Comparing Autism Spectrum Disorder and Deafness

I recently read a blog post entitled The Great Divide is an Illusion. The author makes a number of good points about how people at both ends of the Autism Spectrum have shared experiences and have the same disorder. Her opinion is that consequently people with Asperger’s (HFA, ASD level 1, whatever you want to call it) can provide useful insight into what someone with Classic Autism (ASD level 3 etc) is experiencing.

This is all well and good but then she makes the following comment.

If my child were deaf, that would be out of my experience. I could guess and imagine what’s going on with my kid, but until we’re good at signing to each other, I’m going to be somewhat in the dark. The best person who could explain to me what my child is experiencing would be a deaf adult who can read lips or write and communicate with me.

Out of context this seems fine but it is reflecting a comparison I see frequently on forums and blogs. That of comparing the Autism Spectrum to being Deaf. The thing is when people do this they are not usually comparing to the entire hearing impairment spectrum but to the severe end that requires sign language in order to be able to communicate. I strongly feel that if you going to compare the Autism Spectrum to another condition you should compare it to the entirety of that condition.

When people compare ASD only to the severe type of Deafness I find myself feeling that my mild (formerly moderate) hearing loss is being disregarded. This is particularly unpleasant when it comes from people who state that Asperger’s is just as significant as Classic Autism.

My mild hearing loss is significant and should be included when people are comparing ASD and Deafness. Lets assume that one did compare to the entire hearing impairment spectrum. If you had a profoundly deaf child would you ask an adult with a mild hearing loss what your child is experiencing. I somewhat doubt it. Consequently I left the following comment which is still, 2 weeks later, awaiting moderation.

I agree there are that lots of aspects of autism that are shared across the entire spectrum, for example sensory overload. Listening to the experiences of verbal people who have these traits can only help to increase understanding of what it is to experience an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

However there are also differences between the two ends of the spectrum that should be recognised. You have made the example of if you had a deaf child, the best person to understand how that child experiences the world is another deaf person. However would you think that a person with a partial hearing loss could completely understand how a deaf person experiences the world or vice versa. I have both Asperger’s and a hearing impairment but I cannot tell you what it is like to live in a world without sound any more than I could tell you what it is like to have the functional language and communication impairments seen in Classic Autism.

I’ve been trying to think of good way to end this post but I can’t think of one, so I’ll just leave it here.

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4 thoughts on “Comparing Autism Spectrum Disorder and Deafness

  1. This is a really great point. Thank you for pointing this out. You’re absolutely right, I was not thinking of the rest of the deafness spectrum, and was doing with deafness what I was speaking out against doing with autism.Thank you for taking the time to write this.

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  2. Pingback: The Great Divide is an Illusion – Wibbly Wobbly, Neuro-UNlogical Stuff

  3. I am inclined to agree. As an autistic adult- diagnosed late, I personally don’t feel I really have significant insight into *anyone* much- my own kids, to some degree, certain other people I particularly ‘click’ with, perhaps. But I do see a lot of other autistic adults confidentially and enthusiastically advocating for other autistic people who are less able to advocate for themselves, and while I think this is far more apt than Allistic people doing all the advocating (as previously) I don’t quite understand where this insight comes from. Maybe because my family are overwhelmingly verbal, Asperger-presentation-type autistics, I don’t have a lot of experience with ‘Classic’ autism, and therefore don’t feel qualified to comment, but I just know that part of *my* autism is actively not wanting to ‘project’ my thoughts or feelings onto others, and that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I tried to describe the experiences of a non-verbal autistic person. Of course, all autistic people have certain things in common- according to diagnosticians, at least, but I still don’t feel remotely qualified to speak for others on the spectrum. I’m only just figuring myself out, after all…

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