Where does autism belong? Does it belong in the DSM? Should there only be a medical model of autism?
If you hate psychology because of what I would consider to be a popular and distorted view of what psychology presently is, you're probably going to rage and scream that it is covered by the DSM. Your anger, rage, and frustration are probably going to be even greater if you believe your child was damaged by vaccines. Undoubtedly, it's going to infuriate you to have what you believe to be vaccine-induced damage covered primarily by what you perceive to be a psychological/psychiatric/behavioral model.
I don't think anyone in mainstream psychology and psychiatry believes the DSM to be infallible. Quite the opposite in fact. It is a highly flawed, poorly constructed diagnostic manual that undergoes significant revision with each new edition. It is years out of date and often bears little resemblance to the clinical and research realities in the real world. As long as the psychologists and psychiatrists using the manual keep that in mind, and I think many, if not most, do, its flaws help to keep it in check.
The problem is not so much the DSM itself, but the process through which it is created. But the even bigger problem is the disconnect that occurs in the public. Most scientists, most research doctors, and many practicing doctors view disorders and diseases through the biopsychosocial framework. We're moving away from a model of mental disorders with stigma attached to a recognition that so much of what the DSM covers is in reality not so simple as saying it is a mental defect.
There is this intertwining of the biological, psychological and social that is implicated in almost all conditions of the human body and psyche.
It doesn't matter if the DSM keeps autism as it keeps so many other disorders, because it doesn't belong exclusively to the psychological domain and psychologists who know what they are doing don't believe it does. Psychology (if the public would keep separate the Freudian, neo-Freudians, Jungians and neo-Jungians from the science that psychology, as a discipline, has focused on being) works in tandem with neuroscience and biology. Psychology as a discipline is so vast, so multimodal, that the lay public has huge misconceptions about the field, and folks, ahem, who write with passion and a level of vitriol that is certainly undeserved, about autism being classified in the DSM, distort both what autism is and what psychology as a field defines it as.
There's an element of availability heuristic in play here as well. If your child has autism and is also a child with several illnesses, you want to say that this is the autism. I don't understand how people who can view autism as not integral to who their child is can then blame the autism for everything. It's like someone having multiple diagnoses and anytime something goes wrong wanting to put all the blame on the autism itself rather than the other diagnoses.
Not everybody with autism has multiple health issues. Blaming intestinal issues on the autism just because the child has both doesn't make autism responsible for the intestinal issues. It's be like saying my diabetes is responsible for my migraines.
Just because your child is physically ill and prone to more infections doesn't mean that represents autism. My three children are extremely healthy children; they get the occasional cold, but rarely had ear infections.
Autism is a neurological condition caused by what appear to be both multiple genetic differences and potential cellular changes caused by traumas sustained while in utero. What that means is that there are probably, and in fact most neurologists specializing in autism believe to be the case, several autisms (no matter how folks at AoA might hate that idea). Same basic pattern of behaviors, but multiple causes. It is entirely possible that there is a subset of children who do have a particular genetic difference which not only results in the neurological differences labeled autism and a susceptibility to different illnesses or diseases like epilepsy.
I don't see why most reasonable people, having reviewed the literature on autism across the disciplines researching it, would have a problem with the likelihood that like multiple congenital abnormalities and intellectual disabilities, there are hundreds to thousands of genes implicated in what we have decided to arbitrarily call autism. Or that environmental factors play a role.
You have to wonder what's motivating parents who engage in an all-out warfare with parents who don't see their child(ren)'s autism with the same rigid, all-inclusive lens of outside-induced, someone-else-is-to-blame-for-my-child's-autism? What's behind that need for certainty, that refusal to accept nebulousness? Is it possible that the autism divide is not fostered by differing interpretations of scientific evidence, but instead by different personalities and coping mechanisms?
I'm not saying parents who believe their child's autism is caused by vaccines falls in a maladaptively coping subset. There are plenty of such parents who aren't vitriolic, who aren't rigid and focused on making sure everyone agrees with them. There are plenty of parents who believe vaccine reactions caused or worsened their child's autism, but they aren't filled with anger, hatred, or the need to force their ideas on others. They're perfectly willing to consider and accept the idea of multiple causations. Nor do they need to or insist on seeing their children as damaged goods. They love their child, they celebrate their child, and they focus on the positives and on helping their child achieve his or her potential. They don't go down the woo trail to do it, either. They don't need to; they aren't desperate or mired in should-have-beens.
I think that the "divide" is not nearly as big nor as vicious as some would have us believe. I think those who would are loud, are angry, and shout a lot about their narrow view of the world. I think we let that loudness cloud our perception of the autism community.
The Countering Facebook group belies this picture of the divide. We're still small, yes, with a little over 250 members, but we're an inclusive group, I think. I know we have members who do believe their child's autism was caused by or worsened because of an adverse reaction. We aren't arguing about it, though. We don't, as a group, talk much on the group itself, but a third of my facebook friends are my friends through the group, and I enjoy reading their updates on their pages. At least through the private facebook friendships, the countering facebook group is rather chatty with each other. I'm honored when one of the members asks me to be a facebook friend because I know they are inviting me into their personal lives and asking for the same.
The divide is artificial and unnecessary. As parents of children on the spectrum, as individuals on the spectrum, what matters is not what caused autism. It's a done deal. What matters is support, acceptance, and appreciation for what makes us uniquely who we are. We want the best world for our children. We have different ways of getting there.
I don't think anger and bitterness are the ways to make the world a better place. I lost my need for certitude a long time ago. I'm bound to be wrong on a great many things. Letting go of the egoistic need to be right lets me focus on being compassionate in my own kick-ass kumbaya way. Because some things, I'm fairly sure I'm right on, and those are the things I need to be kick-ass about, and that's making damn sure the world out there is ready to accept and love my children as they are.
So, I don't care where autism is, the DSM or in a medical textbook. I care how you treat my kids. I care how you treat others with disabilities. I care if you are making the world better or worse. If I think you're making it worse for others, it's time for the kick-ass.