Different? No doubt. But disabled?

In a recent post suggesting the formation of an Alliance for Autism, Mike Stanton raised a few issues on which parents and adults with autism as a group may need to come to some sort of agreement.  One of those issues are the questions:  Is autism a disability or a difference? Can it be both?

More than just an academic debate, the answers to these questions have very definite real world consequences.  Disabilities are covered by various laws, policies, etc. etc..  Differences, on the other hand, are not.  This was brought home to me when I read the aspie:talk post an adult trying to get accomodations. Although his her issues were more related to not having an official diagnosis, the situation presents a good point of comparison.

If treated as a disability, supported by the proper diagnosis, then the company needs to provide appropriate accommodations to allow the employee to work.  If, however, autism is seen as a difference, then the company is under no obligation to provide this employee any unique accommodation.

In a comment to the post, Al had this to say:

i would lay out what accommodations you need in the workplace without referring to the medical issue… which is unsolvable at this point. just state what you need item by item as matters of personal preference, in terms of “developing a comfortable working environment” and “ways they can help you be happier and more productive.” many of the social problems you have are probably going to exist at any workplace, i would guess, i’m not sure to what extent a diagnosis would alleviate the “micro-social” situation.

Obviously, this is an area where parents and adults with autism may have some differing opinions.

Difference, or disability?  What do you think?  Me, I’m still trying to figure out what I think.

5 thoughts on “Different? No doubt. But disabled?

  1. I think it’s both.

    I’m autistic. I am different from other people my age and gender and other stuff. Even other smart, nerdy girls born in the early 80s (and yes, I have a big enough sample size for this to be fair). There are qualitive differences. Some of these are just “oh, well, Kassiane memorizes stuff and looks to the left instead of right when she’s thinking and reads really fast but hates the phone”.

    Other aspects? Disabling. Sensory issues, for example, are a big deal for me. They’re a difference, but they also interfere with every day functioning. Not making eye contact? That’s a difference. Not being able to read people? That’s disabling in our society. Getting overwhelmed TRYING to deal with sensory crap and social crap and all the auditory input when that’s my weakest input by far? Also disabling. Differences in laid back settings, but also disabilities.


  2. I agree with with Kassianne, she makes very good points. As a mom, I see my son struggle with the very same issues she describes.


  3. A non optimal difference in utility occasioning a social and economic disadvantage perceived as a disability in terms of that disadvantage conferred by unwillingness of social and economic institutions to accommodate.

    In other words one is dis enabled to the extent that society does not concede and adapt to the difference or differences confered by alternative neurological configurations whether innate or aquired.

    Sounds like a legalistic style of definition I know, but in essence it is all legally defined.

    Lets say my glasses became very very expensive or otherwise less available than they, then I would be institutionally blinded by my inability to aquire a pair using that model.


  4. Thinking in terms of my granddaughter, in particular, though she’s only five years old but looking towards the future -she’s high functioning pdd-nos but she is different in various ways from other children in her peer groups. And those differences can crop up in ways that are disabilities for her. There is no “either or” scenario here to select from. She has a disability that makes her different, a difference that is disabling in many respects.


  5. My personal view is very well expressed in a couple of the above comments.

    There are the aspects of my son’s Autism that make him different from his peers- but there are more aspects of Autism that are disabling to him. Sensory issues, difficulty with self-regulation, and weak communication skills are a few things that impede my son’s functioning in daily life.

    His differences will require acceptance, his disabilities will require accomodations.


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