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Should we be trying to cure autism and mental health conditions?

Having a brother with Asperger syndrome, and a mother with a personality disorder, should we be looking for a cure for them? I mean I couldn't imagine my brother any different, and I would hate for his personality to change.

As far as society is concerned, most would say that they are 'benefit scroungers,' because they don't work. My brother left mainstream school with no qualifications, after the school never supported him, he was continually exploited by his peers, people would encourage him to behave inappropriately for their own amusement, his lack of social communication was really exhibited.

I have always wondered, with all the medical advances that we have, would there ever be a cure for these things? Secondly, and most importantly for me, is it worth it? In terms of the expectant change in personality if the condition was removed.

This is the first conversation I have started on TED, so apologies if I seem naive or stupid, I just wanted to see what other people think. I'm no specialist on the matter, im just a guy with something on his mind and thought TED might be the place to talk about it :)


  • May 11 2014: I think it isn't exactly a cure we need.
    I am autistic and for the most part I don't bother other people except when I say things that they deem rude or if I have one of my 'freakisodes' (freak episodes when I get all weird and freaked out....).
    I am all for finding things to help the "symptoms" though. It would make life a whole lot easier for me if I didn't have to feel so overwhelmed by audio- and visual information. But then again, some people can use those things to their advantage (Watch the Temple Grandin video on TED).
    And every person is different. Some autists can't look in peoples eyes, I can when they aren't brown or black eyes (some weird theory about the dark color being able to infiltrate the darkness in my mind). And then you have the different types of autism; the overtly social ones, the quiet stand in the corner ones, the artistic ones...
    Normally when searching a cure for something you need to have a population sharing the overall symptoms and problems, whereas with autism there's a million different kinds of symptoms and problems.
    So, I wouldn't look for a cure, and I also don't believe in one. As much as I hate it, autism is a part of me and it is the only thing I can (sort of) define about myself, and a lot of other people I know with autism think it's some sort of God-given superpower bestowed upon them.
    And as much as I hate my autism, it helps me too. It makes order of the chaos in some situations. My rituals put me at ease before I go to sleep and so on...
    One thing I do stand for is research. I think more should be researched and found out about autism. Because it's a spectrum disorder, nobody really has a clear definition of what it really is. We know certain things, the main problems; problems communicating, thinking in a different way, needing a sort of structure... But whenever people ask me to explain autism, I have no idea what to say. And that's the most annoying thing to me.
    I don't know if this made sense, but I hope it did.
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    May 24 2014: Re: " apologies if I seem naive or stupid, I just wanted to see what other people think."

    There is no need to apologies for asking questions in the effort of learning. Below I have posted a link to a playlist for TEDTalks regarding autism. Allow me to specifically recommend this one to you.

    Faith Jegede tells the moving and funny story of growing up with her two brothers, both autistic — and both extraordinary. In this talk from the TED Talent Search, she reminds us to pursue a life beyond what is normal.

    There is possibly a playlist for mental health as well since there are many worthwhile talks of the topic here at TED.
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    May 14 2014: Johnny Atman says:

    There is a cure for Autism, see and
  • May 10 2014: It depends on what we define "Cure" and "Normal" as. If you define "Normal" as being like most other people then you are wrong. Some people because of their some disability will be driven to do things that are not possible by "Normal" humans and that is what defines us as humans.If you remove that disability then the force that drives them may be lost. For example a blind person who has adapted to live without vision through out his life is suddenly given vision how will he see the world now. Even though his vision was restored he may not be able to function efficiently as he did before . Being different should not be considered disease and we should not try to normalize it. If we try to make people "Normal" we are nothing but actually trying to destroy their life.
  • May 9 2014: Sorry that this post is not on the same topic as this discussion, but I need readers' help!

    I am a graduate student looking for help. For a final project, I was asked to pose a question to a larger audience and facilitate a discussion about a problem in education. My classmate and I decided to take two (extreme sides) to the common core curricula modules. The question posed in the debate is “Does the Common Core Stifle Creativity in Education?” Please help us out by clicking our link to Reddit and commenting your thoughts in the section provided. Thank you! (I have tried to post this on TED and it keeps not working!)
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    Apr 29 2014: I guess it really depends on the health issue at hand. Not all mental problems are real "problems".
    Another thing is that one has to ask what is normal ? The way I see it "normal" is what the majority of society considers "normal". Anything deviating from this norm is considered an issue. But nobody says that the views of the majority are always right.
    In the end, if a person can function properly on a daily basis within society and doesn't cause major problems to himself or others and doesn't suffer from whatever condition he has, then treatment probably isn't necessary.
    But as I said, things are rarely black and white so one would have to look at it on a case by case basis.
    • Apr 29 2014: Through democracy it has been defined what the majority of the people consider normal. People outside the normal range are supposed to adjust to the majority and subject themselves to systems that do not apply to them, systems they do not fit into and often are cast out of.
      I think people that fall outside the "normal" that some majority has defined should not have to fit in to the "normal" society. Set up some communes, villages or something and let people live their lives productively, satisfactory and happy. I doubt these places would need anything from the "normal" society or be governed by "normal" people.
  • Apr 28 2014: There is a lot of bad "information" on this thread, already. Some corrections:

