I came across a post today that was objecting to autism being seen as a disease that needed to be fixed rather than a fixed condition that needs to be managed in its environment. An analogy was used of a fair skinned person and sunshine. We don’t focus on making the skin better (by adding melatonin for instance) but prevent the sun from hitting the skin using clothes or suncream. Now I’ve not come across this “disease that needs to be fixed” issue with autism, my experience is of exploring how to cope with my condition within the society I live in. The state of the NHS and the unequal funding for mental health means that I have not seen any medical professional yet aside from my diagnosis psychiatrist, so all support so far has come from discussions with friends or reading books. Losing the thread a bit now. Back to the article.

The article also mentions that the author themselves doesn’t seen autism as a disability using the example of a thorough bred race horse. The horse may be anxious if not treated well or kept in the right environment, but left to run, it is in its element and functions better than a standard horse. I’m afraid I know nothing of thorough bred horses but I am guessing they are the autistic person in the simile.  The implication is that if a thorough bred is not considered disabled, then the autistic should not be considered disabled.

I am not sure I agree so thought it worth exploring.

First what does it mean to be disabled? This is covered in British Law by the 2010 Equality Act which define disabled person as:

“A person has a disability for the purposes of the Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

This definition only covers the 2010 Act itself for discrimination purposes but it is the most general definition there is in UK law, others (e.g. social welfare) are more specific.

So the first question is whether ASD is an impairment? According section A5 of the act it is. Now what effect does the impairment have? Well to answer that I need to look at what the impairment is acting on. Here we need to look at “normal day-to-day activities”. There is no definitive list but the guidance in D3 is:

“In general, day-to-day activities are things people do on a regular or daily basis, and examples include shopping, reading and writing, having a conversation or using the telephone, watching television, getting washed and dressed, preparing and eating food, carrying out household tasks, walking and travelling by various forms of transport, and taking part in social activities. Normal day-to-day activities can include general work-related activities, and study and education-related activities, such as interacting with colleagues, following instructions, using a computer, driving, carrying out interviews, preparing written documents, and keeping to a timetable or a shift pattern.”

Now for me, some of those tasks are affected by my autism. Things like:

  • Having a conversation or using a telephone
  • Travelling by bus
  • Taking part in social activities
  • Interacting with colleagues
  • Following instructions (verbal)
  • Keeping to a timetable

Plus others which will be dictated by the environment. For instance using a computer in an open plan office would be challenging whereas in my own room I would be fine.

So I have an impairment which affects everyday activites but now the question is does the impairment affect the activities in a “substantial and long term adverse” way. There are three things there:

  1. Adverse – being ASD does make doing the activities more difficult period,
  2. Long term – ASD doesn’t come and go, it is permanent and continuously chips away at my resilience,
  3. Substantial – hmm, not sure how to measure that.

Back to the Act. A substantial effect is one that has “more than a minor or trivial effect”. This effect could be in the amount of time it takes to do something, the way the person does it (e.g. frequently rechecking), or the total cumulative effect a range of tasks has on them. Certainly I would say ASD does have a cumulative effect which can mean very little may be possible without a recovery period.

The Act allows that consideration must take place for environmental factors, how reasonable avoidance or adjustments can be made to ones life and what the effect of treatment might be.

There are lots more minutiae in the definitions of the terms (long term is at least 12 months for instance) but I think from an ASD point of view, the conclusion for me is pretty clear. I would say that my version of ASD is a disability according to the 2010 Discrimination Act, meaning that the Act affords me protection against discrimination due to my autism.

Of course this is just one definition of disability and I have only looked at this definition from my own point of view. Your definition may be different and certainly your experience of ASD will be different. Would you say you are disabled?

Thanks for Visualvox for the original article.

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