Opinion

Maybe autism doesn’t need to be cured

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, recognized as among the world’s leading authorities on autism spectrum disorders, recently spoke out against the possibility of a pre-natal genetic test for autism, citing concerns that such information could be used to selectively abort autistic fetuses. Why is this? Is Baron-Cohen a strong pro-life advocate? If he is, he gave no such indication, pointing instead to the benefits of having autistic members of society.

At this point, many people are undoubtedly scratching their heads. According to conventional wisdom, autism is a debilitating lifelong disability that leaves the victim tragically unable to develop basic life skills, and in the popular consciousness it is loosely associated with mental retardation. What benefits could there possibly be to keeping autistics around? That autism comes with its own set of challenges is undeniable; many autistics have a difficult time navigating social nuances and have difficulty in interpersonal relationships. Autistics may also be affected by other problems, such as sensory integration disorders or epilepsy, which is much more common among autistics than in the general population.

However, the reality of autism is not all bad. Professor Baron-Cohen previously published a number of studies showing a strong relationship between autism and mathematical ability. Indeed, the prestigious Cambridge University, at which he teaches, allegedly has one of the highest rates of autism in the world. Other studies have shown autistics shine in spatial skills and pitch discrimination. A study from the University of Florida uncovered that high-functioning autistics were better than non-autistics at discriminating “false memories.” Keio University Medical School alleges that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have superior fluid intelligence, and therefore are better at abstract reasoning and pattern analysis. Even the hallmark deficit of autism – emotional detachment – may in some circumstances be advantageous. A recent study from Caltech found that autistics, less likely to be swayed by emotion, were better able than their non-autistic peers to make rational decisions. Autistic spectrum disorders are also known to be much more common among students in fields such as mathematics, engineering and computer science. Many common characteristics of autism, such as attention to detail, superior spatial skills, attentive memories and an almost-obsessive focus on a special interest, can serve to enable autistics to excel in various fields, most commonly technical fields such as engineering or computer science.

Nor is Baron-Cohen alone in his opposition to a pre-natal test for autism. The nearly unanimous opinion of researchers in the field is that autism has both its benefits and its drawbacks, and that the correct approach is to help autistics cope with their difficulties while cultivating their unique gifts. The continued drive to find a “cure” for autism is misguided at best and, in the words of Baron-Cohen, risks that we may “inadvertently repeat the history of eugenics or inadvertently ‘cure’ not just autism but the associated talents that are not in need of treatment.”

January 21, 2009

Reporters

Spencer Carran

Contributing Columnist


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday evening: ▪ UM coach Mark Richt has explained his decisi ...

The Miami Hurricanes had traveled half the field to start the second half when coach Mark Richt enco ...

Jeremiah Payton was one of those prospects the Miami Hurricanes coveted from just about the time he ...

The Miami Hurricanes’ secondary continues to get stronger. Miami, which already holds a pair of comm ...

Mark Richt said he’s spending the bye week evaluating everything about Miami’s offense, a process th ...

University of Miami changes program title of Women’s and Gender Studies to Gender and Sexuality Stud ...

Two families with deep ties to Miami—the Millers and Fains— celebrate two endowed faculty chair appo ...

A fabulous team of staff and volunteers labors long and hard, primed with school spirit, behind the ...

The University of Miami remembers alumnus Erik Hauri—the man who discovered water on the moon. ...

Through an innovative program, Miami Law students are empowering local high schoolers to think like ...

University of Miami head coach Gino DiMare released the Hurricanes' 2019 baseball schedule Thur ...

Senior Dew Weber of the University of Miami golf team continued to march towards her professional go ...

The University of Miami soccer team dropped its ACC road match against NC State, 1-0, Thursday night ...

The University of Miami men's tennis team will take part in the ITA Southeast Regional Champion ...

The University of Miami women's swimming & diving team returns to competition this weekend, ...

TMH Twitter
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.