(I wrote this as a comment at another person's blog on this board and reproduced it here on my blog)

As a pediatric psychologist for the past 30+ years, I have seen the rise of the autism spectrum in both the popular and the medical consciousness. There is an abundance of junk science in this area, although that is not a particularly unique aspect to this disorder.Disorder, you ask? Yes, disorder, Autism, Aspergers, PDD-NOS, etc., are names of disorders that are diagnosed when people are disabled in the particular ways in which they are defined.

When I listen to people extolling the virtues of having these disorders, I am just completely flummoxed. If they aren't disabilities that prevent adaptive responses to life's challenges, then they aren't those named psychiatric disorders. There is a certain threshold of maladaptation for human diversity to rise to the level of a disorder that requires treatment and a diagnostic label. People ignore this for many reasons. Some ignore it so that the use of psychiatric medicines are justified. Such medicines change behavior, and all were first developed and tested in behavioral pharmacology laboratory paradigms with non-pathological animal subjects before they were ever tried with people who have specific disorders. People want behavior changed for many reasons which have nothing to do with disease. Some such reasons include performance enhancement, annoyance reduction, profit, etc.

Other people ignore the disability aspect of these labels because they want social recognition, or a pass for they way they prefer to act, or because there is some sort of material gain or advantage in the short run. It should also be remembered that some labels get assigned to people by other people for reasons other than the genuine needs of the person to whom the label will be assigned. Some circumstances that might lead to seeking a label for another include administrative convenience, funding, or caseload generation. Public and some private agencies receive funding based on some types categorical designations of the clients they serve, and so do private citizens under some government programs. Sometimes the reason for seeking a label for someone else is because it justifies some action or provides social leverage. Sometimes it just helps pay the rent.

Just looking at a diagnostic manual to see what fits is junk science at its most egregious. Those labels are just descriptions of behavior patterns. In many cases they are, of necessity, things people are capable of doing and that all people might do sometimes or under certain circumstances. People are diverse. People are adaptable. Behavior cannot be pinned down like some dead butterfly. The capacity for adaptive change is huge, and a person's characteristics are so numerous that in a fair society a place for a productive and useful life could be found to match almost anyone's talents, preferences, and quirks. Disabilities should be reserved for disorders that have no easily discoverable bootstrap by which a person can haul himself toward a decent living and successful relationships. My personal belief is that once a decent independent living and successful relationships are achieved by individuals, they need no persistent psychiatric label to follow them around. The label should be reserved for those needing maintenance therapy or lifelong prosthetic intervention and support.

We label too many things. At times we do so for all the wrong reasons. We should make room for diversity and for the possibility of cure.


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