Autism, four blind men, and an elephant?


Many of you reading the title of this post are likely scratching your heads, wondering if I’ve lost my mind (or my ability to write). Hopefully you will ultimately decide neither is the case.

There is an old story that talks about four blind men describing an elephant. Since none of them could see the entire elephant, they described it based upon the section of the elephant they explored with their hands. Since they were examining the elephant at the same time, they each explored a different part and came away with very different conclusions regarding the elephant’s appearance. None of them was completely correct, but each had a correct piece. When all are put together, one gets a reasonable picture of an elephant.

But what does this have to do with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? There are many different theories and beliefs about ASD – different thoughts about cause, interventions, accommodations, and outcomes. The Director of the National Institute of Mental Health wrote a blog post about the Four Kingdoms of Autism on February 13, 2013, and it is a good read.

“When you know one person with ASD, you know ONE person with ASD.” Every person, whether or not they have ASD, is in fact a unique individual. If people are different, if the impact of ASD is different from person to person, and the needs of each person are different, the idea that there are so many different theories, beliefs, and organizations start to make sense. They may not totally correct, but they also might not be totally incorrect.

As we said when I was growing up (much too long ago), “Can’t we all just get along?”

Russell J. Bonanno, M.Ed. TAP Program Manager

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