This is a letter I sent to Canada's Health Minister, Tony Clement, on October 16, 2006. A previous health minister once responded to a letter of mine by sending me his pity, as well as concerns about the plight of my poor family . So my expectations are low.
I've read your Autism Awareness Month message.
You call autism a "disease" and praise all the dedicated people involved in "the fight against autism spectrum disorder". This sends a powerful message to all Canadians, that autism is a very bad thing that ideally Canada should be free of. This message goes out to schools, communities and employers, all of whom are informed that autism is an unwanted disease to fight against. Employers, for example, would see a potential employee who is autistic as sick or diseased, rather than as having an atypical pattern of strengths and weaknesses which is remarkably and productively complementary to the typical pattern.
Canada has always had autistic people. Indeed, the figure of 200,000 autistics in Canada that you provide assumes the same consensual (in the peer-reviewed science) prevalence of 60/10,000 across all age cohorts--going back generations. Now you and your government are saying that autistic neurology is a disease to fight against, and that ideally, the contributions to Canadian society made by autistic people over the generations will stop.
Mr Clement, your Canada seems to have room for only one kind of neurology, and only one pattern of strengths and weaknesses, and only one acceptable range of traits and abilities. You've placed autistics outside of these acceptable parameters, by calling us diseased, and by praising those who fight against autistic differences in an effort to remove them from society altogether.
You have nothing good to say about those who are working to ensure that autistics receive the assistance, acceptance, and respect we need in order to succeed in society as autistic people. In short, you and your government seem to want a society where only non-autistic traits and abilities are valued and "healthy", while autistic traits and abilities are considered unwanted--something to fight against--and diseased. I would like to know why.
Thank you for your time.
Pervasive Developmental Disorders Specialized Clinic
Rivière des Prairies Hospital
University of Montréal