What is autism?
The parenting community, the autism community, the neurodiversity community, the medical community, the scientific community - each has its own answer. A few of those answers are listed below, in descending order, from progressive to regressive:
(1) An identity, inseparable from the person.
(2) A neurological condition.
(3) A neurological disorder.
(4) A psychological disorder.
(5) A spectrum.
(6) Not a spectrum; a disabling disorder.
(7) Mercury poisoning.
Indeed, the metaphysical confusion (what is autism) was front and center when Brad was first flagged for autism; the ambiguity manifested itself in the diagnostics. I could choose from a litany of specialists, including developmental pediatricians, neurologists and psychologists. We settled on a developmental pediatrican, at the advice of Early Intervention.
If you had asked me "what is autism?" at that time, I would have chosen (6) - not a spectrum; a disabling disorder. Not because I had considered the issue and drawn a conclusion, but rather because everything I knew about autism I learned from mainstream media - AutismSpeaks outreach and Rain Man.
Over time, I learned more about autism, and today, I'm somewhere between (3) and (2) - a neurological disorder to some extent and a neurological condition to a different extent. I reject (1) because I regard autism itself as extrinsic to self, in the metaphysical sense, at least ab initio, at birth.
Another change: at the start of my journey, I was obsessed with finding a differential diagnosis. My child isn't autistic because he's [fill in the blank]. I started with "late talker"/Einstein Syndrome, and then moved onto Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Today, I embrace the idea of the autistic spectrum, and as a corrolary I've abandoned my quest for a differential diagnosis, which I regard as arbitrary at this point.
That having been said, the notions of bright lines and a differential diagnosis are useful with respect to allocation of resources. The service spigot shouldn't be turned on for the whole lot. This is where the politics should catch up to the science and the diagnostics. There should be a fair way to distribute resources. However, creating a fiction that there isn't a spectrum is not the answer.
In the last analysis, I believe that most autism debates, including those that have taken place on my blog, can be attributed to a fundamental difference in regards to the basic metaphysical question.
What is autism to you?