There are many adults, diagnosed in their youth, who now write about their experiences of interventions as children. They actively campaign to acknowledge neurodiversity and bring a halt to said interventions. While I can completely understand their frustration and anger, I have to argue that interventions are now vastly different on the whole than those of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
Interventions were rooted in a medical or deficit model, and as such, focus was placed on the child, and the problems that needed to be “fixed”. No cognisance was payed to the environment around the child, the role others around them played in their development, and the quality of life of the individual.
Over the past twenty years we have seen a huge shift towards a holistic approach to intervention with person centred planning prioritised. Now I can almost hear you say, in what magical land is this holistic intervention approach available?
Unfortunately our support services in this country are somewhat of a lottery, and the quality of intervention available differs from county to county, and perhaps even from town to town. However, the fact remains that this is the model that we aspire to, regardless of funding available. I wonder if the adults of tomorrow would view that type of intervention as negatively, only time will tell.
Watching a recent documentary on BBC, Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me, I was struck by one particular comment. Chris was only diagnosed in his forties and was contemplating the effect that intervention could have made to his life. He said “I’ve had to spend my life coming up with ways of coping with this condition by rigorously controlling my environment“. He was living withdrawn from the world in a quiet woods and spent his days with his dog. He had not been to a party in 10 years and had no desire to ever attend one again. Socialising is so uncomfortable for him, that he has actively withdrawn. If Chris had been diagnosed at a young age and experienced holistic interventions cognisant of his needs, with quality of life at the core of the planning, would he have spent so many years struggling for control, or would he still desire isolation? Would diagnosis and recognition have made an impact?
At another autism seminar a number of years ago, I had the pleasure to meet David Jordan, a lecturer of geology in DCU and graduate of UCD. He spoke about his experience of autism, and his diagnosis in his twenties. He spoke about never understanding social interaction, and how a field trip with a fellow student in his early college years was to change this. His friend taught him the art of conversation in a direct fashion and facilitated growth in his social interaction with this “intervention“. He spoke of how, on his eventual diagnosis, the realisation of why he had been socially reclusive had struck him.
With his diagnosis, came comprehension, acceptance of himself and a community to identify with. With this comprehension, he was driven to facilitate social interaction for other individuals with Asperger’s, and his “Aspie meet ups” were born. He presented with passion and confidence, and chatted with fellow presenters, eagerly entertaining us with stories of his past and present interests. I cannot help but think, knowing what I know about his life pre-diagnosis, that this would not have happened without the comprehension which his diagnosis brought. His diagnosis appeared to have enriched his quality of life no end.
I have encountered children who have had their diagnosis removed following intervention, and this always puzzled me. If a diagnosis is made, and we know that autism is an intrinsic part of the individual, how can we then remove it? Akin to painting a car a new colour, if the surface is scratched, the colour still remains. In the years that follow, new difficulties may present and without support, the individual may struggle to comprehend a way through.