What happens if we do pre-natal tests for Autism? Neurodiversity, autistic culture, advocacy and the spectrum.
It looks like pre-natal tests for autism may be on the horizon. These scare the hell out of me, for many reasons, but principally because the implications of potentially losing people on the autistic spectrum means a great loss to society.
Pre-natal tests could prove helpful for parents of the autistic community, where they are used to detect autistic traits early, and in turn could lead to better early intervention measures.
Early interventions for those on the autistic spectrum can ameliorate the disabling aspects of the disorder whilst developing on the positive aspects of being non-‘neurotypical’.
Terms like ‘high-functioning’, ‘neurotypical’ and others which focus on the disabilities of autism fail to take into account the ‘difference’ that Prof Baron-Cohen discusses in the comment below:
I do think there is a benefit in trying to help people with autism-spectrum conditions with areas of difficulty such as emotion recognition. Nobody would dispute the place for interventions that alleviate areas of difficulty, while leaving the areas of strength untouched. But to talk about a ‘cure for autism’ is a sledge-hammer approach and the fear would be that in the process of alleviating the areas of difficulty, the qualities that are special – such as the remarkable attention to detail, and the ability to concentrate for long periods on a small topic in depth – would be lost. Autism is both a disability and a difference. We need to find ways of alleviating the disability while respecting and valuing the difference.
I discuss Autism Rights and Autism Advocacy at some length (though not as much as I’d like to) in my Autism Talks series that I am still giving around the country for Skeptics in the Pub. More on that here: www.tannice.co.uk/public-speaking/
Professor Baron-Cohen makes some fascinating comments in the comment piece that inspired this post, firstly;
“The whole ethos behind medicine is to do no harm and if the test is only 80% accurate, it means a proportion of people will be told they have the condition when they don’t, so you’ve raised anxieties unnecessarily. Equally if the test is missing people, then they’ll be going away thinking I’m fine when they could be getting support.”
Screening for any illness means that there is a risk of both over- and under-diagnosing potential issues. This is common throughout medicine in the cases of Cervical Cancer* as well as Prostate Cancer (PSA tests), Breast Cancer, Colorectal and other disease screening that takes place on what Dr Margaret McCartney (and other doctors) refer to as the ‘worried well’. Dr McCartney also has views on charity and pharmaceutical industry interests with respect to screening, as well as private health screening, which is another topic entirely, not for this post.