From Autism to Asperger's: Disentangling the Genetics and Sociology of the Autistic Spectrum
Progress Educational Trust
Palace of Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, UK
20 October 2009 6.30pm-8pm
2009 saw media furore over the prospect of genetic testing for autism. Simon Baron-Cohen, an expert in autism and its possible biological causes, warned that a future prenatal test for autism might (at best) threaten to eliminate talents associated with the autism spectrum from society and (at worst) constitute eugenics. The ensuing debate revealed uncertainties, tensions and outright misconceptions in our understanding of autism. More than this, it demonstrated that divergent conceptions of autism, and divergent interpretations of the relationship between genetics and psychology, are promulgated by experts in different fields. How to disentangle the many aspects of autism, and address it coherently?
This public debate sought to clarify the genetic and non-genetic aspects of autism, with experts presenting the latest thinking on autism from a range of contrasting perspectives, and a particular focus on the concept of the 'spectrum' and the challenges it throws up. The upshot of the 'spectrum' concept as applied to autism has been that this diagnostic category now encompasses an enormous range of individuals, from those with 'classical' autism as conceived by Leo Kanner, to those with 'high-functioning' autism as conceived by Hans Asperger. Although Kanner and Asperger were contemporaries, it is only during the past two decades that the syndrome to which Asperger gave his name has enjoyed wide recognition and prominence.