    The DSM-V, the latest diagnostic manual, has eliminated "Asperger's syndrome". What used to be diagnosed as "Asperger's syndrome", as "Autism", and as "PDD-NOS" are now all part of "Autistic Spectrum Disorder" (ASD). ASD has a variety of symptoms that are united by some general neurological trends pertaining to restricted interests, communication difficulties, social difficulties, repetitive behaviors, etc. Everyone on ASD has different "amounts" of these, what matters is if they come as some sort of cluster and if they impair the person to some degree or another.

    Most of the alleged "increase" in ASD over the decades has been due to a greater willingness to attempt a diagnosis and more sensitive diagnostic tools Even NIH has admitted this, although the fear-mongers who make money from ASD (like that pile of crap called "Autism Speaks") do not want people to think of things in that way. There has been one population wide, comprehensive study done. It determined that about 2.6% of the children living in an area met the criteria for ASD, but most of them did not need "services", since their families and schools were already handling the matter sufficiently.

    Finally, WHY DO YOU PEOPLE WANT TO EXTERMINATE ME? I do not want a "cure". I DO NOT NEED A "CURE"! I do not want or need to be exterminated, to have my brain re-wired to be like everyone else. I have problems, but I can live a life. If someone with ASD, particularly high-enough functioning to have gotten an old diagnosis of "Asperger's" had such a horrible time at school as to drop out, WHY NOT ASSIGN BLAME TO WHERE IT BELONGS? Why not drop it in the lap of the incompetent, cruel, sadistic, and evil lunatics running the school? Why not hold them to account (and maybe jail a few of them for good measure)? Why presume that those of us with ASD must be turned into you normies? Why presume that we want to be brainwashed into being you?
    • Apr 29 2014: Hi Bryan,

      You are correct in the new terminology and definition of the DSM-V. Most non-professional people are not up to date on these changes and will refer to Asperger and Autism for some time to come.

      Some of the things you say come across with a lot of anger. Anger will not change the (school) systems that do not know how to deal with anyone outside their quite randomly defined norms. Most schools and workplaces are there to serve the "norm", which probably covers between 80 and 90% of the population. The top percentile often get bored and are classified as "problematic" for not paying attention (often misdiagnosed as ADD). The bottom percentile are a bit behind, but because the system keeps running at a pace to serve the norm, the gap quickly widens and often cannot be bridged. Same goes for the small percentages with "mental-, behavioral- or personality disorders" that do not fit the norm. They are ostracized and usually have nowhere to go.
      There is a school system in Europe called "Jenna plan" which has shown great success in educating these people that fall outside the "norm". I suggest taking that as a basis for a school model and continue developing that education system.

      About the last part, you may feel you're going sane in an insane world. People with different standards should be given a kind of haven where they can live their lives in peace without continuously being held to standards that do not apply to them.

      • Apr 29 2014: Passivity and weakness will change nothing. Anger has been the fuel behind all positive social change. When there is no anger, no outrage, there is no drive to change. The anger of a mother whose children are abused by a system, the anger of an abolitionist at the treatment of slaves, the anger of the suffragettes at their disenfranchisement, all of that fueled the social progress.

        I also do not want to be shut up in a ghetto. That is what your "haven" amounts to--Apartheid. I do not need a "haven" outside my own home. I need TOLERANCE in the wide world at large, the same tolerance I extend to all the allegedly "normal" people who persist in being outrageously stupid and crazy by my standards. It's their right to be crazy and stupid by my standards, it should be my right to be crazy and stupid by their standards and not be shut up in a ghetto that is titled a "haven".
        • Apr 30 2014: Then you will live ostracized in society. You will never get to change the majority of people to change their view on something. Think of racism. Is that gone now? No. There are still huge gaps between races. Now think of a group of people that, nevermind their origins, do not comply with the rules society set for "everyone" to live by. The rules of "normal" people will not be changed to include rules for "not normal" people.
          If a kid suffering from ADD/ ADHD is allowed to walk out of class to run around the school and get some energy out, or a highly intelligent person is allowed to skip (part of) a class, all the "normal" kids want the same rights and the result is anarchy.
          Anger can be a motivator, but not a means of getting anything done. (I have plenty of anger, frustration and personal experience to go postal, but it would not bring any change.)
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  • Apr 28 2014: Autism is not a mental health condition. Autism is neurological. The first step in figuring out what to do is to stop spreading lies.
  • Apr 28 2014: Many CNS diseases will be curable soon. Once we have the cure, then caregivers and patients will have a choice. Also when we understand the cause of these diseases , we learn something fundamental about ourselves.
  • Apr 27 2014: It is difficult to "cure" the conditions you mention.

