Once upon a time, humans had no idea what developmental disabilities were. So they invented changeling stories to explain things like autism. The stories give lots of great advice, like how to know if you have a changeling, what to do with your changeling when you’ve discovered you have one, why fairies are so into stealing human babies in the first place, and how when changelings happen they are probably all the mother’s fault, what with women’s scary witch-powers to MAKE TINY PEOPLE and whatnot.
Oh, and even if a fairy steals your kid, never talk ill of the fairy. You’ll just make it worse.
Funny thing is, even though humans have done a lot of science since these tales were invented, and even though we are pretty darn sure that fairies are not running around stealing children, humans are still telling changeling stories to explain autism. In fact, it sometimes seems like the more science claims to know about autism (and the complete lack of complicity of fairies in it), the more human beings tell changeling stories about it. Even some scientists are telling changeling stories, dressed up in science-language!
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Unlike most fairy tales, this story doesn’t have a clear, easy moral, which is why if you are reading it to a child you had better stop now lest you destroy their wee psyches (this on the advice of Bruno Bettelheim, who also confirms that mothers are in fact responsible for changeli- I mean, autism, what with their scary witch-powers to REFRIGERATE TINY PEOPLE and whatnot).
On the one hand, othering people really sucks when you’re on the receiving end of it. And the parallel between old-school changeling fairy stories and modern autism “treatments” is pretty terrifying and is doing some really nasty damage to some very real people. Just ask science! Or, if you don’t trust science anymore because it’s also full of changelings (and bees), ask the people!
On the other, if we humans need fairy stories, then maybe science should pay attention to how it talks about itself instead of pretending it has TOTALLY DEVELOPED PAST YOUR SUPERSTITIOUS TOMFOOLERY. Also, I have just demonstrated that the humanities remain relevant. Please publish me.