By now you’ve probably, possibly, heard of Michael Savage’s remarks calling autism the “illness du jour” and claiming that “99 percent” of autism cases are “a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out”. The ensuing controversy led Slate to publish an article explaining how autism is actually diagnosed. And as a result, until recently the number one most e-mailed story (and still appearing on the list) on Slate had been… Gregg Easterbrook’s report on a Cornell study suggesting a link between television viewing and autism. From 2006.
There have been a lot of proposed theories about the cause of the rise in autism diagnoses over the decades. Chemicals in vaccines were being loudly trumpeted until they were banned and autism diagnoses kept rising (and it was, in retrospect, kind of ridiculous anyway). Some people attribute increased awareness of autism’s existence; others attribute the constantly broadening definitions of autism. Myself, I was turned on by a teacher I had in high school to what might be called the “Darwinist” theory, which probably explains some of my neuroses, both because the idea informs the neuroses and because the neuroses inform the idea: in the information age, so many of the jobs out there require logical processing skills, which autistics tend to naturally possess, so they tend to thrive and reproduce, whereas before they were too socially awkward to get laid. Asperger’s syndrome is the future “norm” of the human race! Get used to it! (Would it be too conceited for me to refer to myself as homo superior?)
The Cornell study, though, is especially interesting to me (protests in the comments and general part of a blame-television tradition aside) not just on its own terms, but even more so because of Easterbrook’s explanation of it. Easterbrook, who had hypothesized a television-autism link even before learning of the study, further hypothesized that for millenia, the human race had been raised on three-dimensional images. Once infants to two-year-olds started being raised on the two-dimensional images of the television set, it warped their minds in who knows what ways.
I would carry this one step further and suggest that autistics literally see the world differently – not merely process the same images differently, but literally see a different picture than a non-autistic. I can see out of my right eye, but I’m somewhat convinced it sort of “turns off” or at least runs on low power when my left eye is open. I can only wink my right eye – even when I think I’m winking my left eye it’s the right eye that closes – and when both eyes are closed I similarly can only open my left eye without using my hands to hold the left eye closed. (I don’t know how normal this is.) I also don’t really see any difference in objects with depth when seeing with one or two eyes; similar to a painting that can give an illusion of depth, proportions and general shapes, not to mention lighting, can make the existence of depth clear even with no depth perception to speak of.
Regardless, autistics serve a valuable role in society if their quirks and talents are properly nurtured and exploited, which is why I’m offended that the WWE is teaming up with Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue charity, whose slogan is “autism is reversible” and which still believes in the rather-discredited mercury-in-the-vaccines and germ theories, and which supports giving “biomedical intervention” to kids as a means of fighting autism (including the “gluten-free diet” approach, which when tried on me, made my problems worse in the short term). By their own admission, “the cause of this epidemic of NDs is extremely controversial”, and much that is on their web site is familiar blame-corporate-America rhetoric and based on questionable research, yet the WWE seems to be treating it as though it’s as uncontroversial as the United Way or Salvation Army. (It doesn’t help that WWE is advertising that McCarthy will be “stepping into the ring to fight autism” as though autism were on the level of cancer or AIDS.)
(Oh, and don’t ask me how I found out about this in the first place when there is shockingly little controversy about it, okay?)
The real “disease” of autism lies with everyone who doesn’t have it, in assuming that everyone fits a certain mold of the “ideal” or “normal” person until it’s too late, and well thereafter. (Which is why I use my “about me” posts to give advice to people trying to deal with me, especially in real life.) Let’s try and keep the uniqueness and talents of those with autism and related “disorders” instead of trying to get everyone to march in lockstep and become just like everyone else.