"Invisible" Autism (by Kate Altman)

Recently, a mother of a son with autism said to me that one of the hardest things about her son having autism, is that he “looks so normal” that no one understands why he might be acting differently than other children. She feels that other parents judge her when her 9-year-old son has a temper tantrum or think he is rude when he does not make eye contact when they speak to him. She suggested that children with more visibly apparent disabilities, like physical disabilities or Down syndrome, receive more understanding, empathy and support.

Roy Richard Grinker, an anthropologist, discussed the same phenomenon in his book, Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism:

“….people throughout the world tend to pass moral judgments on illnesses that have few obvious physical signs, illnesses with symptoms and causes that are confusing to people or that may be incurable….The philosopher Ian Hacking, who recently gave a series of lectures on autism at the College de France in Paris, wondered aloud which was worse: the child who never speaks and has no social life, or the child who seems almost normal? He didn’t think there was any real answer to the question but posed it as a philosophical exercise. At least the profoundly impaired person clearly has a disability (Grinker, pp. 69-70).”

What do you think? Are people with autism spectrum disorders especially stigmatized due to the “invisibility” of their diagnoses? Has the prevalence of autism in the media impacted that “invisibility”, and if so, has it made society more accepting and supportive?