When autistic adults aren't quirky geniuses

Cory posted earlier this week about Amy Harmon's excellent profile of an autistic 20-year-old, trying to find a place in the adult world. At her Culturing Science blog, Hannah Waters adds some nice perspective to the praise for Harmon's work, noting that the story represents a rare instance of media portraying an autistic adult who isn't some kind of quirky genius. Her post includes some moving stories about Waters' brother—another non-genius autistic adult—and it's definitely worth reading.


  1. Yeah this gets lost in the media mix sometimes.  My wife has worked with autistic children at a centre that provides very intensive early-intervention treatment and education which is currently (as far as I can tell from my lay research) the best hope for improvement for people with autism.  She’s pursuing a Masters program with the view to continuing in that field. And some of these kids are profoundly disabled, to the point were some or most of them are likely to never function independently in society at large.

    I think those on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, those with the chance to be independent and who can express themselves, look at the way that mental illness is stigmatized by even fairly progressive communities and they, understandably, want to avoid classification as mentally ill, rather as mentally different. And to some extent that is a reasonable goal.

    But its not going to be a suitable goal for everyone diagnosed with ASD.  The very lack of understanding of the causes and treatments for ASD, the breadth of symptoms and behaviours associated with them, makes that apparent. Media portrayals of people with, for example, Aspergers Syndrome, tends to come off as quirky and dysfunctional, rather than socially paralysing, and it can be depending on individual.

    We need more people like Amy and Hannah to offer perspectives on ASD, and it fantastic that they are doing it. Kudos to them and to BoingBoing for presenting it.

  2. I missed Cory’s post of the original and reading it (for the first time) after this piece, I found it interesting to consider from Justin’s perspective. 

    We do all seem to know someone with autism.  I have several friends with autistic children, each with slightly different degrees of social function.  And several of my friends who are engineers are probably undiagnosed borderline cases.

    I applaud that Justin and his family are finding an answer other than a lifetime of disability payments or parental burden.  I hope the kids I know in the spectrum will have as much help.  If I know their parents as well as I think, they’ll do all right.

  3. I didn’t even manage to finish that article. It seemed to say “being autistic isn’t so bad if your family is extremely, insanely wealthy and well-connected”

    Maybe for New York Times readers that’s just assumed.

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