Monday, August 18, 2008

The Many Autisms

The research community’s trend du jour is to characterize autism not as a single condition, but instead as a term embodying many distinct conditions, each with separate etiology (albeit unknown). Ami Klin, David Amaral, and Francesca Happé, for instance, have lent their support to such percolations.

Fracturing autism into more pieces might indeed prove useful in expanding the number of grant applications and research chairs, but if we hope to expand our understanding of autistic individuals, attention should be turned in the opposite direction. We already have too many autism diagnoses at our disposal—Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder (and all the informal variations thereupon). What have these distinctions gained for us other than increased confusion?

If instead, autism’s umbrella were put back together and expanded to include similar conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, we might eventually get around to asking some important questions, such as why do certain individuals perceive their world differently than the norm, and what are the consequences?

In retrospect, this fashionable period of the “many autisms” will be seen not as a time when we advanced our understanding of the condition, but as a tacit admission we did not possess the first clue of what we were dealing with.

No comments: