D is for… DSM 5 and Deficits 

D in this post is for two things – the DSM 5 and Deficits. Sadly they are closely related. If you haven’t come across it before, the DSM 5 is the diagnostic manual which includes the clinical criteria for autism – among other things. And deficits – well, in the context of autism, deficits is all about focussing only on what autistic people can’t do and limiting their inclusion through this. The DSM 5 basically lists a range of things autistic people can’t do or struggle with and has no reference to any of the positives of being autistic. It is quite a depressing read!

It is tricky. The reason it is tricky is that many autistic people actually do need supports in order to navigate the world. To access these supports you have to prove how disabled you are. Basically you have to tell the organisation providing the funding how much you can’t do in order to get supports and funding. 

Sadly this goes against everything advocates like myself think is good. While I also don’t like the idea of ‘autistic superpowers’, focussing on deficits is very harmful. You get parents telling their autistic kids how amazing they are and then they sit in a funding meeting and hear their parents say how difficult their life is and everything the kid can’t do and  what they struggle with. This is understandably very confusing! 

The thing is that while we can often do amazing things we also often need support. I don’t know how to reconcile this issue. I don’t use the ‘D’ in ASD (autism spectrum disorder) because I do not think I am disordered, but I do need to access support as well. I think the world needs to be more aware of the complexity in this space. I am autistic and the things I do change the world but I am also autistic and life can be challenging. These things can occur at the same time. I think a lot of people are not very able to keep conflicting thoughts in their mind. It is often seen as ‘either / or’ when in fact there is a complexity there.

So please don’t tell me everything I can’t do but also please don’t assume because I have prodigious skills in one area that I don’t ned help and support. Simply viewing autism through the deficits lens is not going to help anyone – and it would be nice if the DSM 5 also focussed on the positives. 

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