Instigator / Con

Is autism a disease??


The participant that receives the most points from the voters is declared a winner.

Voting will end in:

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Two weeks
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Two weeks
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Contender / Pro

The debate will be simple. The burden of proof will be on both Con and Pro. Pro must prove that Autism is, in fact, medically considered a disease, and Con must prove that it is, in fact, not considered one. No personal insults of any kind. No arguments that are not strictly on the topic at hand. Both sides must use evidence and reasoning and argue from a position of knowledge. Not opinion.

The only person who is not allowed to be contented is Mall. If he attempts to be a contender, I will start a new one and report him to admins.

Round 1
Thank you, pro, for accepting the debate. Let us begin.

Opening statement:  There are many people who confuse Autism as a disease either out of medical ignorance or because they have a misunderstanding of what Autism is. So, as Con. I will show what Autism is, why it is not considered a disease, and the dangers of not knowing the difference.

Argument 1:  What is Autism? According to Autism Research Institute Autism is,

"Autism is a developmental disorder with symptoms that appear within the first three years of life. Its formal diagnostic name is autism spectrum disorder. The word “spectrum” indicates that autism appears in different forms with varying levels of severity. That means that each individual with autism experiences their own unique strengths, symptoms, and challenges. " What is Autism? - Autism Research Institute
A disease, in contrast, is considered to be,

" A medical condition that has a clear cause. For example, once the cause of your arthritis is discovered, then you will be informed of the disease. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the cause is the immune system attacking the joints." Understanding Disease vs. Disorder, Condition vs. Syndrome (
Therefore, there is an undeniable distinction between a disease and autism which better fits the definition of a disorder which is considered,

"A disorder is a group of symptoms that disrupt normal functions in the body or cause significant impairment." Understanding Disease vs. Disorder, Condition vs. Syndrome (

Argument 2:  There are also no medical cures for Autism spectrum. The reason for why is because Autism is not an illness. The only medications available for those who suffer from Autism are drugs that only affect the mind and are psychological in nature. 
"Currently, there is no medication that can cure autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or all of its symptoms. But some medications can help treat certain symptoms associated with ASD, especially certain behaviors.

NICHD does not endorse or support the use of any medications not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating symptoms of autism or other conditions.

Healthcare providers often use medications to deal with a specific behavior, such as to reduce self-injury or aggression. Minimizing a symptom allows the person with autism to focus on other things, including learning and communication. Research shows that medication is most effective when used in combination with behavioral therapies."  Medication Treatment for Autism | NICHD - Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (
While it may be true that not all diseases have a cure, diseases typically have treatments that affect the body on a biological level rather than simply psychological. But that is not the case with Autism due to the fact a sufferer of Autism can be physically healthy. If Autism were a disease, it would have to affect the body physically in a harmful manner. Not just mentally. Furthermore, Since Autism is a life-long condition, calling autism a disease would require claiming that Autistic people are terminally sick, which they are not. 

Argument 3:  Since we now understand the difference between a disease and Autism, let us talk about the harmful effects of confusing the two. The first immediate, if not obvious, problem with mixing the two is wrongful stereotyping. Do you remember the time someone you knew was sick for three days with the flue and you tried to avoid them because you did not want to get sick as well even after they told you they were not sick anymore? Now, imagine that same scenario except this person now has autism and you incorrectly believed it was a sickness you could get yourself. That is exactly what would happen if autism was considered a disease. 

Sufferers from Autism already suffer from mistreatment due to their conditions not being understood as it is. Imagine how much worse this stigma would get if we treated autism as a disease despite the fact it is not a pathogen and is hereditary in nature. Autism needs to be treated as it correctly is, A mental disorder that affects their development. Nothing else. 

Conclusion: Autism is not a disease since a disease is characterized as a medical condition with a clear cause. Autism, in contrast, is described as developmental disorder. There are no medical cures for Autism unlike some diseases, and the medication that is available is designed to treat behaviors and have psychological affects rather than anything that can treat illness within the body. Furthermore, autism does nothing to cause the human body to become ill. It only affects the mind. lastly, It is dangerous to confuse Autism with a disease as that can lead to discrimination and mistreatment. 

I would like to thank my opponent for their first round arguments and for making this interesting debate.

