Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Should autism be cured?

Asked by Mariah (25624points) August 31st, 2016

Lately I am seeing talk online saying that autism is not a disease, and that cures should not be sought. The argument that people are making is that autistic people are simply people whose minds work differently from average people, and that trying to “cure” autism is trying to erase those differences. Some autistic people are saying that groups that seek cures for autism, such as Autism Speaks, are hate groups.

I’m not sure how I feel about this so I’m trying to learn more. I’m wondering why this argument is being make about autism and not about other mental differences, such as bipolar disorder. Why does the argument apply to autism but not bipolar disorder? Should we stop seeking to cure bipolar too because we wouldn’t want to erase people whose minds work that way? Or is the argument that autism doesn’t cause suffering in its patients the way something like bipolar does?

Please help me understand. Thank you!

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29 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Bipolar is treated with chemicals and drugs. It is treated with Lithium which reduces the swings of mood. The drug is also used for swings in people on the spectrum/autism not for autism but for the mood swings that occur. You are right autistic people have a different way of see the world and process information differently. I went to high school with two people on the spectrum both are successful but view things and do things different from me.

I don’t know how to talk to the “hate group” idea for Autism Speaks..

zenvelo's avatar

The first difficulty in this issue as a topic is that Autism is a spectrum. I know a few autistic people: two brothers who are both autistic were in my son’s Boy Scout troop; one earned his Eagle Scout rank, the other is well on his way to achieving the same rank.

Another boy was in classes with my daughter from Kindergarten to 2nd grade. Patrick loved my daughter because she was kind and smiled at him, and didn’t mind if he followed her around. Patrick did well with mainstreaming in school with an assistant. But it’s likely he will never be fully independent.

And my godson’s brother is severe on the spectrum, communication with Joe is basic and extremely difficult. When he got to be twelve, his mother could no longer control or deal with him, and he has been on a “ranch” in the mountains for people with severe disability where he is well cared for. While he can occasionally visit his family, he will live there the rest of his life.

So while some high functioning autistic people would probably not be well served by being seen as “in need” of a cure, others would benefit if a treatment could be found to help them integrate into society and live independently.

janbb's avatar

It may well be wrong to talk of a cure but maybe of adjustment and management for how one wants to live in the world. We all need to adjust or correct some of our neuro-nontypical behaviors in order to be with others and autistic people are differently wired. I recently saw a documentary called “Life, Animated” about an autistic child who stopped speaking at aged 3 until his parents realised that he could connect emotionally through Disney animated films. This was the key to his emotional expression.

I also know there is a movement afoot for schizophreniacs to want to live with their voices and unmedicated.

And of course, many in the deaf world resent cochlear implants as a threat to their language and culture. See the documentary “Sound and Fury” for a fascinating depiction of how one family deals with this issue.

So we are ever broadening the notion of what it is to be human. Ultimately, I think the best is if a variety of treatment and or adjustment (therapeutic) options are presented and the individual and their family can decide on what options work for them. Talk of a cure may be counterproductive in many cases.

Sneki95's avatar

I am not sure if there is a cure.

As far as I know, one is simply born autistic, you don’t “catch” it as if it is a disease. It is a disorder.

So, curing seems kind of wrong there. But, researching about it it’s cause and all the details about the disorder should go without a question, as well as taking adequate care of those who are severely ill and can’t take care of themselves. @zenvelo is right, there are a lots of types of autism, and some of those are severe disabilities and patients can’t function on their own.

Helping them and giving them proper therapy and support seems more sensible than finding a cure, at least to me.

kritiper's avatar

Autism is a condition, IMO, and should be cured. I have a sister who has a autistic son, and he has driven her out of her rational mind. Literally!

Sneki95's avatar


My brother is severely autistic. He live with is for about 24 years, until he went to the clinic last year.

I think I have an idea what you are talking about. My mother (and all of us, to be honest) went through a lot of stress because of him.
It’s kind of tragic, for both the child and the parents…

Cruiser's avatar

My take on this is that a cure for autism is not the answer. If we are to devote energy and resources towards autism, I believe there would be a far greater return if we devoted time to educating people as to what it means to be autistic.

Autism is treated like any other disorder or disease in ways that single out that person as defective and “special needs”. They are thrust into a box outside the mainstream where they are treated differently which IMHO only compounds the situation for the autistic child or person who already knows they are different and I believe only want to be treated the same as others and with respect that they have autism and not that they are defective in any way.

