The late Prof Mark Oliver, presented on 23rd July 1990, at the Joint Workshop of the Living Options Group and the Research Unit of the Royal College of Physicians, a paper titled “THE INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIAL MODELS OF DISABILITY”, where he wrote:
“The genesis, development and articulation of the social model of disability by disabled people themselves […] does not deny the problem of disability but locates it squarely within society. It is not individual limitations, of whatever kind, which are the cause of the problem but society’s failure to provide appropriate services and adequately ensure the needs of disabled people are fully taken into account in its social organisation. […] Why then is the medicalisation of disability inappropriate? The simple answer to this is that disability is a social state and not a medical condition. Hence medical intervention in, and more importantly, control over disability is inappropriate. Doctors are trained to diagnose, treat and cure illnesses, not to alleviate social conditions or circumstances. […] Disability as a long-term social state is not treatable and is certainly not curable. Hence many disabled people experience much medical intervention as, at best, inappropriate, and, at worst, oppression.” [emphasis mine]
I have deliberately chosen to ignore for the moment, the infuriating, existential, onto- and deontological ineptitude of the “disability is a social state and not a medical condition. Hence medical intervention in, and more importantly, control over disability is inappropriate” statements, unwilling to divert from the purpose of this study.
I have nevertheless, emphasised the “Why then is the medicalisation of disability inappropriate?”, in order to point the reader to a major source of what the proponents of the Social Model of Disability (SMD) are increasingly advocating as the ‘de-medicalisation’ of disability, and more precisely in the context of my study, of Autism, through what has become an increasingly militant -and in my opinion increasingly divisive- movement called Neurodiversity (NDv).
Why do I perceive this, as an unwarranted derailment from the principles of the Autism Act 2009? Because the Act’s “1 Autism strategy” states “(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for meeting the needs of adults in England with autistic spectrum conditions by improving the provision of relevant services to such adults by local authorities, NHS bodies and NHS foundation trusts”, therefore in my educated opinion, any Autism strategies antagonistic of the medical/clinical aspects of Autism, contravene to both the spirit and the letter of a legal framework mandating such strategic responsibilities also to the UK’s NHS.
Far from being of an isolated incidence, according to the “DEMAND FOR AIMS AND SCOPE” of a renewed effort in 2018 to restart the “Autism Policy & Practice Journal”, “Recent years has seen the growth of autistic activist academics aligned to the neurodiversity movement”.
The Neurodiversity Movement (NDvM) is home to an Autism Rights Movement (ARM), introduced to the larger public by Andrew Solomon in 25th May 2008 as:
“The Autism Rights Movement – A new wave of activists wants to celebrate atypical brain function as a positive identity, not a disability. Opponents call them dangerously deluded.”
Unfortunately from the perspective of the past nearly three decades, Judy Singer’s “sacrosanct, universal truth” legacy, which I have discussed in one of my previous articles, seems to have completely missed Prof Oliver’s paper’s core target, clearly stated as having been written “on PEOPLE WITH ESTABLISHED LOCOMOTOR DISABILITIES IN HOSPITALS”!
In all honesty, I have always had a sense of derailment when confronted with the ridiculous claims by NDvM’s proponents, of the Social Model’s applicability in Autism, which turned out to be somehow subconsciously linked to Prof Oliver’s exact goal with his paper, i.e. the inpatient needs of individuals with locomotor disabilities! And to ensure fair justification for my judgement, it was Prof Oliver himself, in an interview with the National Union of Students UK posted on 22nd Nov 2018, who said the following:
“The two main criticisms are one, that the social model doesn’t take account of the experiences of impairment, in other words you know, as disabled people we have, we do have medical consequences and so on we do have, sometimes we feel pretty shitty about ourselves in our lives, sometimes we’re real just like non-disabled people […] but the social model was never designed to do that…” [emphasis mine]
In other words, it becomes obvious that despite the clear and harsh anti-medical attitude of the 1990 paper, Prof Oliver seems to dissociate himself of the snowball effect on his 1990 stand, claiming that the Social Model was never designed to consider individual experiences of impairment and their medical consequences, which in my opinion and context, include the severe, debilitating physical, psychological and emotional consequences of living with any and all forms of Autism and other Neurodivergent (NDg) conditions, but especially severe, Higher Dependency Autism!
It doesn’t take much investigative research for one to understand that this nearly three decades-long “misunderstanding” of the SM’s intended goals resulted in a many-headed hijacking of disability rights from generations of individuals living with Autism Spectrum conditions by an elitist, Lower Dependency, Intellectually Proficient wave of diagnosed autistics and their “self-identified” club. All this with detrimental consequences for especially those having to rely due to the severity of their disorder(s)/condition(s) on their oftentimes exhausted and desperate families, left year after year without vital assistance and help by their local governments, at the dire mercies of social services without much competence in Autism and Intellectual Disabilities.
And if most would expect that self-proclaimed “national” spearheads of autism expertise are working hard to give all individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and/or their dedicated families a stronger, more meaningful voice at the dialogue tables where more favourable decisions are made, they’re heading for disappointment.
