“Reversing autism” and why you’re not

not_reversing_autismA news story hit my social media feed called “Could Early Intervention Reverse Autism?” and I just had to sign into my blog and start typing. I see this term all over the place… “reversing autism.” It accompanies it’s not so distant cousin “recovering from autism.”

First and foremost, let me just say I am not a doctor, scientist, geneticist nor can I see the future. That being said… no. You have not reversed autism.

Let’s just forget for a moment that autism is not a truck that you can simply throw into reverse and back up, there are countless studies out now about brain activity, wave patterns, synapse connections, brain size and more out there indicating just how different the brain of a person with autism functions in comparison to those without autism. Temple Grandin famously flashed her cerebral cortex on stage to the world.

Sitting down and teaching a child how to say “please” and “thank you” did not reverse any of that.

The fact is that teaching a child in a method that is more unique, one on one and specific to the individual person is going to get better results than tossing a child into a room with a bunch of other children and told to hope for the best.

A child that goes from a parent that knows nothing about autism except that it exists, to a trained, certified and experienced autism therapist is simply going to do better. Do better.

I put do better in bold because doing better is a very distinctly different from “reversing autism.” By teaching a child to say please when they ask for something, have you just altered their genetic make up, brain activity or fundamental core structure? I think not. But you’ve taught them to be kind. That’s nice.

To put it another way, stand up comedians spend years and years in small bars perfecting their routines, their delivery, timing and everything else. That doesn’t mean they are “reversing unfunny.” They were not funny, now they are. They didn’t reverse anything. They got better.

Musicians start out learning what notes are, they mess up scales during practice. They learn how to put chords together. Eventually, they make real music. They didn’t reverse anything. They got better.

Reversing autism is a very misleading term. It’s also a hurtful one. I’m an adult with Aspergers. I learned how to socialize despite hating it, I learned to get people to like me even though I didn’t want to be with them at the time. But nothing about me was reversed. I did better.

That’s a bit of a slap in my face and the face of anyone that works hard to make real progress. To think you can just remove something and presto, they’re a better human being. No, it was hard work, a lot of dedication, real effort. It still is! To strip that all away and say “oh, this is just how you are once we reverse autism” is a real shot to the heart when no, that’s not true at all.

Nothing went backwards in my head. It went forward. I adapted, I learned, I grew. Children do that. Especially with the proper guidance and trained professionals to help them do so.

Stop making it sound like you’re reversing a fever or a rash or an infection or cancer… you’re not.

You’re helping someone do better.

Let that be your headline because that is something to truly be proud of.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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10 Responses to “Reversing autism” and why you’re not

  1. Caroline September 9, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    I really loved this article for many reasons. Thank you for writing this!

  2. littlebitquirky September 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Really well said! I do think the with the proper training and guidance, kids can develop more than saying “please” and “thank you” as you delightfully show with yourself as an example. The can certainly learn what doesn’t come naturally to them. My daughter has made great inroads. But nothing has been reversed or cured. 🙂

  3. Jennifer September 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm #


  4. lisagaylesmith1963 September 9, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    I can appreciate this blog post very much.

  5. Marie September 9, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing/posting this. I hear a similar term often and with people could understand. Will be re sharing in hopes many read this. Thank you again

  6. Chris September 10, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    The best progress I have had in life was when I recovered (or maybe more precisely uncovered) from autism. This is not to say that all my pain has gone away yet, but that the nosological limits of a diagnosis was just that; limits for my progress. The scientific fact is that it is just too many problems with a diagnosis that it can be too much of a help.

    First and foremost a diagnosis is never real, but is a clinical conceptual tool for classification of observations (Jaspers, 1963). In the same way as the social scientist may classify the same people through a conceptual tool of the social space (Bourdieu, 1984), or that Howard Gardner (2011) may classify the same people through a conceptual tool like multiple intelligences. So to uncover from autism is simply to dismiss the medical conception of one self or even cover oneself into another conception.

    When the understanding of nosology; the science of medical classification, is clouded a host of other problems set in, where most is connected to the clouding of seeing autism as something more than a medical classification. One of the classical problem here is that of parallellism (Bergson, 1920; Jaspers, 1963), where a direct connection between the mental state; like a classification of autism, and the physical state, like neurological changes, would involve that an idea become a mirror of reality, idealism becomes a mirror of realism, which is to say that fantasy is reality. The problem of parallellism does not say that mental states may not be connected to physical states, but that it is impossible to connect it directly.