I would like to start by providing a few definitions of "disease" from a few dictionaries.

a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms
a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment
An abnormal condition of a human, animal or plant that causes discomfort or dysfunction; distinct from injury insofar as the latter is usually instantaneously acquired
We can see that these definitions broadly agree with each other. I would like to go the extra step of providing medical definitions, as that is what is most relevant here.

From Dorland's Medical Dictionary: (bolding mine)
a definite pathological process having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of its parts, and its etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.
Merriam-Webster also provides a medical definition for 'disease' on it's page defining the word:
an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors 
We can see that all these definitions broadly agree. For Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to be a disease, it would merely have to cause some sort of disorder or impairment to some normal function(s) of the human body and have a set of signs and symptoms which identify it. It is easy to see that this is true. There are various screening tests for ASD. One of the sources my opponent has provided lists several different screening tools used by healthcare professionals to diagnose autism.

As for whether ASD causes some form of impairment, it is also not difficult to demonstrate that this is true. While the presentation of autism varies widely from one person to another, some who have the condition are unable to live independently even as an adult as a result of autism. Autism is also considered to be a disability, as noted by the Cleveland Clinic:
[H]ealthcare providers classify autism as a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with autism spectrum disorder. This means they may receive certain benefits. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Schools must provide accommodations to students. Depending on the level of support you need, you may also be eligible for disability benefits, including Social Security and Medicaid.
I would like the readers of this debate to pay special attention to this source. The Cleveland Clinic is a highly regarded medical center, consistently considered to be one of the best hospitals in the US, and its page on autism starts with this description (emphasis mine):
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disease typically diagnosed during childhood.
Thus, I have shown that even highly reputable medical sources classify ASD as a disease. I feel that I have met my burden of proof, but I would like to take the time to directly address some of my opponent's arguments.

My opponent links to a source describing the difference between what healthcare providers refer to as a disease and what they deem disorder. I would like to quote this article myself:
A disorder might indicate that a specific disease is possible but there is not enough clinical evidence for diagnosis. It may be clear you have an autoimmune disorder of some sort, but it may take time to receive a specific diagnosis like [Rheumatoid Arthritis].
The distinction being made here is one between general dysfunction where the source is not clear and something that can specifically be diagnosed. As noted by Dorland's Medical Dictionary, the cause and function of a disease may be unknown. What sets it apart from general disorder of some bodily function is whether there is a set of symptoms that are used to diagnose the disease. As I have already established, this is true of ASD.

My opponent also notes that there is no cure for autism. While this is true, it in no way indicates that it is not a disease. Many diseases are lifelong and incurable. However, autism can be treated through therapy and behavioral interventions, as the Cleveland Clinic notes:
Autism treatment includes behavioral interventions or therapies. These teach new skills to address the core deficits of autism and reduce the core symptoms . . . As your child ages and develops, they may receive a modified treatment plan to cater to their specific needs.
My opponent also objects to the classification of autism as a disease on the basis that such terminology is in some way prejudicial towards those with the condition. My opponent claims:
Do you remember the time someone you knew was sick for three days with the flue and you tried to avoid them because you did not want to get sick as well even after they told you they were not sick anymore? Now, imagine that same scenario except this person now has autism and you incorrectly believed it was a sickness you could get yourself. That is exactly what would happen if autism was considered a disease. 
This is simply not true. There are plenty of diseases that are not in any way contagious. Diabetes is a well-known disease, and it is well-understood by the general public that it does not spread from person to person (except in the case of genetic inheritance from parent to child).

While I recognize that the word 'disease' does have somewhat negative connotations, this has no bearing on the topic of this debate. It is merely about the medical definition of autism. Whether a word is defined a certain way and whether it ought to be defined that way are two entirely separate matters, and I have shown that ASD is, in fact, considered to be a disease by medical organizations.

With all that said, I now turn the debate back over to my opponent.
Round 2
I would like to start by saying that I too thank my opponent for their argument and participation in this debate.

First Argument:  Pro has tried to Establish Autism as a disease by using multiple different definitions to establish Autism has a disease. While it is good to maintain sources, this attempt actually weakens Pro's argument since Only ONE of his sources are actually medical based. They try to argue that all of their sources broadly agree with each other. However, that is not true. For example, the webster definition clearly states that A disease is a condition that impairs the normal functions of a plant or animal. In contrast, states that a disease has to be an incorrectly functioning organ that result from a variety of causes from genetic 'errors' to poison or even just sickness. Additionally, Wiktionary States the opposite of both definitions by defining a disease as an abnormal condition rather than any condition or sickness. Worser still, their one medical source states the opposite of all these definitions by defining a disease as a pathological process having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. 

