The Spectator

Letters | 24 January 2019

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Autistic freedom

Sir: Jonathan Mitchell, an autistic writer, argues that autism is an affliction and that a cure should be found (‘The dangers of “neurodiversity”’, 19 January). When my son was diagnosed I would have agreed with him, but I disagree strongly now. My son’s autism comes with real challenges, but I value the ways it’s helped him become a thoroughly decent person: he doesn’t lie, it wouldn’t occur to him to be nasty and he’s totally logical. Surely, the world needs more people like him, not fewer.

As Mr Mitchell says, the autism spectrum is huge, encompassing people who can’t communicate, who are locked in a sensory hell and need a high level of care, often for conditions that are not part of their autism. Then there are ‘higher functioning’ autistic people who work as lawyers and have families, who do a better impression of a non-autistic person, often at a cost to their mental health.

The neurodiversity proponents I speak to aren’t against research, particularly to alleviate the sensory chaos that can be experienced. But the isolation and the lack of employment Mr Mitchell describes need to be addressed not by eradicating autistic people, but by non-autistic people accepting that there are equally valid, but different, ways of being and socialising.

Jessie Hewitson (Author of Autism: How to Raise a Happy Autistic Child)

London N8

Not afflicted

Sir: I am 42 and was recently diagnosed with autism. Coming to terms with a very late diagnosis has been a major challenge, not aided by some health professionals expressing views in keeping with the ‘neurodiversity movement’ described by Jonathan Mitchell. I was told that nothing can be done and I should just live with it, drawing satisfaction from the associated advantages. It was only after much personal research and no little cost that I managed to access treatment significantly reducing the anxiety resulting from autism.

While affected in similar ways to Jonathan Mitchell, I am fortunate not to have experienced serious problems maintaining a career. Autism does make life difficult, but there are compensations, such as an ability to focus resolutely on a task, that prevent me from calling it an affliction. Autistic people deserve support and research is essential, but they should also be celebrated for the difference they can make.

Dr James Inglis

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Pots and kettles

Sir: In his Diary column (19 January), Paul Mason clearly doesn’t appreciate being labelled a ‘coupmonger’ or a ‘neoliberal’ by Twitter trolls narked by his position on a second referendum. Quite right too. No one likes being pigeonholed, especially if it’s in a category to which they do not belong. By the end of his piece, however, he’s quite happy to deploy inaccurate labels when he describes ‘Europhiles skipping gleefully alongside xenophobes’ outside parliament on the day of the meaningful vote. Has he never met a Leave voter who loves Europe but loathes the Commission? Or a Remain voter who is careless of the consequences of a protectionist bloc stifling trade with poor countries around the world?

Jon Wainwright

London SE5

Yes please to no deal

Sir: Matthew Parris is wrong in his analysis of Leavers’ intentions and the ‘logic’ of the consequences of their opposition to the PM’s deal (‘Leavers don’t actually want to leave’, 19 January). Most of us would welcome a no deal outcome on WTO terms which would be far from the ‘catastrophe’ that Project Fear Remainers harp on about.

The Commons threw out May’s deal in the full knowledge that the WTO option would be lauded as better than that. Parris is also mistaken in saying ‘there has been a determined majority’ against a no-deal exit. The vote on the amendment to the Finance Bill, which would have limited the scope for tax changes following a no deal unless authorised by MPs, was passed by a majority of just seven votes, against a 230 majority for rejecting May’s flawed deal.

Paul Ashton

St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

Milk of human kindness

Sir: Why does Rod Liddle sneer at vegans? (‘My foolproof recipe for a better world’, 15 December). I write as the mother of a girl who became vegetarian at seven, after learning that animals are killed for meat. Now, in her fourth year as a veterinary medicine student, she’s had plenty of first-hand experience of the misery for animals in intensive dairy and egg-production systems and has decided to make the difficult choice to be a vegan: difficult because, like the rest of us, she loves ice cream, chocolate and cheese.

Does he feel she, and the other people who cannot accept the cruel treatment of animals, don’t deserve respect? What harm are vegans doing?

Alexandra Treasure


A super supermarket

Sir: John Connolly’s excellent piece on Booths (‘Notes on…’, 19 January) reminded me of my first trip to the shop’s Lytham St Annes branch. My heart leapt for joy as I approached the till, above which was a sign reading: ‘10 items or fewer.’

Peter Cardwell

London W6

The corrections

In his review of Naim Attallah’s No Longer With Us (19 January), Nicholas Shakespeare pleads that, in future editions, Somerset Maugham’s lover’s name should be spelt ‘Hoxton’ not ‘Hockston’. Why not go the whole hog and substitute the correct spelling, ‘Haxton’.

John Churcher

London W13