Much media attention has been given to some recent studies on the genetics of autismshowing some abnormalities on chromosome 5. Whether this is a major breakthrough in autism or just some other studies that have provoked some hype and hustle is open to question.
What is not surprising to this blogger is that Kev Leitch of left brain/right brain and founder of the neurodiversity autism hub has used these media reports to further a neurodiversity political agenda. However a number of Kev's contentions (and possibly by extension other neurodiversitites) are premature and unwarranted. Right off the bat, Kev makes an error and states that the article quotes the scientist as saying that if we could remove this variant as much as 25% of autism would disappear. Actually the number was 15%.
Using the 25% number (rather than the 15%) Kev then goes on to ask the question 25% of what, the individual? Autism's more disabling aspects? 25% of the population of autistics? Kev then goes on further stating that it is time for some sort of bioethics debate. That members of "the autistic community" should have a "respectful debate" with the scientific community on how this new technology should be used. By autistic community Kev obviously means neurodiversitites, since this does not include me nor probably the vast majority of persons on the autism spectrum who are too impaired to comment on write a blog post on this subject. Once again we have the phenomenon of the "royal we" that Harold Doherty so frequently writes about. Also when used by a neurodiversitite the term respectful debate has to be one of the biggest oxymorons in history. Though there are exceptions to the rule, neurodiversitites rarely treat anyone with respect. It is always, insult, attack, be abusive and "you are using this technology to try to destroy me" nonsense. As I have written before, neurodiversity is an ideology that is only driven by hatred as well as the two Freudian defense mechanisms of denial and reaction formation. They rarely want a respectful debate.
This is the age old propaganda of neurodiversity, genetic research on autism is only done with the intent of finding a way to abort autistic fetuses. What Kev and other ND's fail to understand is that genetic research is done with the intent of finding a way from preventing someone from becoming crippled and sick. Autism is a disease and a disorder regardless of ND denial. (I won't use the term disability anymore because I know that Janet Bain and other NDs will counteract that argument). If something could be done to manipulate the gene in utero in theory autism could be prevented and the individual would lead a healthy existence and not be incapacitated. This is the reason for genetic research. Or to perhaps find a way to cure autism if that is possible, but not for abortion.
In fact all Kev has to do is read what Dr. Hakonarson, the principal investigator has to say in the article I linked to which will answer his question:
With the new discovery, the hope is to identify children having these variants at birth or even in utero so intervention can begin early, Hakonarson says. Eventually, he says, the goal would be to create specific treatments to correct the gene variant.
all Kev had to do was read this one paragraph in this article and it would have answered all of his questions.
Of course Kev acts like this is something new. That these few studies have somehow elucidated some breakthrough which could cause such a great understanding of the genetics of all ASD's that the chance of aborting an autistic fetus or changing 15-25% of an individual's personality and makeup are really on the horizon. But is it new? For years, the mutation that causes fragile X has been known. Also known are forms of autism that can sometimes be transmitted via autosomal dominance in the case of tuberous sclerosis. Many other genetic etiologies are known. The genetic etiologies have probably been known for at least 10% of all ASD's for quite a while. So far the technology does not exist to either treat these individuals, abort them as fetuses or change their personalities.
Kev is not the first to be confused on this issue. Temple Grandin and Simon Baron-Cohen have also proposed that autism genes confer some sort of advantage to a person or even genius. This is in spite of the fact that in all of the genetic studies that have been done on autism, there have been findings on X chromosomes, also autosomes on many different chromosomes. An abnormality on chromosome 22 which causes DiGeorge syndrome often is associated with autism. Abnormalities on chromosome 15 and many others have been found as well. There is no evidence that any specific autism gene is responsible for a person being a great inventor or saving civilization as Grandin and SBC often claim. I have written an essay debunking this notion
Recently I went to a lecture that Dan Geschwind gave at UCLA. He is one of the people who apparently was involved in these new genetic studies. He seemed to state that one of the problems with research on genetics in autism was the fact that the sample sizes were far too small and because autism had many different genetic etiologies that they could not get a great deal of homogeneity. But with larger samples and more money spent on research it might be possible to get more homogeneity where we might be able to find a single genetic deficiency in a fair proportion of persons with autism. This could lead to better treatments or even prevention (again not abortion).
Therefore for all of these reasons I think Kev's claims are quite premature and it will most likely be quite some time before a real debate is needed for ethical issues. However, I have no qualms about funding genetic research if at some point it will help us understand this horrific disability and lead to treatments, even possibly cures and preventions and I brook no quarters there.
Ari Neeman and his merry band of crusaders at ASAN have called for a moratorium on genetic research until the issues that Kev brings up are resolved.
Neurodiversity claims to be about human rights for all people regardless of their neurologic makeup. Well, how about the right to treatment or the right to have something prevent you from becoming crippled and sick in the first place?