Autism and the Debate over Finding a “Cure”

By Sanika Natu, M.A Clinical Psychology

“Is there a cure for autism?”— A question that you might’ve encountered countless times or even wondered about yourself at least once throughout your child’s autism journey? For years, researchers have wondered the same while trying to ‘discover’ this miraculous solution.

Now, we see a drastic shift in the realm of autism research— it has repositioned itself from trying to find a ‘cure’ to focusing on helping autistic individuals lead happier and healthier lives.

Previously, researchers put a lot of emphasis on finding ways to eliminate symptoms of autism. However, we now see a substantial shift in this outlook.

Who gets to decide or define the boundaries of normality anyway?

The whole debate around why autism does not need a cure is worth talking about.


Here’s why experts and advocates do not see a need for a cure for autism:


A Difference in Wiring Does Not Mean ‘Broken’ Wiring

While the diagnosis of autism isn’t a sole defining feature of an individual’s overall identity, it is still an integral part of his/her identity. Many autistic individuals argue that the perspective of looking for a cure for autism points toward trying to extinguish a part of their identity.

In the words of Temple Grandin, “If I could snap my fingers and be non-autistic, I would not—because then I wouldn’t be me. Autism is part of who I am.”


The Anatomy of Autism is Not the Same as Other Medical Conditions

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder; a stable neurological condition that results from varied neurological wiring and is not a deficit of any kind. Unlike other medical conditions, autism is not a progressive condition. Moreover, researchers have not been able to pinpoint a single gene that causes this disorder. It affects every individual uniquely.


A Second Perspective: Since autism exists on a spectrum, the severity changes from individual to individual. Hence, individuals severely affected might wish to seek treatment

There is, however, another side to this debate. The parents of children or individuals, who are highly impaired, generally support or see the need for a cure. Children severely affected by autism face a lot of difficulties in their day-to-day functioning and this has debilitating effects on their mental well-being.

Some conditions co-morbid with autism include severe language delays, gut problems, or epilepsy.  It is easy to see why parents would seek treatment options for these conditions. After all, every parent wants their child to live their best life.


Given the Uniqueness of Autism, it is Important to Leave Room for Differing Opinions

Both sides of this debate present opinions and perspectives that are reflections of their own unique experiences. Blatantly rejecting or criticizing any one of these perspectives would be like discounting someone else’s a very real experience of autism.

As parents of children on the spectrum, whatever side of this debate you agree with or relate to, you must remember that your experiences and emotions are valid.

We must find a happy balance within these perspectives so as to avoid glossing over or disregarding someone else’s circumstances.

Let’s actively discourage using terminologies like ‘fixing’ or ‘getting rid of autism’ and focus on embracing our children’s uniqueness. At the same time, let’s work towards seeking the best solutions for some of the debilitating components of autism.

As a parent or a caregiver of an autistic child, know that wanting to seek treatment or therapy for your child in no way implies that you wish to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ them.

While there are days that seem hopeful and joyous, there will indeed be days that feel exhausting and overwhelming. While every family’s journey of autism is remarkably unique, there will certainly be obstacles and challenges to overcome.

Seeking some extra help and support to try and get through these exhausting days in no way makes you an inadequate parent.


“Sanika Natu has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and has experience in working with children.

Sanika is passionate about destigmatizing mental health in India, and her work in that area includes a study on emotional empathy, resilience and mental well-being among young adults, besides writing articles for iSmartmoms.”

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