever finds comfort in the ND movement, well, good for them I guess. I'm still looking, and I won't apologize for not settling. Thank you for giving a voice to this view point.

P.s. I love the Africa concept. I would gladly build my son a village like that if I could.

jonathan said...

Hi Silk thanks for your post. I suspect that a number of autistics/aspies hold the point of view of your son and come to the conclusion that having an ASD is "sucky" (great way to put it). Of course there is the concept of the silent majority, made silent both by the fact that some autistics will be too impaired to write how they feel on the internet. The second factor being, that they just can't deal with the bully boy tactics of the angry and hateful neurodiversity people.

Your post sort of disproves the inane statements that Clay Adams was making here recently that persons with autism only come to the attitude that autism is a bad thing because that is how they are taught by their parents. Your son's case would seem to imply the opposite might be true at least in some cases.

Anonymous said...

It may not all be about defense mechanisms and improving one's self-esteem like with the "So and so was dyslexic and look at what he accomplished...
whoop-dee-doo!" speech.

It could be naiveness, such as someone like myself, who has always been that way due to being 'slow' which partially results from not having my expressive-receptive language problems being fully treated until now. As a result, I'm a 'clockwork orange' autistic who's an easy target of falling into bad traps; this includes mainly autistics of
Neurodiversity who aren't clockwork oranges.

SM69 said...

Maybe slightly off topic, but I’d like to share some recent issues I faced relating to misconception of what autism. A friend with an ASD is coming to visit me shortly. I tried to get her/him (I’ll say him) into a dance workshop with me. This is a type of expression that is (at least it seemed to) very open-minded about conventionality, very intuitive and very in touch with true self, particularly with regard to expression and relationships. Well, surprisingly, the answer was; not sure about that. My friend also wants to take part to the conference on autism I am due to speak at and I thought, accompanying me, she could come for free. But that’s not possible, she has to pay, almost the full cost, she can have early bird discount but this is way above what an adult with ASD can pay for. So, in others words, someone with autism, adult, who do not have support from parents anymore cannot attend to a conference that bear the name of her condition. Later, I also talked to my own mother about my friend coming, and here again the answer was unexpected: be careful. Whilst that last incident made me laugh, the others two made me angry. I thought, my friend does not even have 5% of my son’s difficulties, and I have to educate everyone around her for her to be accepted. We are in for a very good time when my son will be an adult, that’s very worrying.

But going back to the idea of a village build around an ASD person in order to provide an accepting community, maybe this does not require to move to Africa, but for each of us to “educate” positively about the condition, if we have 1:100 with an ASD today, each of us can easily communicate with 100 NT persons positively about the condition and in no time at all the entire world will be a place with a stronger and more knowledgeable view of what autism and together with this. Some charities are helping with regard to this, in the UK the NAS is good in that respect. Last night I saw for the first time an advert on British TV that presented someone with autism commuting in the train with a helper, saying that a little understanding about this condition can make’s this person’s journey much easier. It was well done, I think that’s a good way to promote information.

Surely Jonathan, you can see that perhaps not everything is bad about the ND movement and there must be ways to use these lines of thoughts and views to help with regard to both assistance and acceptance.

What was that poison ivy stuff about???? :-)

jonathan said...

poison ivy is something that is an irritant, the same way the ND movement is.

I do believe in human rights and treating autistic people with dignity. Unlike those in the ND movement I do not believe these nobel causes and the nobel cause of doing scientific research to find a cure for autism and to prevent autism are goals that are mutually exclusive from one another.

It would be nice if the ND movement were truly about human rights and giving dignity and help to those with autism. Unfortunately, this is nothing but propaganda on the ND's part. Their movement is only about maligning decent people who want to help give a better life for their children, even if a cure is not a reality in the forseeable future. They do not want to do anything constructive. All they do is start internet wars and engage in name calling insults and other forms of abuse. Or crusade against things they find offensive (and they are quite an easily offended group). None of their activities helps people with disabilities in the slightest. Though autism speaks may not be a perfect organization, they spread lies about it, claiming they are deliberately trying to find ways to abort autistic fetuses. All one has to do is go to the AS website and see what scientific projects they fund to see the absurdity of these arguments.

Anonymous said...

Two weeks ago I realized that my father almost certainly has Aspergers, and upon further reading online then realized that I match the female version of Aspergers. If there's a cure one day, I want it. I don't like being socially/emotionally blind. I want to see what everyone else can see.

Anonymous said...

Sam Best and Connor Doherty would probably not function at the level to have the same career aspirations as most ND autistics

As I recently argued, the same could be said about their functioning level relative to autistics who oppose neurodiversity, such as yourself, Jon.

You have not demonstrated that autistics who actively favor neurodiversity are any different, as a group, to autistics who actively oppose neurodiversity. The group size differences don't allow you to make such comparisons.

If such differences exist, I would not be surprised at all to learn that "self-esteem" is indeed among said differences. Functioning level, not so much.

If you think about it, it's probably impossible for an autistic person to have any self-esteem, unless they approve of the concept of neurodiversity (present anecdotal evidence aside.)

jonathan said...

Joseph, I don't know whether or not you have read my article "neurodiversity: just say no" and I don't have the URL handy, but I think you know the address of my Jonathan's stories website on which I have the article. You might consider reading that article if you have not read it yet. I do suggest that the autistics who believe in the ND movement are qualitatively different than those who might not, or at least they are not a representative sample of autistics. One of the main reasons is that so many of them are females in spite of the 4:1 ratio on average shown in the epidemiologic studies. Also, females from the general population of autistics are usually more severe than males as a statistical group, So I believe that many of these people are very unique brand of autistics.

I doubt that the article that I cited in my post really proves anything, but I guess I can't comment further since I have only read the abstract and not the article itself. However, you might want to read Jake Crosby's latest post on the age of autism webpage. He has done his homework and unlike me has read the entire paper and gives a very interesting take on the methodological problems with this paper and what it is trying to prove. I am going to give his post a shout out in my next blog entry.