    The first one, Asperger Spectrum Disorder (the wording is very important since spectrum in behavior and more so on syndromatic diagnosis, is a fundamental way we understand and talk about Mental Health) is part of the developmental pathologies in the CNS (Central Nervous System), there is very little we can do with the "hardware" part right now and afraid will continue in the near future, but the "software" part is very limited and restricted to the onset of the management, in general the MORE and EARLY the therapist works, the results are better. Again the functionality of patients "labeled" with a syndromic diagnosis like Asperger´s varies greatly, the spectrum part again, and very related to early management like I mentioned earlier.The second is something that has more weight on the "software" side, and the biggest problem with a "cure" is the limitations and barriers that the patient puts, but in general it is very manageable an Axis II problem.

    It is very important we continue to strive on "curing" CNS pathologies, since the 90´s (Decade of the Brain) the leaps have been substantial, and everyone involved on Mental Health, from researchers to clinicians, are working very hard, you have to understand it is a big task, and more of social and cultural one. The CNS gets ill like any other body system, the results are varying degrees of deficits and dysfunction, and more so, the potential lost for an individual is the most taxing and difficult part to "recover".

    There are several ways to "measure" the impact on the patients life, even some very used and standardized clinical methodologies like Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale to better illustrate the impact on your daily life. You talk about "is it worth it?", if you could get your family members, and YOU a better GAF score, would YOU DO IT...??? Think about it, and start working on it, your Mental Health is YOU and the ones that surround you.
  • Apr 27 2014: Hi Llwyd,
    Autism greatly limits the ability to take care of ones self. People with Asperger Syndrome in general can take care of themselves and function well in society. They often have problems picking up on social clues and subtext, which I consider more of an "illness" of the rest of the population then of people that suffer from AS. The fact that they often interpret things literally, like children often do, makes them very clear in communication. They have sometimes not learned the rules of social conventions and sometimes they know the theory behind it and can tell you the conventions, yet they do not see them in the middle of communication. I see not being able to "read between the lines", accept "white lies" etc. as a great thing and think the world would be a much better place if everyone was like that. No more saying one thing but meaning something else.
    Other mental disorders/ diseases should be looked at one by one (not case by case) to see how much they are a burden, a blessing, both or neither and go from there.
    About being a burden on society, I think that people with all kinds of disorders and disabilities (not just mental) can contribute to society. It's society that needs to recognize how and where to enable these people to contribute and get fulfillment from their contribution.
    The Israeli army has recently started employing people with Autism in certain intelligence jobs analyzing aerial photography because of their exceptional abilities to focus on small details. More information can be found just by googling Israel Army Autism.

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    Apr 26 2014: Autism diagnoses have increased exponentially over the past 2 decades. It's hyper sensitivity to light, touch, sound, and other stimulus. Is it likely that this could be an evolutionary result of people continuing an over stimulating lifestyle on a daily basis? Could it be that our brains are trying to improve the way we organize and compartmentalize in a more efficient way and autism is showing up because nature just hasn't figured out the best way to do that yet?
    • Apr 27 2014: Hi Ang,
      No offense intended, but I have never heard of any source that claims Autism or Asperger syndrome are in any way caused or characterized by sensitivity to certain stimuli. It looks like you got it mixed up with ADD/ ADHD.
      • Apr 27 2014: Hi Benjamin,
        While I do not know much specifically about Asperger syndrome, I know it is common for people with Autism to be hypersensitive to different stimuli. I have seen a few children with autism experience pain as a reaction to certain sounds. However, this is a symptom, not the cause.
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        Apr 27 2014: Benjamin -

        You ever hear of Temple Grandin? She wrote the book "My Life in Pictures" there was a movie made as well starring Claire Daines. Throughout the book she mentions that her hypersensitivity to touch and glare helped her revolutionize the cattle industry.

        From what I understand Autism and Asperger syndrome are both caused by developmental differences in the brain. Too many connections in one area and not enough in another.

        Also from what I've gathered is that all children show some form of hypersensitivity to something. It depends on the child what kind of stimulus is over powering.

        I haven't done what would be considered extensive research but this what I came up with.

        No offense taken at all, I was rather tired when I was responding and didn't word my response correctly :) Didn't mean to sound like I knew the be all and end all to everything Autism and Asperger.