June 18th is Autistic Pride Day, a day to celebrate the neurodiversity of people on the autism spectrum. Too often, autistic people are viewed as only autistic, and it’s seen strictly as a disorder. As always, the full picture isn’t drawn in black and white: it’s complex, full of grays. At TED, scores of speakers have plumbed the depths of not only what autism is and why it develops, but also what it offers. Here’s a look at some of them:
Faith Jegede: What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers
Jegede explains how her two autistic brothers are “bypassed and misunderstood” by most people, who don’t understand (and don’t make an effort to understand) who her brothers are and the ways in which they’re unique. To Jegede, they’re incredible: “I cast my mind back to the things that they’ve taught me about individuality and communication and love, and I realize that these are things that I wouldn’t want to change with normality. Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us.”
Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds
Grandin, who is autistic, explains that she is particularly attentive to detail and that she thinks in pictures rather than words–an ability that has given her a tremendous amount of insight in her work with animals. Grandin argues that people on the autism spectrum offer invaluable skills and perspectives.
Andrew Solomon: Love, no matter what
In his talk about children who are different from their parents in a variety of ways, Solomon touches on autism, quoting activist Jim Sinclair: “When parents say, ‘I wish my child did not have autism,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I wish the child I have did not exist and I had a different, non-autistic child instead.’” Solomon explains, “People engage with the life they have and they don’t want to be cured or changed or eliminated. They want to be whoever it is that they’ve come to be”—-and be accepted and loved for being that complex, flawed person.
Aditi Shankardass: A second opinion on developmental disorders
According to Shankardass, one in six children has a developmental disorder–but they’re mostly diagnosed on the basis of their symptoms rather than their brain activity. Using new technology that measures the brain’s electrical activity, doctors like Shankardass are able to render more accurate analyses of what’s going on inside their patients’ heads. For instance, she describes a child who was misdiagnosed as autistic, but who was in reality suffering from brain seizures. Only when doctors really understand what’s happening with their patients can they help them achieve their own greatest potential.
Ami Klin: A new way to diagnose autism
Klin, an autism researcher, describes the huge range of autism’s manifestations, what autism looks like, and a new early detection mechanism. Klin argues that autism “creates itself” during a child’s early years, as he drifts further away from the world of social interaction, so that early detection might also mean prevention.