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"What is research but a blind date with knowledge?" -Will Harvey

Jan. 25, 2023

This week we honor a group of individuals who jump into a turbulent ocean in the hopes of helping to calm the storm that engulfs so many people, limiting and changing the course of their lives. This brave group of individuals walk the halls of universities and research facilities with their advanced degrees struggling to make a mark on the world. For a very long time, autism was not on their radar. It affected so few individuals that most people were never exposed to someone struggling with it. Physical disabilities dominated the landscape of research largely fueled by wars which provided so many subjects to study. As these individuals began to take advantage of the choices provided by researchers, controversy raged. Differing opinions about the “right” way or the “best” way to live a full, inclusive life with a certain disability fuel the controversy to this day. The deaf and those who love them still argue for or against lip reading, ASL, cochlear implants or hearing aids. The blind disagree about different forms of braille, recordings, augmented communication devices, guide dogs, white canes, etc. These lovely arguments only exist because of the researchers who developed these interventions. It might seem wrong to celebrate the researchers who fueled such unrest, but the unrest represents choices for those with these challenges – a variety of ways to be functioning members of their community despite their disability. As a society, our first impulse is to put anyone who is different away where we do not have to interact with them allowing us to ignore their existence. But then someone, somewhere sees a different solution that allows for the benefits of inclusion for all. The second stage of the life of a disability seems to be for the group of the disabled to retaliate for their lack of inclusion by saying that they do not need to change, the “abled people” who remain the majority need to change. But given a solution, both groups change. Researchers are the heroes that connect the dots to find the solutions. Something that makes it easier for both groups to accept and connect with each other. The researchers develop sign language and the majority get used to seeing people use it, while those without hearing learn their hands can give them words. The controversy is only possible because of the many solutions researchers have produced over the years. Autism is not quite that advanced. The recent increase in incidence has made it impossible to hide and ignore. Those with autism that can easily communicate, retaliate for the disenfranchisement, incessantly arguing that they do not want to change, insisting everyone else should change. Heckling researchers at conferences and using the internet to criticize and bully them as they try to share discoveries with other researchers has become common place in the world of autism. While we have limited solutions right now, still struggling to subcategorize and figure out a cause, one day we will have a long list of solutions just like the blind and deaf and they will all be due to our heroes, the researchers. Those who jumped into the shark infested waters and kept trying to find a solution against the odds.