Thursday, July 18, 2013

Featured Article: The Politics of Autism Research - By Jon Mason

Jon Mason is the parent of an Autistic Spectrum child and educator. He identifies strongly with Autistic perceptions as well. Jon's site hosts interviews with Autistic Spectrum individuals, a reposting of my "Care and Feeding of Your Aspie" series and his own essays. Jon's site can be seen at

The United States will never fly like a bald eagle if we spend like a turkey.  I have a friend who makes $20,000 per year.  Yet, she purchased a $40,000 car.  She later decided to drop her medical insurance in order to make her car payments.  Then she had a $50,000 injury that put her into bankruptcy.

We all make feel good financial decisions that come back to haunt us.  Government supported research gives us a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  We like the idea of underpaid dedicated researchers laboring day and night to find scientific solutions to our problems.  The noble search for a cure to our environmental and medical problems seems like a wise investment in the welfare of our future decedents.

The scientific search for a solution may lull us into destruction of our environment while we wait for a miracle.  I fear that the answer to our environmental problems might be more bicycles and fewer cars.  This might also be the solution to our medical problems.  I also suspect that my friend would have been better off financially if she purchased a new bicycle instead of a new car.  But who wants to hear that bicycles and walking shoes will solve many of our most urgent problems? I am rather fond of my late model Chevy Cruze with satellite radio, On Star GPS navigation, and extra powerful air conditioner.

My son has autism.  There will be no cure in his lifetime.  Moreover, a search for a cure probably causes more harm than good.  The search enables parents to hold on to a false hope for their children.  The true hope for autism is in the learning to understand and accept people with autism.  We have made remarkable progress in our acceptance of people with strong autistic perception during the past two decades.  We have made almost no progress in the search for a cure.

We should be glad that a cure does not exist at this point in time.  The most plausible strategy for ending autism probably involves advancements in genetic engineering.  We have genetically engineered biodiversity out of our food supply to the point where we may experience ecological disaster in the next century.  We need genetic diversity in our grains to protect our food supply from disease and sudden climate changes.  We also need genetic diversity in humans to protect us from disease and changes in our environment.  Should we genetically engineer autism out of existence, we may do so at the expense of eliminating a future Albert Einstein or John the Baptist.

The divine gift of DNA is more than an instruction set for how to make a new human being.  The DNA is a living record of how our species fought off disease and famine.  It allows our bodies to adapt to our environment through successive generations.  It makes our skin dark or light, our bodies short or tall, and or metabolism fast or slow.

We should respect this divine gift and avoid playing God unless we are prepared for the potential consequences.  This tragedy plays out over and over in the mythology of science fiction:

01. Man kills God.
02. Man makes monster.
03. Monster kills man.

I suggest that we temporarily halt funding the search for a cure to autism.  We should instead take our autistic kids for a walk.  The walk will not cure autism.  Yet, it just might make an autistic kid much happier and the parent a bit healthier.

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