To take just one example – some time ago, some researchers[*] found that when autistics and NTs were given the chance to contribute to charity, with and without observers present in the room, NTs gave far more when someone was present than when they thought they were alone, but autistics gave much the same amount regardless of whether they had company or not.
This could have been framed as an example of inherent honesty or high principles in autistics – but nooooo. Instead, a new term was coined - ‘reputation management’, which, it was decided, we were deficient in!! This, they said, was due to our lack of ‘theory of mind’. The possibility that we might very well know that others will think better of us if we contribute larger amounts to charity, but regard this as irrelevant, judging said charity on its own merits, never seems to have occurred to the researchers. That we might think ‘managing our reputation’ (ie presenting a false image of ourselves) an inherently dishonest, even unethical, thing to do also never seems to have occurred to them. Sigh. Once again, results that could have been structured as ‘autistic-positive’, or at least neutral, instead become ‘autistic-negative’.
A deeper and more worrying example is the research into the ‘causes’ of autism. It too usually seems to take as its starting point the assumption that the world is better off without us, that there is little or nothing positive that we bring to the world. Much of this research has almost ludicrous results – the list of ‘causes’ of autism that appear regularly as ‘Scientists-Have-Found-Possible-Cause-of-Autism’-type articles trumpeted in newspapers or online, includes (ta-dah) …motorway traffic, corn syrup, older mothers, older fathers, diesel fumes, Lyme disease, too much androgen, copper pipes, prematurity, low birth weight, high birth weight (contradict much?), environmental chemicals, organic foods (those last two also seem contradictory), anti-depressants, smoking during pregnancy, diabetes during pregnancy, too little oxytocin (the ‘bonding hormone’), Clomid (it’s your mother’s fault for wanting you), specific facial or finger or other physical features, faulty immune system in the mother, having a big head, being a big baby (really? So how come smallest-birthweight-me has autism, but none of my bigger-brawnier-birthweight-sibs do?), being second or later-born (I’m first-born), being born close together, being a twin, being born via IVF, even being born in summer, circumcision, and the Internet… I kid you not. And this list doesn't include the Hoary Old Standards of refrigerator mothers, vaccines, missing gut enzymes or mercury. (Do you get the feeling the scientists are kind of grasping at straws?)
Some autism research, into the genetics of autism for instance, could be a good thing (eg in convincing many that we are not just ‘badly behaved’, ‘spoiled brats’, etc), but could also be used against us – most especially to develop prenatal tests that could see us become as decimated as those with Downs Syndrome are becoming – and as gays, lesbians, transsexuals, etc, might once have been, if such tests had been devised before the coming of the gay liberation movement.
But where is the research that would actually help us manage our daily lives better, cope with the world better, have fewer meltdowns and sensory overloads, etc, etc; or the research into why, for instance, some autistics can communicate verbally, and some can’t? Where are the surveys to find out just how many autistics there really are amongst the adult population? (I know of only one such, undertaken in the UK, and it has been criticised.) Where is the research that is either autistic-neutral, or autistic-positive?
Nothing less than a total re-framing of the grounds on which research is done, the assumptions behind all of it, is necessary and urgent, when it comes to autism. Anything else is likely to lead to our eventual eradication, and the destruction of our unique contributions to the world.