So my point is IMO you don’t cure the autistic person….you “cure” their environment to better suit them and the people around them so they can thrive with abilities they have.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I’m wondering why this argument is being make about autism and not about other mental differences, such as bipolar disorder. Why does the argument apply to autism but not bipolar disorder?
People look at things differently when there is a possibility they might one day be effected or caught in it. I could name several issues where it points to that with crystal clarity. To me, it is more of a disorder either mentally or psychologically, how it comes about, I have not looked into it that much. Certainly there are rumors and out and out myths as to what causes it or it runs in families, if it does, and then there might be a genetic tie to it. Myself, I believe is should be explored for correction more than bipolar which to me is something manufactured as of late.

janbb's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Just to your one point, “more than bipolar which to me is something manufactured as of late.” Bipolar has been around for ages; it’s just that it formerly was called manic depression. It used to be treated with lithium.

@Mariah I think there are people with bipolar also who decide not to be treated because they like having the mood swings, particularly the mania and don’t want to be leveled off.

Mariah's avatar

^ True! I hadn’t considered that aspect. It’s just a little different to me, because although some individual patients choose to go untreated, it doesn’t seem like anyone is saying bipolar shouldn’t be considered a disorder and is just a different sort of mindset from your average person. Another factor might be that we can actually see the chemical imbalances in the brains of people with bipolar, and maybe that kind of thing isn’t observable in autism? I’m realizing just how little I actually know about autism.

I think lithium is still used, actually. A coworker of mine is on it.

This whole debate has started to call into question, for me, a lot of ideas about how to view mental health. Usually the types of arguments surrounding mental health that I hear revolve around removing stigma by comparing them to physical health disorders – saying things like, a problem with the brain is just as “real” as a problem with any other organ. But claiming autism is not a disorder makes it all feel so much more…subjective? Like, yeah, who gets to decide how the brain is “supposed” to function anyway? It’s not as cut and dried as with physical conditions; one knows there shouldn’t be blood in one’s urine.

janbb's avatar

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot over the past few years from being close friends with a bipolar guy and having a relative with schizophrenia. It’s very interesting to read Oliver Sacks’s books too about different neurological issues; he is (or was) very much a humanist.

I think the recent thinking about every mental illness being a medical, treatable condition is shifting in some quarters. It’s all quite fascinating.

Mariah's avatar

Ooh, do you have any recommendations? I loved The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat but that’s all about the totally out-there situations that I’m not likely to run across in my life.

janbb's avatar

Read “An Anthropologist on Mars” – again a collection of essays on different patients. You might be particularly interested in the title essay which deals with Temple Grandin and her autism. For that matter, you might want to read her memoirs; I don’t remember the title. Also, the essays he wrote while terminally ill, collected in a book called “Gratitude” are lovely even though not specifically germane to this topic.

Mariah's avatar


JLeslie's avatar

I’ve said many times that I bet half of our best scientists have asperger’s. I think my scale of “normal” for the autism spectrum would be different than what has been used the last 15 years. I think we are diagnosing autism spectrum too liberally as a disorder.

For me, I care most about whether the patient (person) is suffering or not. Are they uncomfortable with their symptoms? Can they function well enough to support themselves and take care of themselves?

In our society we do sort of demand a certain amount of conformity. Even personality conformity.

There is a difference between normal, and statistically normal. Someone might be outside of the statistical norm, but still be normal. It works the other way too. Like being overweight is statistically normal now, but it is not a “normal” weight.

cazzie's avatar

Hmmm…. Interesting answers. Some almost registering red flag on my meter. I’ll get back to this question after a coffee or two. I live with autism every day. Three people who were in my household for over 10 years.

YARNLADY's avatar

My theory is that the increase in Autism and ADHD is entirely due to the increase of artificial chemicals in our food. This is partially based on the fact that the increase is taking place in the U. S. and not in places where people eat natural food.

JLeslie's avatar

@YARNLADY I think what you wrote is possible. I also think America is quick to label children for a lot of reasons, and so I think we have had the numbers go up here at least partly because we just are diagnosing it more, and sometimes when the diagnosis isn’t warranted. “We” have been pushing to put children in structured environments (school) younger and younger. It’s especially hard on boys I think. I don’t believe in putting any type of pressure on children under the age of 5 to learn to read. If they take right to it great. They shouldn’t have to sit still for hours in a seat. If they can’t do the work yet, and they aren’t interested they will likely act out.

