There are many different types of illness. Some are temporary and some are chronic. When the word illness comes to mind, people think of maladies such as cancer, diabetes, and strokes. One does not normally classify neurological disorders as illnesses. Since autism spectrum disorders are neurologically based, they are lifelong companions of those of us with autism. They cannot be cured. One is born with autism, and one dies with autism.
Autism is not eradicated through the latest drug. So why then do so many people view autism as an illness? Why do so many people jump on the bandwagon to cure autism? As an autistic woman and mother, I have never thought of myself or my children as having an illness. I have never googled autism treatments or cures. I am a proud member of an eclectic community. As some may say, I don’t mind flying my freak flag. I have never wanted to change my daughters. I know that there is no cure for autism. The question is, why would anyone want a cure?
I spent several years teaching special needs children (including children on the spectrum), before I quit teaching to start my own family. I taught children with a wide range of disabilities. I spent time with children whose functioning level was much lower than my own autism. I do have some understanding of the challenges that arise for families with children that are nonverbal, not potty-trained, and have more physical challenges. I do not pretend to understand the enormous day-to-day challenges involved with caring for significantly disabled individuals. That being said, I still do not look at these individuals or myself as being ill.
A diagnosis of autism, whether low or high on the spectrum, brings along its own unique challenges. For example, my youngest daughter has a very difficult time with change. This includes environmental changes, dietary changes, even seasonal changes. My oldest daughter struggles with social anxiety. Both of my daughters are autistic. Both are different. The thing is, their autism is part of their personalities. Sure the autism itself has causes and effects on their daily lives that would not be there if they were typical. They are autistic. They are not sick.
Autism provides unique perspectives, delightful personalities, and untapped talent. Why would I want to cure something that has enhanced my life and the life of those around my family. Unfortunately, there are those supporters that would like to cure the world of autism. Some even go to great lengths to “rid their children of autism.” Many families have been given false hopes that diets, special treatments, and unfounded therapies will “cure” their children. In my personal opinion, many of these so-called cures cause more harm than good.
I definitely have seen the benefits of ABA therapy first hand. Without ABA intervention, my youngest daughter may have never been toilet trained. I also advocate and encourage early intervention programs, speech therapy, and social groups. All of these interventions have proven to be successful ways to better the lives of children on the spectrum. The goal should be to provide better interventions to families living with autism.
Curing autism is not yet possible. Scientists and researchers are still trying to pinpoint the cause of autism spectrum disorders. I do not want a cure for myself or for my daughters. I love the way my daughters see the world. I love their unique and quirky view of life. I am almost 43 years old, and being autistic is a part of my identity. I will not fool myself or anyone else into believing that life with autism is a walk in the park. Some days, autism is like a raging storm or a spoiled toddler having a tantrum. Social situations have and will always be difficult for me. My perspective of the world is much different than that of my peers. I will not lie and tell you that I have not had days where I have wished I was typical. The fact remains through all the challenges and sometimes tears autism brings, I do not want to be cured. I am not ill with autism. I am a mother, wife, functioning community member with autism. Autism is part of who I am just like the fact that I have blue eyes. It is not a sickness. Let’s teach our children and those around them that autism is beautiful. Please don’t put me on a list of illnesses. Autism is not ravaging my body. It is not bringing me closer to death. It is given me a uniqueness that I have learned to embrace. I am happy to be autistic!