Having completely different sets of definitions to classify a disease does not establish Autism as a disease. It actually shows that Pro lacks a firm understanding of what constitutes a disease to correctly prove autism is a disease. The fact of the matter is that autism is not medically considered a disease. It is instead a disability.

Second argument:  My opponent would like you to believe that Autism is a disease because A single Clinic in Cleveland has a home page where they call Autism a disease. However, as we have established that Pro themselves lack a firm understanding of what a disease is. It is not hard to imagine that certain medical facilities might also suffer from a misunderstanding of what Autism really is and why it is not a disease. For example, the CDC, which holds far more credibility than any single clinic does not define autism as a disease. 
"Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain." What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? | CDC
The CDC also states there diagnosing Autism is difficult due to the fact that there is no medical test to diagnosis the disorder. This goes in contrast to diagnosing a disease which typically involves a long list. List of medical tests and diagnostic procedures | Britannica  The only way to medically prove that someone is autistic is by observing their behavior in childhood. If Autism were a disease, it would clearly fall into one of the many categories of testing for a disease. The fact that there is not one. Proves that Autism is clearly a disability that is caused by differences in the brain instead of being a disease.

I would also like to point out that pro tried to use one of my sources against my argument. However, Pro merely charry picked certain parts such as the fact that there is behavioral treatment for Autism. To argue that Autism is a disease since they seem to have thought I was trying to argue that Autism lacking a cure is what defined it as a disease. This is not what I said at all nor was that the point. The point was that because Autism is not a disease, it cannot be cured by Modern medicine as it is not a sickness. I also specifically stated that the only treatment for autism medically is for behavioral treatment, which deals in psychology. Not treating the human body for ailments.  

Argument 3:  Pro claims that autism is "considered a disease by medical organizations." this claim is completely false. Pro has not provided any source to any reputable health organizations to support this claim. In contrast, I have shown that Health Organizations, such as the CDC do not agree that Autism is a disease. They instead classify it as a disability that is caused by differences in the human brain. While my opponent did show that at least some minor clinical websites and institutions, such as Cleveland Clinic may have the opinion of autism being a disease. The overall opinion within the medical community is that it is not. Pro is also making this claim on many contradicting definitions, most of which are not even medical sources. IF pro cannot produce any reputable health organizations similar to the CDC or WHO to prove Autism is considered a disease, then it is clear that Autism is both not a disease and my opponent needs to do more research on the subject.

Conclusion: Autism is a developmental disability and not a disease. Pro has proved to lack a firm understanding of what constitutes a disease and has provided very little in the way of proving Autism is a disease medically. Their strongest evidence seems to be that Cleveland Clinic's webpage claiming that Autism is a disease, which my opponent seems to incorrectly think this means Health organizations categorize it as a disease. However, I have debunked this argument by providing the Center for disease control's own website that not only states autism is a disability rather than a disease, but also that Autism is difficult to diagnose because it cannot be tested medically. The only way to prove Autism is to observe someone's development from childhood. This is the exact opposite of a disease which has a plethora of methods to test and discover. 

My opponent now has the floor.

Thank you, Con.

To be honest, I thought I would be able to devote enough time to what seemed like a fairly simple debate topic, but with things going on in my personal life, I haven't been able to. My opponent was clearly prepared for this debate, more so than I was. While I do have a few critiques of my opponent's Round 2 arguments, I do feel that their position in this debate is probably the correct one at this point. Now, I know it is still possible to debate and win from a position one does not actually personally believe in, as people argue from devil's advocate positions quite often, but to be honest, I'm just not that interested in continuing this debate at this time.

I do like debate in general and do wish to continue to participate on this website, but from this point forward, I'm going to do a better job of making sure I'm prepared and have adequate time to participate. With all that being said, I concede this debate to my opponent.
Round 3
While I am saddened that my opponent has chosen to forfeit rather than continue. I thank him for being a professional at this debate and for participating in it with genuine effort.
I would also like to thank my opponent for engaging with me in this interesting debate, and I regret being unable to complete it. 
Round 4
The debate has ended.
In retrospect, I really wish I had simply waived Round 2 instead of conceding the entire debate. Oh well, what's done is done. I've learned my lesson.