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Autism as Culture
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Autism as Culture
Autism as culture.
"Culture has been defined in a number of ways, but most simply, as the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings" (Useem & Useem, 1963, p. 169). Or, "the body of learned beliefs, traditions, and guides for behavior that are shared among members of any human society" (Barrett, 1984). Each culture has its own norms that are a unique collection of traits. Culture is to a group of people what personality is to an individual. Cultural traits originate in individuals, who create them to meet some need. However, traits do not become elements of a culture until they are adopted by a large number of the members of a group and passed on to future generations (Parks, 2003). Usually the term culture is associated with racial, ethnic, or regional groups, however, people with autism spectrum disorders come from many different races, ethnicities and regions. Do autistics have a unique culture? Can a group of people with a common condition constitute a culture?
Some authors have compared autistic culture to Deaf culture. Deaf with a captial d is reserved for deaf culture, deaf with small d refers to the audiological condition of not hearing. Like autistics, members from these groups are diverse in race and ethnicity. Nonetheless, it has become widely accepted that there is a unique Deaf culture (Davidson, 2008; Dolnick, 1993). The origins of the Deaf culture is largely psychosocial - Deaf people prefer to communicate and congregate with their own kind. The Deaf have their own language and customs, but Deaf culture does not have all of the elements of other more mainstream cultures such as distinct dress, religious customs or cuisine. The language and customs are so distinct from the hearing culture that they define Deaf culture. Customs related to eye-contact and touching are unique to Deaf culture and are regarded as awkward or inappropriate in hearing culture. Staring and touching are necessary for Deaf communications but are frowned upon in hearing culture. Deaf folklore is based on American Sign Language (ASL) which requires much facial expression and body movement that are generally looked upon as strange in hearing culture. Interestingly, Deaf schools serve as the medium to transmit Deaf culture since most Deaf children have hearing parents. Although the Deaf may outwardly appear to be part of American culture, once they start communicating the uniqueness of Deaf culture is apparent.
Similarly, autistics have unique learned and shared behaviors. For example, many autistics have extreme sensory sensitivities and have developed coping behaviors to manage their responses to the environment. These behaviors include rocking and hand-flapping, which seen as valuable to autistics. However, to
, or those that do not have autism spectrum disorder, these coping behaviors are viewed as highly undesirable (Bagatelle, 2010). The recent surge in electronic communications via the internet has led to the formation of autistic social groups, like the deaf, autistics prefer to communicate and congregate with their own kind. Many autistics describe autism as an inseparable part of themselves; it defines them. The nature of social interactions is defined differently in autistic culture. Proximity to others constitutes socializing; conversation is not needed. Small talk and eye contact are not important in communication. These cultural traits are typical of what neurotypicals view as undesirable ASD behaviors that should be extinguished. Looking at autism as a culture brings into question whether autism is a disorder to be cured or just another way of living. It appears that the Internet is for Autistics what American Sign Language is for the Deaf (Davidson, 2008).
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