Today, Temple Grandin offers an exclusive NOOK Blog post, answering the straightforward question: What’s the one thing you want everyone to know about autism?
Don’t get locked into labels. Unlike strep throat, autism can’t be diagnosed with a simple laboratory test. In fact, the diagnostic criteria for autism have changed with each new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and they’re changing again with the publication of a new edition. Parents come up to me all the time and say things like, “First my kid was diagnosed with high-end autism. Then he was diagnosed with ADHD. Then he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. What is he?” I understand their frustration. They’re at the mercy of a medical system that’s full of label-locked thinkers—people who get so invested in what the word for the thing is that they no longer see the thing itself. What I say in all these cases is the same: Don’t worry about the label. Tell me what the problem is. Let’s talk specifics. First question I ask parents who want me to advise them is “How old is the kid?” What I might recommend for a three-year-old is going to be completely different from what I might recommend for a sixteen-year-old. Next question is “Does the kid talk?” If he’s nonverbal, that’s one thing. Let’s start trying to teach him and see what happens. If he’s verbal, I’ll say, “How good is his speech?” If the description is too vague, I’ll say, “Give me an example.” Is the child speaking in complete and grammatically correct sentences? Is he speaking only in single words? Does he pronounce words accurately or does he say, as I did, “buh” for ball? And then there’s socializing. Can the kid hold a conversation? Can she place an order at a fast-food counter? Does she have trouble making friends? Sometimes labels can be useful, of course, but not when they get in the way of figuring out what makes each person unique and how best to help that person navigate the world.
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