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What Do You Think: Are Autistic People "Ill?"

By November 8, 2006

Google alerts sent me this headline from a newspaper in Wales:

Finding jobs for autistic victims

Newport 30-year-old Joe Powell thought he was a hopeless failure when he was sacked from his job with a police force for "a lack of communication. " Then he discovered he had Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism) and realised he was ill, not incompetent.

The article goes on to explain how relatively small changes in the workplace plus a dose of understanding made all the difference for Joe.

There was nothing wrong with the article overall, but it struck me strangely, because I've never thought of autistic people as "victims" of an "illness," but rather as people with mild to radical differences in how they think and perceive. In fact, autism is not classified as a mental illness, along the lines of schizophrenia or depression. Instead, it's generally described as a developmental disorder or delay.

What's your take on this? Are autistic people victims of an illness -- or should autism be described quite differently?

November 8, 2006 at 10:35 am
(1) mcewen says:

I can think of many descriptions that are used to label autistic people, but ‘victim’ and ‘illness’ do not seem a good match in my experience. Cheers.

November 10, 2006 at 9:16 pm
(2) Cynthia Whitfield says:

I can see why autism can be described as an illness in some cases. After all, people get what is a called a medical diagnosis for it.

And if some people’s autism is caused by environmental chemicals or other agents or medical events which damage the brain, then I would consider that an illness, although not a mental illness, but a physical illness.

I’ve read about some people who developed the symptoms of autism after having several seizures which is definitely a medical event.

In addition, an awful lot of people with autism have physical issues such digestive problems.


November 10, 2006 at 9:21 pm
(3) Cynthia Whitfield says:

Oh, and by the way, I do see my child as a victim. He is a victim of the agent(s) that cause his severe disabilities. These are great, and I can’t rationalize away the negative impact his disabilities have had on him.

This doesn’t mean he never has any joy, but looking at it honestly, I have to admit that many things about his life are greatly compromised by his disabilities.


November 17, 2006 at 8:28 pm
(4) June says:

I don’t think autism is an “illness”. It is a disorder that I think most people who have it are born with. There brain functions differently than the average person. My grandson has been diagnosed autistic and he was definitely a little different from day one. But he is a wonderful, delightful little boy who is doing very well. He will probably have more challenges in his life that his little brother who is not autistic at all. But many of us have challenges, some more than others.


March 3, 2007 at 8:59 pm
(5) John says:

When we lose our jobs because of our differences, that makes us victims. Being different doesn’t make us victims. Words like that only exist for clarification and classification resulting in a solution or possible treatment. There is no reason to call it that when such words do not help us. We are only victims when we are mistreated by those who say they care for us or will help us.

August 20, 2011 at 11:04 am
(6) skarl says:

no, I don’t think I am ill, or that I am a victim, although I HAVE PDD-nos (not a self diagnose) wich is verry similar to asperger’s, but it has advantages and disatvantages. most people only see the disadvantages.

although I often not know how other people feel like, this only makes me verry carefull to say something that may hurt them if I misjudged their mood. also, most of the time, I can determine what someone feels by thinking: ‘what would I feel like if I was in this situation?’ and I end up verry close to the truth if I do so. yeah, some people do think I am weird, but hey, people who dislike you only because you act other than others are not worthy the trouble anyway.

my pdd-nos also makes it possible for me to focus on things: handy if I have to make my homework, not so handy if lots of things have to be done. also, I sometimes have to think ‘oh, don’t forget to smile, or they’ll think I am sad’

I have been bullied, I have made many mistakes, but what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. if you don’t know me well, you won’t even notice that I have pdd-nos. to my fellow autist’s I would say: keep trying and practicing! keep optimistic and try not to be different than you are! and to neurotypicals: don’t be afraid of people who are different!

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