Let me provide a less disputed list of co-morbidities of autism. That is, while we can't generalize and say that all autistics have these medical liabilities, it would appear that they are far more prevalent among autistics than in the general population:
- Gastro-intestinal problems
- Seizures and epilepsy
- Sleep problems
- Self-injury (SIB)
- Upper-respiratory problems
It's not entirely clear what the thought process that led to this argument looks like, but I've done my best to attempt to generalize it below:
If a phenotype (an appearance or behavior pattern) is associated with a relatively high prevalence of recognized medical liabilities, then the phenotype should not be characterized as a 'way of being'. The phenotype must then be considered a disease that must be erradicated and cured as a whole. Treating only the co-morbidities is insufficient.
Note that it's not just one person who makes an argument along these lines. Other mercury parents apparently jumped on the bandwagon according to Kevin. So while I shouldn't generalize, for the purposes of narration, I'm going to assume that "mercury parents" have this position.
In order to determine the viability of this argument, which appears reasonable on the surface, I have decided to test its plausibility on genotypes or phenotypes other than autism.
The Ashkenazi Jewish Population
A number of significant (usually deadly) diseases are considerably more prevalent among the Ashkenazi Jewish Population:
- Bloom's Syndrome
- Canavan Disease
- Familial Dysautonomia
- Fanconia Anemia
- Gaucher Disease
- Mucolipidosis IV
- Niemann-Pick Disease
- Tay-Sachs Disease
- Torsion Dystonia
- Crohn's Disease
Of these, Tay-Sachs is the best known. Death usually occurs by three to five years of life due to pneumonia or other infections. Interestingly, there's some controversial research which links Tay-Sachs and other genetic diseases to higher IQ in Ashkenazi Jews [ref].
So is being Jewish a disease that must be erradicated and cured? Unless the reader is a Neo-Nazi, I'd expect the reader to disagree. But I think it's important to illustrate the correct use of the terminology with a couple of examples:
Correct: This child suffers from Crohn's Disease. He ought to be treated.
Incorrect: This child suffers from being Jewish. Let's remove his Judaism. And while we're at it, let's device a genetic test to prevent Jewish people from being born.
Historical sociologist Shelley Reuter says that the notion of a Jewish disease is flawed since “there is no DNA sequence common and exclusive to all Jews.” Guess what? Neither is there one for all autistics.
I anticipated that some readers might question the last analogy on the grounds that we should not compare autism to a race. (I might someday argue why that is totally valid in a different post). Homosexuality is the natural choice for a follow-up analogy, given that it has been described as a mental disorder.
Homosexuality used to be listed in the DSM-II, which was modified in 1973 to exclude it. This action resulted from the protests of gay activits who believed that homosexuality was not a disorder at all, but simply a 'way of being' to be tolerated and respected as any other way of being. Similar activism in relation to other phenotypes classified as disorders has occurred since.
In a similar fashion to the mercury parents, some die-hard psychiatrists and semi-professionals still argue that homosexuality should be considered a disorder and treated on the basis of its medical liabilities [ref]:
- Classical STDs
- Enteric diseases (Gay bowel disease, Hepatatis, etc.)
- Trauma to various body parts
- And of course, AIDS
Some of these are quite serious. But even so, it is not correct to say that an AIDS sufferer is a person who suffers from homosexuality.
Others argue that the cost of homosexuality is alarming, both in monetary terms and social terms [ref]. What does that remind me of?
As to curing homosexuality, there are a number of behavioral approaches still in use today. Reparative therapy claims a success rate of 30% to 70%, apparently even better to that of ABA. And as you might expect, there exist people called "ex-gay" who claim to be recovered from homosexuality. You will also find some talk on the internet to the effect that homosexuality might be caused by a 'chemical imbalance' (a favorite of the drug industry) and thus may be treated with drugs.
One of the pioneers of behavioral interventions for homosexuality and transexuality was, you guessed it, O. Ivar Lovaas [ref]. That's not surprising. After all, he says children "don't have the right to act bizarrely".
I know there's at least one mercury parent, John Best Jr., who actually does believe that homosexuality is a disorder that must be cured. For him and others like him here is a less controversial condition: left-handedness.
Some of the liabilities of left-handedness (and I must warn that these are controversial) are:
- Higher incidence of sexual offenses
- Accident proneness
- Proneness to alcoholism
- Immune disorders
- Lower life expectancy
Still, left-handed people are proud of their genetic heritage, are opposed to continued efforts to make them switch hands, widely reject the 'person with left-handedness' terminology, and even believe that left-handedness provides them with cognitive advantages. All they ask is for a bit of accomodation so they are able to use their left hand in various social and educational settings.
Here's a strange type of "abnormal" which many people would like to be. It's a lot like the tall stature phenotype or the really low body fat phenotype. We all know that giftedness must have some advantages, in some cases including savantism. Genetically, of course, given its low prevalence, it's not surprising that it comes with a number of liabilities:
- Clinical depression
- Hypersensitivity (Sensory overload)
Is giftedness a disorder? It's not considered as such at present. But psychiatrists and school officials, in their never ending quest to label every single person in the planet as brain diseased, appear to be on the brink of classifying it as such [ref][ref].
Bigotry is alive and well. Treat the co-morbidities. Don't treat the autism.