Intrinsic and Extrinsic Impairments.
Phil Schwarz post makes a really useful contribution to the discussion of my previous post about Problems Ahead.
I think that there needs to be more emphasis on the important distinction between *handicap* and *impairment*. That distinction allows us to examine — and mitigate — that part of disability that is socially constructed, via change in the society, while not losing count of the part of disability that is physical and intrinsic. On the contrary, keeping the distinction between handicap and impairment in mind allows us to better identify and mitigate impairment that is truly intrinsic and truly impairment, as such.
I recently watched a video of the recovered children on parade at the 2005 DAN! Conference in Long Beach. It was obvious to me from their manner and the way they talked to the host that some of these children were autistic. With the others it was impossible to tell. The parents were convinced that their children were “recovered” from autism. So were the audience. These children were better. But how much of it was the relief of extrinsic impairments?
My take on this is that these parents do not distinguish the extrinsic from the intrinsic. They see autism as an extrinsic thing – brought on by vaccines or allergies or some other environmental insult. They are not alert to the possibility that autism is intrinsic to their children and that the environmental events that impact on their children can be quite subtle. They are the sort of parents I had in mind when I wrote about ‘miracle cures’ in my book.
Children with Autism typically inhabit a world of chaos, our world. Their impaired ability to share in our common sense interpretation of experience leads them to impose their own uncommon sense of order and meaning. This can lead them to act in ways that are quite at odds with our ideas of appropriate behaviour. So we cajole, threaten, plead and generally respond in ways that add to their confusion and confirm them in their own version of reality. We seem quite mad and not to be trusted.
Then their Autism is recognized and we change. We follow more consistent programmes of behaviour management. We stop punishing them for non-compliance. We lose our sense of powerlessness and frustration. We think we know what is going on now and are calmer and more predictable. We may start them on a course of medication or a special diet or visit a therapist. We begin to lose our own guilt and anger and no longer project them subconsciously onto our offspring. And they improve. Surprise! Surprise! They may still be autistic but their autism is no longer so disabling and we are able to enjoy our children and teach them to enjoy us.