Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Difficulty in Recognizing Autism for What It Is

There exists a class of people—by current estimates totaling approximately one percent of the population—whose members possess an underlying condition that fundamentally distinguishes the class from the remainder of the species.

  • Some of the class’s members are diagnosed with the condition in early childhood, usually at five years of age or less; these members are commonly labeled autistic.
  • Some of the class’s members are diagnosed in late childhood or adolescence, roughly between the ages of six and eighteen; these members are frequently labeled Asperger’s.
  • Some of the class’s members are diagnosed only after reaching adulthood; these are often described as schizophrenic or bipolar.

Note the word “diagnosis” in each of these descriptions—labeling occurs nearly always under conditions perceived to be psychiatrically negative. And note how the labels are a function of the age at diagnosis, and thus do not differentiate the underlying condition. Finally, note that the variable age of diagnosis suggests the labels do not complete the class: it is likely there are other members, perhaps a significantly large number, who do not get diagnosed or labeled at all.

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