Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Friday, January 30, 2015

Response on Stem Cell Therapy

This is a response to a question I was asked. Here's the question.
Dear Alyssa, Greetings from India I found your blog while I was researching about special schools in China. I enjoyed reading your posts. I wanted to know your opinion on stem cell therapy for autistic individuals. What are your thoughts? Do you support it? Do you think its useful, not just in terms of autism but also for other neurological disorders. I would love to know your perspective. Love, Avantika
The short answer is that I don't support stem therapy "for autism"  (it makes no sense) but I do for people with conditions where stem cell therapy makes sense (some heart stuff, liver stuff, sometimes Crohns) who are also autistic.

There's a few different opinions that are all part of the long answer.

  • There's my opinion on stem cell therapy in general.
  • There's science side, is stem cell therapy even relevant to anything about autism?
  • There's my opinion on biomedical treatment of any kind "for autism."
  • There's my opinion on stem cell therapy for other reasons on people who happen to be autistic.
Stem Cell Therapy in General

My opinion on stem cell therapy in general is that it's still pretty experimental, but there are things it's been shown to work at least some with. It's used for some liver stuff, some heart stuff, some neurodegenerative stuff, osteoathritis, and Crohns. What all these things have in common, so far as I can tell, is that adding new cells that work like patients and doctors expect them to work helps with whatever the patient doesn't want their body doing. 

Some people have ethical issues with stem cell research and therapy for various reasons. As a sciency person, I know that most of those concerns don't even apply in quite a few stem cell areas (adult stem cell lines and umbilical lines have nothing to do with abortion, fetal lines coming from "spare" fertilized eggs after in vitro could become people if implanted but it's also not abortion, and I'm pro-choice anyways.) So I think stem cell research and resulting therapies are really cool, as long as they 1) are working towards a goal that the person being treated supports (not a parent, not a doctor, not a caretaker, the person being treated) and 2) there's scientific reason to believe that it can (help) accomplish the goal. The amount of evidence needed is less for treatments that the person being treated knows are experimental, like as part of a study, and more for stuff that we're saying is known to work. Which level of evidence a person being treated wants before they agree to it (and there has to be consent here) is up to the person.

Relevance to Autism

Going back to what the things being treated have in common, these are conditions where adding new, healthy cells can help with whatever the problem is. Autism does not fit the bill, even a little bit. Even if you hold with the idea that autism is somehow terrible and reducing "symptoms of autism" is the holy grail of treatment, the relevance of stem cell therapies to autism itself is doubtful. Some evidence suggests that we've got extra brain cells and connections in comparison to neurotypical expectations, among other things. 

This isn't a statement about stem cell therapy for autistic people who could benefit for other reasons, like if an autistic person also had Crohns or osteoathritis or any of the other stuff that's getting successfully treated with stem cell therapy, the question would be about relevance to that condition rather than autism.

But no, stem cell therapy is not relevant to autism.

Biomedical Stuff for Autism

Biomedical treatments "for autism" are generally pretty confused about what they're supposed to be treating, how it's supposed to work, and everything in between. Stem cells "for autism" don't look like an exception here. 

At best, such treatments are aimed at reducing discomfort that we have for other reasons (like the fact that autism and epilepsy can occur together, autism and autoimmune stuff can occur together, just by sheer probabilities, unless autism and condition X are not independent (having one affects the chance of having the other) they will occur together for about 1% of people with condition X.) Those treatments would actually help with the condition they're properly meant for, and make autistic people who have that other condition more comfortable. Often, our being in less distress is wrongly taken to mean that we are less autistic, and so people decide that this treatment now reduces "autism." For an autistic person who also has any of the stuff that stem cell therapies are actually good for? The relevant form of stem cell therapy could go here.

At worst, such treatments are actively abusive and have no reason to work. Bleach enemas, chelation, chemical castration, and a lot of other "biomedical" and "alt med" things people do "for autism" go here. If the autistic person in question doesn't have anything for which stem cell therapies are actually relevant, then stem cell therapy may well go here.

Regardless, treatments "for autism" are also rooted in the idea that autism is wrong or lesser, while neurotypicality (or being able to fake it) is ideal. That's directly opposed to the neurodiversity paradigm, so the idea of any treatment "for autism" is not high on my list of good things. 

Rather than trying to make Autistic people be "less autistic," I support giving us the treatment and tools that help us live better lives as Autistic people. If we've got any stuff going on that's causing us problems (I've got asthma, for example,) then treating those problems is just as good an idea for Autistic people as it is for those lacking autism. People tend to prefer feeling good to feeling sick, after all. The problem is when people conflate "feeling better from other stuff" with "less autistic." We're not actually less autistic, and less autistic isn't actually a good goal anyways.

I've talked a bit about what education that's based in teaching us to live well as autistic people could look like, but it's so unusual that finding anything like that is tough. That's also not particularly the point of this answer, but if you're interested, here are a few:

Stem Cell Therapy (when the person is also Autistic)

I don't see how this is different from stem cell therapy when the person isn't autistic. If someone has a condition where stem cell therapy is actually relevant, them being autistic isn't a counter-indicator.

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