Dr. Jonathan Tarbox Comments on “Changing Perceptions: The Power of Autism”

This week,CARD Research Director Dr. Jonathan Tarbox was featured in the article “Is ThereAn Upside to Autism,” in response to Dr. Laurent Mottron’s opinions expressed in the recent commentary “Changing Perceptions: The Power of Autism.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this commentary, Dr. Mottron argues that researchers and clinicians focus too much on the negative aspects of autism, rather than focusing on the strengths and advantages.However, while describing some advantages of autism and advocating for increased opportunities for individuals with autism in the workplace, Dr. Mottron repeatedly suggests that autism treatment is detrimental to the unique strengths of individuals with autism.

In the commentary, Dr. Mottron states, “Most educational programe for autistic toddlers aim to suppress autistic behavours, and to make children follow a typical development trajectory. None is grounded in the unique ways autistics learn.” He also states, “People with autism need opportunities and support more than they need treatment.”

In the article “Is There An Upside to Autism,”Dr. Tarbox offers a rebuttal to the claims made by Dr. Mottron.While Dr. Tarbox acknowledges the importance of recognizing the strengths associated with autism, he also highlights the importance of effective treatment.According to Dr. Tarbox, Dr. Mottron’s notion that support and opportunities are distinct from treatment creates a false and potentially harmful dichotomy. “Treatment is support,” argues Tarbox, and “effective treatment is the most reliable way to create opportunity.” Tarbox states, “research shows that early intensive behavioral intervention increases the ability to communicate and function independently.”

Dr. Tarbox further explains, “There are many people, autistic and non autistic, who have superior intelligence but still have much difficulty in life and suffer for it. Unfortunately, vocal language is the medium with which most humans interact, so deficits in one’s ability to vocally communicate are going to create barriers.” Dr. Tarbox concludes that the goal of ABA “is not to try to teach individuals with autism to adopt typical learning and behavior but, rather, to teach skills that help increase independence.”

Without a doubt individuals with autism have unique strengths and abilities. Creating job opportunities for individuals with autism to demonstrate their strengths in the workplace is critically important; however, it’s equally important to acknowledge the fact that the majority of individuals with autism, due to unique skills deficits, are unable to take advantage of such opportunities. ABA is the only scientifically validated treatment for individuals with autism that research has shown improves overall functioning and independence. I believe that both treatment and environmental support are important in helping individuals with autism reach their full potential, whatever that may be.

If you are interested in reading Dr. Tarbox’s full response, click here. You must be a Medscape member to read this article; however, registration is free and only takes a minute.



Mottron, L. (2011). Changing perceptions: The power of autism.Nature, 479, 33-35. doi:10.1038/479033a

Waknine, Y. (2011, November 7). Is there an up side to autism? Society’s negative bias toward autism needs rethinking, expert says. Medscape Medical News.Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/753068

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