When a child is diagnosed with autism, most parents are incredibly frustrated.
I’ve met many parents who would rather have an intellectual disability than an autism diagnosis. I think there are a lot of therapists and medical professionals who believe that intellectual disability is a milder disability than autism. To be clear, it’s not that autism is hopeless, but autism is indeed more hopeless than intellectual disability in terms of the limitations of current medical treatments; there are not so many things to do from a medical point of view.
There is no cure for either intellectual disability or autism in current medicine, and the only thing that can be done is repetitive practice and training. There’s speech therapy, social therapy, sensory integration therapy, and all sorts of treatments, but at the end of the day, it’s just training to accumulate repetitive experiences. So it’s not a cure, to put it bluntly.
But people with intellectual disabilities can speak, interact, and learn to some extent, albeit at a low rate and a low level, so as long as you keep trying, you’ll see steady development and growth. Of course, there are limitations. But many people with autism are not able to communicate verbally, and they’re not able to interact. If autism itself is severe, educational approaches are rarely practical. It’s only in high-functioning children with ASD who can communicate and learn that these educational approaches are helpful. So in terms of educational practices, intellectual disability is more hopeful than ASD.
However, the two have a severe difference in future prognosis. With intellectual disability, I’ve never seen a case where a person has recovered from an intellectual disability to an utterly normal category with very high intelligence. I’d say there are very few reported cases. If you’re diagnosed with an intellectual disability, you’re already pretty much fixed in terms of the disability. But in autism, for example, there are many cases where people have recovered from severe autism to normal. There are also many cases where people with ASD who were thought to have deficient intelligence have been found to have very high intelligence. So at the end of the day, it makes sense to think of Autism as a disorder that has the potential to be cured with the proper treatment.
We’re just at the time where we’re trying to figure out how to cure autism, and I’ve had the experience of trying to cure countless autistic children to the standard developmental status. Of course, there have been failures, but I never once thought that children with ASD would not be cured.
When I treat a child with a developmental disability, I feel rather sad when I give them a diagnosis of “intellectual disability” because I can’t do much to help them, but when I give them a diagnosis of “autism,” I think, “Oh, how treatable is this child?” and I do it with hope. So don’t ever despair at the diagnosis of “autism.” Don’t ever despair.
It’s a diagnosis that says my child has a lot of talent and potential that I don’t know about, so I have to be hopeful and do my best to find it.