I remember when I was leaving for college (30 years ago) my dad was reviewing a grant to do a study regarding when ADHD drugs were ineffective for some kids, and part of the hypothesis was the children had the wrong diagnosis and probably were bipolar. I don’t know if the study ever happened, I assume it did.

Back to the children. There have been studies about the effects of that chemical in plastic that is supposed to be bad for you. One study showed pregnant mothers with high numbers had much higher chances of their boy babies have problems with their hormone levels and some other things. Let alone children actually come during the stuff directly. American women have much higher amounts of that plastic chemical than other countries.

cazzie's avatar

@YARNLADY you’d be wrong there.

LostInParadise's avatar

There are two questions to ask. Are autistic people a burden on society?, and Would they prefer to be cured? As has been pointed out, there is a spectrum of autism. Many autistic people are able to achieve success because of their ability to concentrate on detailed information. If an autistic person is functional and okay with who they are, then why change them? It would be interesting to see the statistical breakdown on how autistic people feel about themselves. Most bipolar or depressive people would prefer to be rid of their conditions. Likewise for most schizophrenics, though I have heard that there are some who enjoy the company of the voices they hear.

Dutchess_III's avatar

This is a little off topic, but my 9 year old grandson is borderline autistic. He’s very smart, but woefully lacking in social aspects. He has 0 friends. He’s constantly pestering the adults for attention, any kind of attention, usually in inappropriate and completely annoying ways. It often results in negative attention from the adults, which he’s happy to settle for.
If there was a cure for that, and he could start relating to, and hanging out with kids his age, I think he’d be a lot happier.

Mariah's avatar

@cazzie I would love to hear your perspective as someone with personal experience, thank you.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Look up “autism discussion page” on Facebook.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III The cure might be adulthood. Or, adults, and even children, who take a keen interest in his interests once he develops his interest more.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I want to start this by saying I’m not an expert on autism, and I’m not autistic and my experience with autism is superficial, so these are just my thoughts on the topic.

I don’t see autism as a disease. As has been said, there is a spectrum and people at one end may function perfectly well in society, while people at the other end do not. Those in the middle manage to a lesser or greater degree. Those whose place on the spectrum mean they find it difficult to participate in society and within relationships may very well need help to survive and thrive in society. Their families and friends may need assistance and guidance to help their friend/family member to navigate relationships and societal expectations. Other people, while still registering on the autistic spectrum, may function perfectly well and may need little or no help.

I agree that some of the conditions we now consider mental ‘illnesses’ may in the future be considered as just personality or processing differences. I don’t know enough about bipolar to say whether it would fall into this category. Is it caused by a chemical imbalance? By some physiological deformity? Is it an anomaly in the way the brain’s wiring works? Or is it that we expect people to behave and react in certain ways and anyone who falls outside of that range has something ‘wrong’ with them? What is causing the difference may be the thing that defines whether the outcome is a problem or just a difference.

I have a doctor who is without doubt autistice. I feel very sure he would register as ‘autistic’. However, he is a specialist. He is an expert in his field. So his autism may well have helped him to become an expert because he is so focused on this specific area of study. On the flipside, it makes it harder for him to communicate with his patients. He’s hard to interact with. As a scientist, brilliant. As an empathic human, not so great. In his role, people excuse one because of the benefits of the other.

My daughter is also almost certainly on the spectrum – but very minimally so. She works in retail and has to interact with people all day every day. However, I see traits in her behaviour that make it very obvious she is on the spectrum.

Obviously, there are other people who are affected much more severely and are unable to participate in society or to easily participate in relationships. Can we and should we cure these people? I don’t like the word cure, but I feel certain we should keep researching and try to find medications or strategies that help these people and their families to manage better.

Human beings think we know so much, yet we are so ignorant about so much. We have a lot to learn about what is ‘normal’ human behaviour and about how our own bodies and our brains work.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

My doctor is also ‘autistic’. Not quite sure what ‘autistice’ is! I’d like the update to include an automatic editing program.

cazzie's avatar

I’m sort of tired of repeating myself. That is why I haven’t answered here yet. When I get time I’ll maybe reference to some of my earlier posts from similar questions.

Mariah's avatar

I did a search and found this thread. Didn’t realize it had already been discussed; sorry for the frustration.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

@Mariah, I don’t think your question is the same as that earlier question. I think this is an interesting question. If one person chooses not to participate, that’s their choice. You don’t need to apologise for their frustration.

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