07 September 2007

Autism and the "complex social environment"

Mike Stanton's post Of mice and men and autistic fruit flies includes the following criticism of an autism related study using fruit flies:

But autistic fruit flies? Autism is a complex social disorder. Fruit flies are not complex social beings.
My first thought was, if autism is a "complex social disorder" it is only because we live in a complex social environment. In the comments, Amanda disagrees with Mike that autism is a social disorder at all, and I think I agree with her.

True, autism is measured against the "norms" of the complex social environment in which we live, but the "condition" of autism exists independently of those norms. If those norms didn't exist, or if our social environment was different, those who are autistic in our world would still be autistic in this alternate world.

Mike's commentary also includes a passage with which I wholeheartedly agree:
They showed diminished social interaction but improved cognitive performance compared to neurotypical mice. This is automatically seen as a deficit. But surely progress is driven by those individuals who turn their back on the herd and consider the external world?
Kristina Chew also has some thoughts on the studies, and Mike's post, in her post Can Animals Have Autism?