Reading through the National Autistic Taskforce’s (NAT) “An independent guide to quality care for autistic people”, encouraged by being informed from the start that “This guide is authored entirely by autistic people” (pg 3) also that “We seek to ensure autistic voices are included alongside those of families, policy makers and professionals” and knowing from a lifelong personal, pastoral, educational and clinical expertise, the unquestionable importance of family infrastructures for the support of Autistic individuals, I applied to the 54 pages-long document, a search for the word ‘family’. To my surprise -and dismay-, the result showed a meagre 13 (thirteen) words, which as much as I would hope to be wrong, reveals a narrative in which family doesn’t seem to be considered the supportive and protective structure around the centrality rightfully assigned to the autistic individual. At a closer look, my fears don’t seem entirely unjustified:
“A particular challenge is that “the rights of autistic adults to autonomy … includes the right to make decisions that others may consider unwise.” (P.20 National Autism Project, The Autism Dividend (2017) citing Mental Capacity Act principles) […] Staff, service users, family, friends and other interested people must feel confident and comfortable in recognising and challenging policies, practices and assumptions which are risk averse or undermine autonomy.” (pg 10) “Have a designated member of staff (preferably a Communication Support Worker (CSW) responsible for exploration based on observations and trials to find the most appropriate communication systems for individuals […] responsible for helping each person initiate and maintain contacts with family and friends, and people in positions of authority (such as professionals).” (pg 13)
The reason why my fears don’t seem at all unjustified is the fact that besides noticing that it took 13 pages for the document to mention the third occurrence of the word ‘family’, it does it in a context where the family’s supportive and protective rights (with a partially justified caveat in cases of prolongued institutionalisation) are undermined by the intercalation of a CSW, whom seems to be expected to act as a ‘guardian of autonomy’ including situations when this could mean “unwise” decisions and actions, apparently also “responsible […] to find the most appropriate communication systems for individuals” and for “helping each person initiate and maintain contacts with family and friends, and people in positions of authority (such as professionals)” which I would presume imply medical/clinical professionals. I shouldn’t probably wonder why a similar search using the word “medical” returned “No results”…
However, it beggars belief as to why would a “staff member” other than e.g. a family member or a highly competent clinician, intercalate to help “initiate and maintain contacts”?
The answer to my question is to be found on pg. 3:
“The more autonomy a person has, the less support services need to rely on external authorities such as good practice guides, instead looking to the person themselves as the primary source of information, instruction and guidance. The intention is to move beyond co-production towards autistic leadership. This guide sets out some of the practical details involved in achieving self-determination for autistic people.”
The major problem with this maybe otherwise laudable effort, (which echoes nevertheless Prof Oliver’s idea of “oppressive medicalisation”), quite obvious from introductory statements according to which “This guide is authored entirely by autistic people with extensive collective knowledge and experience of social care provision to autistic people” (pg 3) and “Critical to the success of the National Autism Project has been an advisory panel of autistic people who provided expert input and critique throughout” (pg 7), is an apparent exclusion from authorship, of family members providing the care for Higher Dependency autistic individuals, and equally important their clinical teams.
It is also clear from all these statements that as mentioned on pg 3, this guide has been authored by “autistic people with extensive collective knowledge and experience” of absolutely nothing else but “social care provision to autistic people”, and therefore severely lacking the prerogatives to indeed become a nationally relevant guide for the overall health and wellbeing of not only autistic individuals themselves, but also their 24/7 care and dedication providing families.
Regardless of how benevolent one reads these pages, it would seem that neither the “oppressive” medical system (Oliver, 1990) nor the autistic individual’s family are being trusted anymore to promote, achieve and maintain their autonomy, this role being apparently assumed by the Social Model biased ideology outlined in the NAT’s guide, facilitated by a CSW “staff member”.
Interesting times are these for a theoretical philosopher; times when suspicions of bias need not to be justified by a thesis’ opponent, being readily provided by the proponents themselves.
Such could be the case, reading through the “Focus and Scope” of the “Autism Policy & Practice Journal” where the very first of the journal’s focus and scope is:
“To be an autistic-led (emancipative) good practice journal with a bias towards social model based adjustments and good practice.” [emphasis mine]
Now, I am aware that paraphrasing one’s indulgence towards themselves, “The finger of each saint points towards themselves” (Hungarian proverb). However, no Journal of Autism & Policy Practice, which hasn’t included in their title “A Social Model based Journal of …” should allow itself to have even a shadow of bias, not to speak about a declared, biased focus and scope. Please do not imply maliciousness when I wonder if this may have been the reason why one could read in its Archive, that “Unfortunately, due to lack of support this journal has been discontinued”; “Open Access Autism” should exist unbiased…
As I mentioned in my previous article, the “Medi-Social Model of Disability and Neurodivergence would holistically and intersectionally consider Neurodivergent conditions in their Medical and Social complexity, with a realistic emphasis on understanding these conditions through also considering the invaluable lived-experience of individuals living with these conditions, and/or the accumulated co-participative experience of their families, caregivers.
I can boldly assert that the structural elements of a Medi-Social Model of Disability and Neurodivergence have always been present in what has been known as the Medical Model, which could have never existed without its Social aspects, proven by the well-known existence of Multidisciplinary Teams, mandated by legislation to safeguard each step of an individual’s journey through their Recovery.
A Medi-Social Model of Disability and Neurodivergence would open the possibility of exploring new and necessary horizons of how all participants in these multidisciplinary teams, such as the individuals themselves, their caregivers, their clinical team, their social worker team etc, could change the Recovery Pathway Dynamic from a Clinical-Team-dependant hierarchical, to a Multidisciplinary Co-participative/Intersectional.”
(to be continued…)