How does one frame “disability” in special and unusual circumstances?
Perhaps it is rather straight forward in the case of physical disability, especially in the more obvious cases. We tend to understand more easily what we can see, visual representation is extremely strong, hence the phrase, “Seeing is believing,” and its variations.
What about the hidden disabilities, like mental illnesses or neurological anomalies?
Autism Spectrum Condition, as the name indicates, is a spectrum condition. A widely heterogeneous one, and new studies are showing that a considerably high percentage fall into the ‘higher functioning’ category, i.e. not intellectually challenged.
Some individuals within this ‘higher functioning’ category may present as quite obviously autistic, exhibiting the hallmarks of executive dysfunction, as well as social and proprioceptive awkwardness. However, there are others, perhaps even higher up in the spectrum and / or less severely affected by the downsides of autism, who may not show any signs of the condition upon superficial observation.
How do we ‘frame’ a disability such as Autism Spectrum Condition, especially with regards to the ones who have managed, through self-intervention strategising and extremely arduous and meticulous coping mechanisms, to present themselves as ‘normal’? More than that, they also achieve various levels of ‘success’ within a largely neurotypical socio-relational system, which is innately alien to their own.
The issue I am currently pondering is this: If a higher functioning autistic individual manages to present as a highly functional person in a neurotypical setting, as a result of a lifelong effort of painstaking study and mimicry of neurotypical ‘ways’ of interaction and even mastering a certain practical level of neurotypical Theory of Mind, while at the same time managing to also employ innate autistic cognitive tendencies to their fullest advantage, does that make this individual somehow more able than the norm, and hence, not disabled but especially abled? In this case, does this individual still deserve the rights to ask that his/her autism be recognised and treated with the regard and respect, and understanding, as accorded to all other autistic individuals?
How is extremely highly functioning (vs. higher functioning) autism to be framed within the context of disability? Where do we trace the demarcations for greater empathic understanding between neurodiverse and neurotypical?
How does a researcher include such individuals into the sphere of their consideration? Or should these individuals even be considered at all? Yes… how is (dis)ability to be framed, in such a context?