Lorna Wing is one of the key names in the history of Autism. As a person who worked within the field of psychiatry, specializing in so-called developmental ‘disorders’, it was Wing who popularized the research of Hans Asperger, and the idea of Autism being a spectrum. Wing was also instrumental in the creation of the National Autistic Society. She wrote many books on the subject of Autism, including the 1996 text ‘The Autistic Spectrum: a Guide for Parents and Professionals‘, which even to this day, is considered one of the ‘go to’ books on the subject of Autism, particularly for parents.
But what of the perspectives of Autistic people on this text? It is, after all, very explicit in it’s title: this book is not for us – it is for everyone but us. Why is this? Why is it acceptable to write a book about 70 million+ people worldwide and then specify in it’s title that it is a guide for anyone other than those people? Regarding all of these questions and more, I decided to create my own personal and unique response, as an individual with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, to many of the themes and assertions in this book.
What follows is a subjective analysis. I do not represent, nor do I claim to represent, the views of over 70 million people, and it would be ridiculous for anyone to suggest that I do. What I do endeavor towards is finding different ways of looking at things, questioning things, questioning so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ and challenging existing paradigms on highly divisive topics such as Autism.
Attachment to normality
An attachment to the idea of ‘normality’ is one of the first themes encountered in ‘The Autistic Spectrum’. This attachment arises from a set of expectations a parent has of what there child will be, often leading to resistance to what is. Developmental milestones are only ever a rough approximation and a guideline. Those who have the highest levels of attachment to perceived ‘normality’ are the ones who tend to feel most resentful when confronted with an ostensible lack of it. They are also the ones who have the greatest unconscious fear that they themselves are abnormal. This is why so many parents of Autistic people react with such upset to any perceived signs of ‘abnormality’; they are unconsciously projecting their own fears that they themselves could be perceived as ‘abnormal’ by others. There is no ‘normal’. Neurosis is universal.
Wing speaks of “integration into social life” because she spectacularly fails to spot, as most people do, that “integration into social life”, in human society, is conditional, always has been conditional, and will continue to be conditional until right-thinking human beings unravel this paradigm.
Thus far in human history, the conditional nature of man’s positive regard for his fellow human beings has caused incalculable damage in the world. This theme could be explored in any number of ways, although Miller (1980) explains one such potential result of it in her seminal work ‘For Your Own Good’, describing how virtually all fascist dictators were severely beaten as children. Using the example of Adolf Hitler, Miller explains how on one occasion, the young Adolf was nearly beaten to death by his Father, and was regularly denigrated by his Father in any number of ways, all because he couldn’t/wouldn’t be what his Father wanted him to be. Miller then explains how a lifetime of suppressed rage has to find an outlet, and that probably the most common outlet for suppressed rage is the so-called ‘discipline’ passed down from parents to their children, and that in Adolf Hitler’s circumstances, had he reproduced, he would not have went on to channel his suppressed rage into organizing mass genocide. There are, however, multiple variations on this theme, depending upon the individual in question.
Relating this to Autistic people, the lack of acceptance and unconditional positive regard shown to them is, in my opinion, largely responsible for a variety of issues which affect Autistic people, particularly ‘meltdowns’ and ‘shutdowns’.
Wing speaks of the Autistic person’s capacity to ‘make sense of the world’, but there is no making sense of a world in which suffering is routinely normalized, hidden, dismissed, ignored, invalidated, minimized, mocked or shamed. Suffering unseen is suffering intensified. Suffering invalidated is suffering intensified. The suffering experienced by Autistic people, as and when it occurs, has been lost in the narrative describing the suffering of the parents of Autistic children because their children are ‘abnormal’.
On page 26, Wing refers to “a complex system of values related to the culture in which an individual lives… people with Autistic Disorders are impaired in their ability to distinguish between the important and the trivial”.
The “complex system of values” Wing refers to are both socially and culturally informed, transient, and arbitrary, created via the processes of groupthink and organised tribalism. Furthermore, ‘important’ and ‘trivial’ are entirely subjective terms which, once again, allude to groupthink and tribalism. It is arrogant to impose them on an individual’s set of values, beliefs and priorities, purely because that individual’s values, beliefs and priorities do not reflect the hive mind.
In my opinion, the “lack of interest in others” component of Autism is not an innately Autistic trait, but rather, is an adaptive form of learned helplessness arising primarily from unmet needs, but also possibly insecure attachment and almost certainly a lack of unconditional positive regard.
Wing also alludes to the “idiosyncratic fascination for specific objects or experiences that appear trivial and meaningless to others”. Once again, the only thing that these kind of profoundly arrogant statements have on their side is groupthink. Such an assertion manages to be simultaneously patronizing, ignorant, passive-aggressive, dismissive, cold and isolating. Wing has a way of describing Autistic people which almost portrays them as aliens; intruders from another world who have come here to spoil the fun of the ‘normal inhabitants’ of this world, who are only interested in important, meaningful things. There is a cold and calculated hostility to this level of arrogance which evokes feelings of isolation not just in Autistic people, but in any number of different groups of people whom have diagnoses of so-called mental disorders. Professionals and academics such as Lorna Wing appear to possess a consistently dim awareness of the wider implications of the way in which they use language to describe people with diagnoses in the DSM.
On page 28, Wing describes how Autism can occur with “any level of intelligence”, despite spending a large percentage of the book, consciously or not, trying to prove otherwise. Despite the fact that:
A) The actual diagnostic criteria of Autism specifically refers to a wide range of intelligence
B) Measuring the intelligence of Autistic people is done with a standardized IQ test made by and for non-Autistic people and
C) Endeavoring to measure something as abstract and multi-faceted as human intelligence with a shallow, fatuous, standardized IQ test is analogous to a pathologist trying to carry out an autopsy with a spoon,
A persistent and pervasive smear campaign continues to this day which endeavours to portray Autistic people as unintelligent in every conceivable way. This is in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the form of savant-like levels of genius in rare cases to more commonplace achievements such as being doctors, lawyers or therapists, or even demonstrating any level of skill pertaining to anything.
This creates a double-bind whereby any Autistic person who conveys anything resembling insight, wisdom or intelligence will either have their diagnosis dismissed or will flippantly be labelled ‘high-functioning’ even if they happen to experience extreme meltdowns, anxiety or depression. If, like Temple Grandin, they are both capable of insight, but are unquestionably Autistic, the response is to either portray the capacity for insight as rare, or to marginalize it by making sure any insights do not enter into the collective consciousness regarding Autism. This is why so many people on the Autism Spectrum write blogs in order to have their perspectives heard.