Neurodiversity is not the opposite of biomed. Or ABA. Or anything else like that.


I’ve seen a lot of people lately talking about “biomed versus neurodiversity”, and speaking of those of us who are, these days, referred to as neurodiversity advocates, as if we only popped up to deal with this whole “biomed” thing. I’d like to give this some historical context for people who are unaware of this.

Autistic self-advocates have been around for a long time. Many of us were diagnosed with autism in the days when in our countries autism was still seen as caused by parenting and requiring things like psychotherapy. (Many countries, France most notably, still believe this.) We have, collectively, lived through a number of supposed causes for autism, and a number of supposed miracle cures.

Some of those miracle cures, or treatments, were: Psychotherapy, LSD, sensory integration therapy, Doman-Delacato patterning, neuroleptic drugs, Lovaas-style ABA, other kinds of ABA, holding therapy, Son-Rise/Option, Relationship Development Intervention, megadoses of vitamins, GFCF and assorted other restrictive diets, candida diets and antifungals, Secretin, DAN! doctors, and way, way more than this.

Many of us can remember when, relatively recently in fact, it was the diseases in the vaccines that were blamed for autism, not thimerosol (and often it was vaccines without thimerosol that were blamed). And many of us can remember many, many other supposed causes for autism. From the original and traditional demon/fairy-changeling myth to the eerily similar thimerosol-stole-my-child myth, there have been a lot of things in between. All of them have had fervent believers.

During all this, various autistic people have been saying that being autistic is a valid neurological configuration. That one never goes away, but it never seems to be fashionable whenever the next batch of kids is diagnosed and the next batch of parents, knowing very little about autism, latch onto the first thing that makes it sound as if they can “get their children back” if only they believe hard enough and do enough treatments early enough (and give enough money to enough rich doctors…).

The people calling themselves “biomed” are only the latest, and they are not likely to be the last. The next generation of autistic children after this one will probably be facing an entirely different supposed cause, and subjected to an entirely different set of supposed cures. Many of those children will grow up, of course, to write about how they didn’t like that childhood spent with everyone trying to fix them (many, many disabled people say this, in fact, but non-disabled people never seem to get the message), and they’ll have to contend with the parents of the next generation telling them they can’t possibly be autistic, that they’re either too autistic to understand or not autistic enough to understand, that the real cause and cure is…….. [fill in the blank]

I haven’t been around as long as some other people, but even the latest crop of “biomed” stuff seems new to me, and I can remember older and discarded theories espoused with just as much fervor. People who’ve been around longer than me remember even more. The people who are just starting out right now, will remember the current “biomed” stuff when the next craze in autism comes along.

Because it will come along.

And we’ll still be here. And we’ll still be autistic. And the children who are children now will grow up into various varieties of autistic adults, and many of those adults will say the same sort of thing that the neurodiversity people are saying now.

The point here in my long-winded description is that no, the idea of neurodiversity (which is not unique to autism, but seems to constantly be placed in discussions of autism) did not start with combatting the “biomed” thing, nor will it end when the current “biomed” thing fades out of popularity. Any more than the neurodiversity movement was invented by Michelle Dawson to oppose ABA (and that notion wasn’t even that long ago!). Or any other thing like that. It’s more than opposition to any one kind of “cure”, it’s a set of values that underlie ideas that often lead people to oppose popular “cures” of the day.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

2 responses »

  1. Autism is a lifelong disorder, a lifetime of life-changing difference for all of us. My son will always be autistic and will always help to shape and change the world in ways yet unheard of—-the strange beauty of difference esp. of neurodiverse difference, which is a difference we all are only just coming into consciousness of.

  2. As a “biomed” parent who does not view neurodiversity advocates as the enemy, I truly appreciate the operspective you bring to the discussion. from my standpoint, it’s not about advocating a “cure;” it’s about determining — on an individual basis — whether intervention is appropriate and then what form should the intervention take.

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