The effects of autism on people’s lives are often varied and heavily dependent on the context in which the take place. This paper will consider specific effects that emerge from the condition, both in terms of how they affect those who are diagnosed autistic and those who are their primary carers and relatives. In doing this, it will show that the primary effects of autism can all be shown to depend on the society in which an autistic person lives, as well their relative status within that society. This mediation emerges through confrontation with social stereotypes alongside interaction social institutions designed to mitigate the effects of the condition.
One of the major effects of autism, both on the lives of those live with the condition and on the lives of their carers is being forced to confront existing social stereotypes and opinions regarding the condition. Recent studies have focused on understanding these stereotypes and how they negatively affect individuals and families. Dowe Draaisma claims that these stereotypes vary according to the different social positions of the individuals involved, but also that they can be seen to revolve a certain number of pre-conditions, almost all of which impact negatively on the lives of those whom they affect. Draaisma claims that stereotypes tend to revolve around the image of hyper-intelligent and withdrawn individuals who may be brought into some kind of a reconciliation with society via various modes of treatment or simply through perseverance. Ideas such as this, or the ‘image of the autistic savant having a supercomputer for a brain…may create the myth of autistic persons having no feeling’ (2009, 1479). This myth affects both people who live autism and those who care them. The same author claims that it can, in fact, prove to be the primary barrier that many autistic people face when attempting to develop social connection (1478). As such, when considering one of the primary effects of autism it is possible to state that this effect is in itself entirely socially mediated and comes about as a result of received opinion that is mixed with the media and cinematic portrayal of those with autism.
A second major effect of autism relates to condition directly, although it can nonetheless be seen to be dependent on social conditions and the way in which those who live with autism are perceived. One concerned with the diagnosis and management of autism in children deals with the treatment often deemed to be necessary and the effect that this has on the lives of the children involved. The authors note that it is usually the case that medical treatment is eschewed in the case of early diagnosis and that in ideal situations parents or guardians are encouraged to enrol in whatever treatment centres or schools are available as soon as autism is diagnosed. This requires a strong network of knowledge amongst clinicians whom the author notes must ‘be familiar with community and education resources and laws on educating children with disabilities’ (Blenner, 2011 898). Alongside this, emphasis is placed on the parents or carers who themselves must prepared to engage in an understanding of their child’s condition and to receive counselling from specialists (ibid). The result of this can often be argued to be directly negative as parents may begin to relate to their children as a demand on their time and as a drain on energy and potential for social life. However, the authors also note that if effective intervention is made early enough, then children who would otherwise have suffered severe social problems may be able to maintain social lives amongst peers that would have been almost impossible before the innovation of such treatments (900). As such, it can be shown that a large amount of the impact on the social of both children with autism and those who care them can be effectively mitigated by the work of social institutions and by parents’ ability to interact with these institutions. A life long engagement with them, and the time that this consumes, can be argued to be one of the primary effects that autism has on the lives of carers.
One final effect that can be considered alongside interaction with social stereotypes and interaction with social institutions is the interaction between parents and an autistic child. Several studies exist that show that autism has a detrimental effect on the forming of emotional bonds between parents and children, however the exact specificities of this are difficult to isolate. One study notes, for example, that parental behaviours traditionally associated with fostering attachment in children may be shown to have an opposite or detrimental effect in the case of autism. As such, the author argues that the existence of autism within the child may lead to a situation in which parents are unable to be sure in their parenting strategy and that this may lead to an insecure bond between parents and children (Rutgers, 2007 606). The existence of such a bond can be shown to have a detrimental effect on the mental health of both the child and the parent involved. Once again, however, the authors of the study note that the effects of this may be mitigated by access to relevant treatment centres alongside strategies of parental education that enable carers to understand the potentially detrimental effect of their behaviour (ibid 608).
In conclusion, the essay has drawn attention to several of the effects that autism has on the people who live with it and their carers. It has argued that, alongside the existence of social stereotypes against which these people are incorrectly judged, primary effects can be seen in the way in which parents interact with institutions and in the development of bond between parents and children. As such, it can be argued that each of the primary effects of autism in children can be seen to be mediated by social conditions and institutions.
- Blenner, Stephanie. “Diagnosis and management of autism in childhood.” BMJ. 343 (7829). 2011 : 894-899.
- Draaisma, Douwe. “Stereotypes of Autism.” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences.364 (1522) 2009 : 1475-1480
- Rutgers, Anna H. “Parental Sensitivity and Attachment in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Comparison with Children with Mental Retardation, with Language Delays, and with Typical Development.” Child Development. 78 (2). 2007 : 597-608.