I had stepped away from the squall that Suzanne Wright kicked up around Autism Speaks. I wanted to get back to my roots and focus on Dmitry’s goofiness, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the wisdom of this article with my readers.
This is a concept I’ve touched on before, namely the question “Where does Dmitry end and autism begin?” Who is Dmitry the 3 year old, who is Dmitry the autistic, and who is Dmitry the person? And can it ever really be answered with certainty? There is no “Baseline Dmitry” onto which autism has layered, adhering, infecting. It is pervasive in his lifelong development, and research even suggests his very genetic makeup as well. Dropping Dmitry into a “normal brain” might actually be best explained as a meaningless absurdity, as it would not yield another Dmitry at all.
Consider the paradox of the Ship of Theseus. Theseus is the consummate captain, taking most excellent care of his ship. With every rip in the sail, he replaces the sail rather than suffering unsightly patches. With every boom that shows the wear of the sea, he scraps it in favor of freshly dried, fully tarred lumber. Each decaying plank is swiftly replaced, until eventually, over the decades, not a toothpick remains of the original ship. The philosopher’s question is: “Is this the same ship, or a new ship?”
This paradox applies to the human condition equally well: as I grow and mature and age, a plank is stripped and a snapped oar replaced and a new sail unfurled. Does this mean I am “the same man” at age 32 as I was at age 21? Most of us would say “no”.
Now consider that every timber of Dmitry’s ship has been varnished with the pervasive influence and unique perspective of autism. The only way I could strip away and “cure the autism” is to leave nothing behind. Scrap the ship and build a new one all at once. I might have a shiny new ship, but my son as I know him would be no more.
Autism Speaks has the stated goal of elimination and a cure. I fear that this path will lead to the conclusion that it is better for there to be no child at all than an autistic child. And, ultimately, better no person at all than an autistic person.