    And then there is the methodological problems, the problems of scientifically evidences. The setting is really not changed for psychopathology since Jaspers (1963) words that the scientist researching causality for the most part end up with “assume to be” sentences. There does not exist any scientifically evidence that autism is a neurological disorder (Joseph, 2006), though there exist a mass of “assume to be”, “indication of” etc., which is nothing more than a hypothesis. With regards to the problem of parallellism thought, there is very unlikely that this hypothesis would become something other in the future, and that neurological changes which lead to similar observations would be classified under a new name.

    Distorting these fundamental problems of nosology and methodology, the history of autism in itself show such an inconsistency, that what is today classified can not be compared to historical cases, making what is searched for undefined to some extent. To Hans Asperger (1956) autism was a personality disorder, to Lorna Wing (1981) a developmental disorder, to Bruno Bettelheim (1967) a post-traumatic disorder, to Eugene Minkowski (Broome, Harland, Owen & Stringaris, 2012) the generative disorder of schizophrenia, to Leo Kanner (1957) a subtybe of schizophrenia. In other words, the history of autism has covered much of the psychopathological spectre, and with the additions of modern neurological perspectives, the scientifically requirments of reliability and validity falls short.

    My personal uncover of autism came through the observation that my problems was not that I was too much into my self, but rather that I had not developed a self. My problems was in fact anti-autistic in the etymological definition of autism. Rather than being extremely introvert (autistic), I was extremely extrovert (both can lead to social and communicative difficulties), and the generator of pain was to live through the definition of others (like the medical science) rather than living through a known self. So to release my pain and fully recover from my problems I have to learn to know myself. I have to, as Nietzsche (Elliott, 2003) said, become who I am. I have to learn to live through the world, rather than letting the world live through me.

    Asperger, H. (1956). Heilpädagogik: Einführung in die Psychopathologie des Kindes für Ärzte, Lehrer, Psychologen, Richter und Fürsorgerinnen. (Second edition). Wien: Springer Verlag.

    Bettelheim, B. (1967). The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: The Free Press.

    Bergson, H. (1920). Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

    Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. US: Harvard University Press.

    Broome, M. R., Harland, R., Owen, G. S. & Stringaris, A. (2012). The Maudsley Reader in Phenomenological Psychiatry. UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Elliott, C. (2003). Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

    Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

    Jaspers, K. (1963). General Psychopathology. UK: Manchester University Press.

    Joseph, J. (2006). The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, and the Fruitless Search for Genes. New York: Algora Publishing.

    Kanner, L. (1957). Child Psychiatry. (Third edition). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

    Wing, L. (1981). Asperger’s syndrome: a clinical account. Psychological medicine 11(1), 115-129.

  7. Flor September 10, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Fantastic explanation, thank you!!

  8. Full Spectrum Mama September 10, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    I’d also like to note here that a lot of what may (or may not) help those of us on the spectrum “do better” is stuff that is available only to people of privilege. As in many areas, those with the resources have more and better options.

  9. Mike Henderson September 10, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Among parents I have noticed a spectrum (no pun intended) ranging from an embrace-the-difference outlook, to those searching for a some sort of reversal. Soon after my son was diagnosed with ASD I found myself in the embrace-the-difference camp. After meeting several other parents I realized this was a selfish point of view, in that my son was on the higher functioning and of the spectrum. In my own anecdotal observations, parents with lower functioning children were more likely to be looking for that reversal.

    In the end we all need to, as you say, do better.

  10. Shelley September 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    What you know as autism may not be what others know as autism. My son regressed at the age of 2, with very few words and destructive behaviors. He lacked interest in anything but sorting toys. His many hours of therapies did very little for him. It has been with biomedical treatment, healing his body, and detoxing him from massive quantities of mercury, that he is recovering from his autism diagnosis. He isn’t just “doing” better. The things that he is doing now haven’t been “taught” to him like having a novel imagination and playing with certain toys appropriately. He hasn’t been taught to make eye contact or to go up to people and say “hi,” nor was he taught to tell us “I love you” spontaneously. His brain is absolutely still developing and changing. Perhaps he was misdiagnosed…and he should have been diagnosed with mercury poisoning instead. But, doctors don’t look at those things. They only look at behavior…and voila, you get an “autism” diagnosis. What they don’t realize is that some autism is very medical in nature…and medical issues can be treated and the individual can heal. In regards to the genetics, have you looked into epigenetics…where the body can change how it expresses certain genes? It is somewhat interesting that those things can change as well.

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