Autism is not a neuropsychiatric challenge

Finnish media has picked up an unfortunate habit of avoiding A-words by using terms such as “neuropsychiatric challenge/difficulty/issue”. Apparently, people believe that this sounds more friendly than talking about disorder. That, however, was a thought that was put to use before thinking was finished.

Autism, for instance, is not a challenge, problem or difficulty any more than it is an illenss, disorder, or flaw. When autism is referred to as a “challenge”, it is still framed negatively. Nobody (except hopefully autistic people themselves) remembers that as a neurotype, autism is a mixed bag that also contains strengths and genuinely positive sides. For example, when an autistic child struggles, this thinking frames autism as source of problems even though in reality root cause is usually discrimination targeted at observed difference and hostile environment that is unwilling to try to understand autistic experience.

Additionally, challenge viewpoint is always an outsider view centered around how (neurotypical people who may thrive in environments that are autism hostile) experiences autism. It does not promote understanding or compassion but normalizes negative attitudes towards autism and autistic people. It does not present the speaker as someone who truly sees autists as their equal and autism as a value neutral neurotype that must be acknowledged but whose existence and visibility are by default ok and a normal part of diversity of humanity.

Challenge discourse always sees autistic people as at least potential sources of problems, while the world around them is seen as very tolerant and patient because it grudgingly tolerates presence of such difficult people instead of driving them away (understanding autism is not that important when the basic idea is, that the root of problem is an individual and therefore, attempts to fix and adapt should target deviant individual instead of nentistic surroundings)

While we are cleaning things up, we could also dump the term “neuropsychiatric” that is outdated, discriminating and upholds mistaken view of autism as mental illness. Autism profoundly is NOT a mental illness. This is acknowledge even in deeply problematic and lacking diagnostic process that is based on exclusion method. Autism is suspected to be cause of an individual’s struggles only after psychiatric illnesses have been ruled out. If a neuro-something term is really neede, terms “neurotype” and “neurominority” are pretty good. As a bonus, they are nouns and as such, discourage people following problematic adjective with a problematic noun. We can, for example, say, that autism is a neurotype and being member of neurominority occassionally produces significant support needs in a society that has been built by and for neurotypical people.

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