Thursday, 18 April 2013



We have just had World Autism Day.

I read a follow-up story in the local paper informing me that there are between ten and twenty thousand adults with autism living in the city of Birmingham (total population: just over one million) –

The life-long condition affects around 1.1 per cent of the population and sufferers come from all races, classes and intellectual abilities.
It is a spectrum condition, meaning that it affects people differently and to varying degrees...
More than one per cent of the population? Phew! I wonder who they might be, what they have in common with each other that distinguishes them from the rest of the population, what might have brought about whatever it is that affects them, what on Earth is it that causes this – and what enables our society to speak of them with such assurance, as if their 'condition' were a known fact.

I also wonder whether others who read such follow-up articles, here and around the world, will question what they read in such a way. Or just incorporate it unquestioningly, as fact.

As for the technical details paraded above

What they say:
  • autism is a 'condition'
  • this conditions is clearly enough defined to permit an astonishingly high figure for prevalence, (1.1%) – even though this leads to an estimated adult population of astonishing uncertainty ('between ten and twenty thousand')
  • presumably this is because autism is a 'spectrum condition' – construed here as a common supposed cause for qualitatively and quantitatively different developmental outcomes.
I remain unclear. Introduction of race. class and intellectual ability, even if solely to say that they are not relevant, does not help. Autism's mystery remains. Can the autism movement ever be understood in terms of a disorder of human development? Or is it a category error to try?

I do not really understand the politics and micropolitics at work here, and I know it. Do others?


Only on completing the above did I think to see whether the term 'autism schmautism' has been used elsewhere. It has, extensively:

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