The uncertain future of diversity

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Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a tricky, tricky business.

Currently, this is done almost entirely by observing and assessing behaviour – looking for at least six of 12 possible symptoms associated with social impairment, communication impairment and, according to the most recent diagnostic criteria, “a restricted repertoire of activities and interests.” This somewhat subjective process doesn’t always produce accurate results, particularly in evaluations of older individuals who have learned to mask many of their autistic traits in order to more successfully navigate a neurotypical world.

However, this might not be the case for long.

In December 2017, a leading health care diagnostics company called LabCorp obtained a patent on a new method for potentially diagnosing ASD. With this method, a small tissue sample can be tested for genetic sequences that, according to the Burlington Times-News, may indicate “the presence or an increased risk of developing (ASD).”

Not only could this test be performed on children and adults who exhibit existing diagnostic criteria, but could also identify these genetic sequences in fetuses – giving expectant mothers a chance to adjust to the “bad news” before their child is even born. Or, giving them the option to terminate the pregnancy.

It wouldn’t be unheard of. In 2004, Denmark began offering pregnant women the opportunity to assess their developing baby’s chance of having Down syndrome (DS) through a nuchal ultrasound. Ten years later, according to Denmark’s CPH Post Online, “98 per cent of pregnant women who were revealed to be carrying an unborn child with DS chose to have an abortion.”

The article even predicts within 30 years, DS could be “a thing of the past.” Eugenics for the win, am I right?

While a more definitive testing method could help many undiagnosed autistic people access support and resources, I’d hate to see a future where 98 per cent of pregnant women choose abortion over the possibility of raising an autistic child.

Although autism “rates” are thought to have risen in recent decades, the symptoms now associated with ASD certainly aren’t anything new. In fact, some of history’s most important and influential figures are thought to have been on the spectrum, including Mozart, Darwin, Michelangelo, Newton, Tesla and even Einstein.

Due largely to their atypical neurology (and that “restricted repertoire of activities and interests,” no doubt), these innovative thinkers provided society with valuable scientific, technological and artistic contributions – contributions we continue to benefit from to this day. What is to be gained by eliminating the neurodiversity that helped make these advancements possible?

To me, a world without autism offers a bleak and uninteresting future. We should strive instead to create a world where diversity of all kinds is not only accepted, but welcomed and embraced.

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