On Brain Transplants

Usually I can go a long and happy time without needing to think about the hypothetical “cure” question.  But I’ve had a few disparate thoughts lately, probably because I’ve been taking a class in the history & philosophy of psychology, so I’ll relate them here.

There are two basic conceptions of “cure.”  One sees a cure as essentially a brain transplant, the other sees cure as about improving independent functioning, removing impairments.  You cannot easily divide up who supports or attacks which cure into strict camps of “NDs” and “Curebies,” and I will not attempt to.  Nor will I talk, so much, in this post about whether or not various views come from a deeper-seated fear and hatred of Autism.  I believe it is possible to hold either conception of a cure while either accepting or attempting to eradicate autism although obviously it will have some influence on what course of action towards a cure you advocate.

To be honest, I don’t even like using the word “cure,” as though Autism is cancer—which is simply not medically true.  But I think there may be some be common ground between the various factions in the Autism community.  For example, if “cure” is defined as “improvement in independent functioning” and evidenced by the gradual acquisition of, for example, the ability to communicate in complete sentences, generate original content, or converse?  Then I, for one, would be considered “pro-cure,” as would a great many of my also incidentally pro-neurodiversity friends.  Not, perhaps, “Autism is the devil” or “Autism is to blame for everything” or “Autism HAS my child” or “Cure at any cost.”  But pro-cure nonetheless.

It can be hard, however, to separate a pro-cure stance focusing on functioning with one which demonizes Autism and calls for, essentially, brain-transplants.  In addition, there is a great deal of disagreement about what, exactly, constitutes a “brain transplant,” as it were.  And—here it gets a bit wonky—this disagreement seems to stem from two basic issues.

1. Is it desirable to want your Autistic child to become Neurotypical?

2. Is there a difference between mind/personhood/personality/self and the brain?

If you believe that there is your child and then there is his brain, and the two are separate, then it makes sense to consider making his brain as typical as possible because you don’t believe you are changing who your child fundamentally is.  But if you don’t share that belief, you will probably be adamantly anti-cure in this sense.

Personally, I prefer not to think about cures, and just focus on improving functioning and celebrating the person they are and letting them be a child. Working towards autonomy, not neurotyplicity. I am, in a sense, pro-cure.

I’d just like to see more people acknowledging the common ground.

Julia Bascom’s On Brain Transplants appears here with her permission.  Julia currently blogs at flashback dream sequence.

on 06/14/10 in Autism, featured | No Comments | Read More

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