Sunday, October 20, 2013

John Robison's take on neurodiversity

As I posted previously, John Robison has a new gig teaching a course on neurodiversity (along with some other people) at the historic institution William and Mary College. 

Apparently, inquiring minds wanted to know exactly what Mr. Robison's stance on neurodiversity is.  He wrote a post about his efforts at his attempt to oblige them.

On neurodiversity: 
I believe neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted though it is increasingly supported by science.

Does this mean that Robison believes that mutations such as fragile X, Rett's syndrome, Angleman's syndrome, etc. are natural variations such as genes for eye and hair color and height are?  Though there are variations in height that probably follow a normal distribution, someone extremely short, such as a dwarf. may have a genetic mutation or disease.  Does Robison discount possible environmental influences on autism, such as thalidomide exposure, cocaine ingestion that appear to have some association with at least some spectrum disorders?  What about cancers, such as the BRCA mutation that is found in breast cancers.  Are cancers natural variations.  Then why don't we have oncodiversity or cellular diversity as a philosophy?  He makes a completely inconsistent statement in the next paragraph: 

We are realizing that autism, ADHD, and other conditions emerge through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental interaction; they are not exclusively the result of disease or injury.  Which is it, autism is a natural genetic variation or in some cases it is a disease or injury?  As my former psychoanalyst used to say, you can't have your cake and eat it too, Mr. Robison.

He makes a very offensive statement next: 
We are not sick. We are different.
Does Robison believe that a child who can't speak, soils themselves, engages in self-injury and wanders away so that their life is endangered is not sick?  If that is the case, why did he join the scientific advisory board of autism speaks and reviews grants for the government to study autism if it is just a difference? 
Faculty and staff are just as likely to have different brains, especially in the sciences.
He trivializes autism by comparing college professors to those that really suffer from this affliction. 
while working to remediate disability has as its goal the best possible life quality.
If someone is disabled then why aren't they sick? 
When a fellow has one leg, and he wants to get around on his own, we don’t say, “He needs a cure.” We say, “He needs help remediating his disability.”

Who says this?  I've never heard of limb diversity or mobility diversity.  Why doesn't someone need a cure to have a leg restored, even if one is not available given the current science?  Robison then goes on to compare the use of a cane or prosthesis to remediating autism, but gives no examples of how this can be done.  As far as I can tell, Robison has not suggested how autism could be remediated.  If it were completely remediated why wouldn't this constitute a cure?  Again, Mr. Robison, you can't have your cake and eat it too. 

No neurodiversity advocate in his right mind would oppose developing tools to remediate disability from autism.

It would appear then that most neurodiversity advocates are not in their right minds, since they consistently say that acceptance and accommodations are the solutions to autism and in at least some cases that autism would not even be a disability if this were done. Or some say the problem should be ignored altogether like Ari Ne'eman's statement that social pleasantry should be eliminated as a criteria in hiring and evaluating people's job performance. 

Robison then goes on with the offensive stereotypes of how autistic eccentricity is associated with high intelligence or giftedness. 

It is appalling that William and Mary would offer a course in this and would enlist someone who did not even finish the tenth grade to help teach this. 

Hopefully a cure for autism will be found someday and perhaps now we can add at least some amputees on the list of people that Robison manages to trivialize. 




jonathan said...

I have always wanted to approach someone like Mr.Robinson who goes around talking about autism as a natural genetic variation,and a positive one at that,what he thinks of diseases like Fragile X and Rett Syndrome

All good points in your post, Roger, not just the part I italicized. You ought to approach Robison in the comments section and ask him. He's stated that he's done with me because I just spent time criticizing him and my criticism without offering an alternative was not constructive (or so he said) Perhaps he is not done with you and if you offer polite commentary on his blog, he'll give you an answer for that.

What does "remediating his disability" mean anyway?

I have no idea. Seems Mr. Robison wishes to have it both ways. You ought to ask him this too. I certainly don't understand how a disability can be "remediated" and not be cured as Robison seems to imply.

It's just a crime that any college would promote this madness.

I couldn't agree more. I have no idea what William and Mary is thinking a course like this will accomplish.

Ian MacGregor said...

When a fellow has one leg, and he wants to get around on his own, we don’t say, “He needs a cure.” We say, “He needs help remediating his disability.”

What would be considered a cure? Prosthetics have gotten good enough that a person completed at the Olympics. It does not seem far-fetched that we will be able to grow someone another leg someday.

Now that adult stem cells appear as pluripotent as embryonic ones the moral prohibitions on doing so have largely vanished.
Who would campaign against the person receiving a natural leg.

I've mentioned my sister's battle against cancer for the fourth time. The first time she chose an operation which involved freezing the tumor, a method the doctor informed her had not even been done yet on pigs. It was however her best chance for survival and she at one time was almost ten years cancer free. Now she is enrolled in a phase 3 trial of a drug to retard or stop the growth of the several tumors in her body. Our ability to fight against the disease increases. Where would we be if
there were a pro-cancer group fighting against such advances

Yet Neurodiversity actively fights against comparable work where autism is involved. No matter how detrimental the condition is to the person who has it. How someone with such an immoral position gets to sit on boards judging what type of research should be done on autism is beyond comprehension.

I don't see anything wrong in seeking accommodations for those whom it would help. In the main these are people barely touched by the condition, and as such they the ones we are more able to help. However the great majority of those with autism need so much more than accommodation they need a cure.

Shanti said...

Great post!! The reason I love your blog is you just make common sense. It is so unfortunate that common sense is so rare! Neurodiversity is bullsh*t!

ian MacGregor said...

I went too far in my post as far as growing someone another leg. There are certainly moral considerations to growing any part of the body which become more evident as the portion of the body being grown increases. How would an entire leg be kept alive? There is also the time factor involved in growing the leg.

It's not only the size of the portion, but the function of the part which causes concern. A new pancreas does not bring up the ethical questions as a new brain.

I have to acknowledge that some approaches that can be used for other conditions raise huge concerns when it comes to using them with autism.

I don't however feel the brain is untouchable. Autism is a developmental condition which when severe enough alters the brain to such an extent that the person is rendered dysfunctional. Fixing that damage is a moral good, but not all means of doing so.

Socrates said...

Well said, ole chap.

JER - "conditions that were traditionally pathologized"

This neo-liberal bullshit has been widely deployed in the British government's 'reform' of our supposedly crippling welfare system. Our benefits are taken, our social supports are stripped to be replaced by the most callous "job ?Seeker's" regime, just so a few usually quite mad, often very successful and independent 'autistics' can have their moment in the Sun.

Treacherous cunts, as we say in Blighty.

Evil, is not too strong a word for this pernicious and self-deluding crap.