Monday, December 7, 2015

Autism Cure?

I recently saw a study about a possible link between oxytocin during birth and autism. According to the scientists, rodents given a certain drug which blocks the oxytocin led to a higher rate of rodent autism. Obviously this must be taken with a grain of salt as they are rodents and not humans or even primates. They also do not have the verbal ability to demonstrate human style autism. However, with that said, this seems to make sense to me. One of the biggest issues with autism is difficulty with personal relationships. From my understanding, that is the purpose of oxytocin. In my limited medical knowledge (primarily 11 seasons of ER and Wikipedia), I understand oxytocin as the chemical released during bonding, which furthers the bond. Therefore, if the study is correct and can be applied to humans, it makes sense. If the chemical is lacking during pregnancy and/or labour, then that would (in my opinion) explain why autistics such as myself have social problems.

This study and it's conclusions may be proven wrong. Whether because the study was done on rodents or because of misunderstanding of the results. However, if it actually proves true for humans with autism, I have a few questions. (These go for any studies claiming to have a cure or therapy for autism.) First, what symptoms are affected? Second, does it treat all levels of the spectrum? Third, does it treat all ages? Fourth, if it does actually affect all levels and ages, do I even want to be cured? Clearly, I cannot currently answer the first three questions. However, I would like to hash out the final query.

Before I do, I want to remind you I am on the high functioning end of the spectrum. I have high intelligence and moderate to low social skills. This is as opposed to different parts of the spectrume where intelligence can be high or low, but social skills are almost always low to none. In a way, I am the privileged in autistic terms. I largely do not have trouble with work and certainly do not need 24 hour care. At worst I struggle with empathy, though different forms of therapy have helped me tremendously. Again, while I am still on the spectrum, I am high functioning. I write this to not only inform you but even to remind myself. Would I want to be cured of my lack of empathy and my inability to read social cues? Yes, I would love it. However, if it also came at the expense of my intelligence, almost eidetic memory, and analytical abilitiy, I don't think I would. I would rather do therapy than have a “cure.” I simply feel my strengths outweigh my weaknesses.

Now for others on the spectrum, perhaps they may consent. While they may be savants in math, music, or another subject or skill, the desire to be a more fully functioning member of society may make it worth the risk for them. That is an extremely difficulty choice. It is, in my mind, not just a yes or no question, but one that must be decided in ethical terms. Since it may be awhile until we not only have a truly visible “cure,” I ask that you support individuals and their families that are affected. You can directly reach out to them. If you familiarize yourself with the symptoms of various parts of the spectrum, you could perhaps notice that your friends' quirks are more than just quirks. If you have a friend or family member with the symptoms and you're close, it could be beneficial to them for you talk to them about the possibility. (Please, remember, this would be an extremely delicate topic.) For myself, my discovery was not an excuse but a relief. I have no idea how it would have changed my life to know sooner, but I can imagine it would be for the better. However, you can also help indirectly by donating to organizations that support autistics and their families, such as the National Autism Association. For further reading, please check out the post on Forbes and the article from Science.

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