All this talk is an improvement over the painful silence that prevailed through most of the 20th century, when psychiatrists wrongly blamed autism on “refrigerator mothers,” making it a source of shame for families. But there’s one way in which things haven’t changed much: The people most often sidelined or excluded from the public discussion are autistic themselves. It is often assumed that the experts, or the parents of people on the autism spectrum, will do the talking in their stead.
For a couple of decades now, Americans have been engaged in a wide-ranging and often heated conversation about autism. About what causes it, whether there’s more of it than there used to be, and whether it can be cured. About whether autism is a disorder, a disability or a different way of being. About whether the condition is overdiagnosed or underdiagnosed, and which early interventions are most helpful for children.