The Problem With Curing Autism

One of the things which has been bumping around in my head the last week has to do with the autism story that went through the media last week.  The sum of the story is that a research study suggests that for some people, autism is a diagnosis they can lose.  That they can grow out of autism.

One of the articles I read (but have lost) made reference to patients who "no longer met the clinical diagnosis of Autism."  This caused me some thought.

The problem is that autism is, currently, a diagnosis made through the accumulation of certain numbers of behavioral symptoms.  There is no arbitrary mechanical test, through blood or DNA or pathogen detection, that can arbitrarily draw the line between autistic and non-autistic.  Treatment, therefore is about teaching autistic people how to deal with their natural tendencies to replace unhelpful behaviors with more productive substitutes.

The problem is: if you have masked a behavioral symptom to the point that the behavior is not detected, have you actually cured anything?

Consider an amputee.  You can replace the missing limb with a prosthetic with such quality that to the casual observer there is no difference between the amputee and a non-amputee.  However you have not actually solved the underlying problem: there is a missing natural limb.

Similarly, giving autistic people coping mechanisms is useful, but it isn't actually curing anything, and until we really understand the underlying biological pathology and can take steps that cause real change in that pathology, we can't claim to be curing autism.