Is treating Autism as a “spectrum” useful?

Autism Spectrum elicits a number of images, particularly of a rainbow (a colour for each condition) or a scale (from severe to mild), with the latter being the general clinical use.

But does this work?

On the one hand, there are differences in functioning between different autistic people, with some having high functioning and others low functioning. I use functioning because that is the clinical use of the definition – the ability to function, or carry out nominal activities of living, within the general society and world.

But then we have another question – is this definition right? In other words, does it, firstly, accurately relate to variance within Autistic conditions, and secondly, respect the human experience having the Autistic condition? Does it fit actual differences and does it fit how life, learning, society and daily events play into how people function?

I argue it does not. And to explain that, we need to broaden to some other ideas – the idea of validity, of fluidity, of subjective interplay, of accommodation.

First with Validity. Validity is an old concept still used in different forms (and under PC names) today. A person is valid if they can carry out all the necessary functions to live an independent life without extensive social or clinical support. Traditionally invalids, or people who were not valid, were separated into mental institutions, until evidence of mismanagement and abuse emerged in the 1960s-1990s and many were shifted into a “community model”… until again it emerged in some societies that invalids were not receiving or could not access good support, or faced extra hardship caused by changes in the state of society such as rises in cost of living. Now in some societies there is a mixture of Institutional Care especially for the severely and permanently mentally ill who pose significant risks in societies (think schizophrenia management units, or forensic psychology sections for the criminally insane), and differing levels of Community Care.

The problem of validity is as a categorical definition. We are pretty much “pigeon-holing” people. The pigeon-hole concept, for those unfamiliar, is an image of a set of shelves with narrow openings to put things in, originally homing pigeons for sending messages, then for documents, letters, and other things – essentially a way of separating and organising groups of things. Categorical thinking emerges from Pigeon-Holing, whereby we divide a spread or continuous, fluid population of things (people, objects, situations etc) into discrete, bounded groups. If you’ve ever filled out a form whereby what boxes you tick determine if you get or not get something, and how much you get it, you’ve been subjected to categorical thinking. We use categorical thinking because it’s a simple way to decide how to divide resources or make decisions, and in general it works.

Except for boundary cases. A boundary case is anything that is right on the boundary, cusp, or limit of a range or grouping. Think of dividing a group of schoolchildren into tall kids and short kids, for a game, so all the kids of the same height can play together without disadvantage. Now throw in a middle height child. Which group do they go in without anyone (other or them) having a disadvantage? Validity fails on boundary cases because validity is a binary category – you are or are not valid. It doesn’t allow for “being part valid”. Yet many people with disabilities or being differently-abled face lives where in some situations they do not require support, and in others they do. Or, in fact, they need both and neither.

The spectrum while useful in a very general sense, fails at finer details of the different needs of individuals. Instead people are shoved into broad groups and given same labels whether or not these are suitable for them. Thus they are also subjected to treatments and expectations for the broad group and not respecting the fluid individual.

Fluidity is a counterpoint to categorical thinking. It acknowledges the variation in human conditions. Under fluidity, the blunt cleaver of Validity is replaced by the finer scalpels of detail, of looking at a person’s individual conditions but also how those conditions express uniquely in them. We are each not the same, and even in identical situations we are still not the same, because we have the ability to choose how we respond to our situation, and to our emotions and thoughts on a situation. This includes the capability to learn, and to grow, and thus adapt to one’s limits or transform one’s flaws. Such a concept which we really already know, that how we see ourselves and react to ourselves and our reactions, and how we create change in ourselves for good or bad, I call for lack of a better name subjective interplay. Everyone of us has self esteem, and those with limited self worth likely will not manage as well in life as others. Considerations and acts of support needs to include supporting the whole person, and that includes their worth.

Validity is still useful when a person is clearly a gibbering wreck and needs to be in care. But otherwise each person deserves to have their unique case examined, and what support needed is tailored to their situation including how they see and rationalise themselves and their siituation. Fluid understanding of the spectrum means dispensing with categories of functionality and seeing each person on the spectrum at where they are – and where they are in each moment, and where they will be tomorrow, and the next day and so on, as they change and as things like stress, emotions, life events, and how others treat them, influence how much they actually can cope and live at that time and how their conditions express. Or really, how they as a person express.

There is an unfortunate case where policy, especially spending policy, is set to provide only in a categorical sense. In my country we have a “Supported Living Payment” which is effectively a generic invalid welfare wage. But as part of it one cannot work more than a given number of hours per week. Anyone determined (categorised) as able to, which we call “Work Ready”, is lumped into the valid group and then required to find full time work regardless of their unique situation. And so people without serious debilitation but unable to work full time or consistently work full time, but in need of financial or mental health support, cannot meet their needs and live in hardship – a position which long term worsens their mental health. There has been some changes which allow some invalids to work longer hours but at the cost they must now maintain those hours, and while people who leave the invalid category should be able to return if their situation reverts, many are simply banned because they have worked full time – the policy category states someone who has worked full time recently or now cannot be an invalid – because they are working full time. But that doesn’t consider the reality of their situation, what is best for them, and why they are doing this. But I have digressed (it’s a very concerning subject for me).

But any amount of changing our point of view, or giving respect to a person as a whole person and not something else, that is limited by accommodation. Accommodation is when others grant grace to a person to not fit their expectations, their prejudices, their beliefs about them and in this case about conditions they have. For the autistic spectrum, Accommodation means firstly that others, autistic and non-autistic alike, are understanding of the person and their situation, because without understanding there is no capacity to know what to accommodate. Then accommodation means to grant grace and allowances to the person where they are necessary, and after that when they are reasonable.

For example, a person with misophonia (experiencing debilitating pain in response to specific sounds), deserves accommodation as a necessity and will need it fairly constantly. A person who develops inflexible thinking patterns under stress, will need accommodation by necessity when under said stress because unless that inflexibility is overcome, avoiding negative consequences becomes harder. Necessary accommodations should always be provided. But as others give respect by giving accommodation so respect should be given back to them.

Beyond what is necessary, accommodation can be given but only where it is reasonable – there is being accommodating, and then there is not allowing a person to grow. It sounds unfair and painful, but when we are faced with challenges that prompts us to find better ways to take care of ourselves or navigate the strange world of meeting our needs through others. Though that is not the same as suffering from malicious or cruel actions of others, or from hardship created by unjust or unequal treatment from society. And people are human, they cannot accommodate every single thing all the time. There is a responsibility of give and take on the part of all people.

As well as being limiting in perspective, the Spectrum view does not consider how we can grow, and does not consider the actions of others and the consequences. A person’s “functioning” actually depends on how society labels them, and how others treat them, alongside any clinical diagnoses. A person may be viewed or policied as at the mild end of a spectrum, and be restricted in the support given to them, but because of their particular expressions of their conditions, they have difficulty with things in a way that their “category” does not consider. Additionally people around them put unfair expectations upon them, or incorrect views of their disability or differences, and this causes additional barriers that prevent more nominal living: The person has actual functioning lower than what they are labelled as, caused by how others treat them and and the lack of unique essential support. Likewise a person given good support and accommodation may grow to function better than expected and better than they may be labelled.

I have gone off topic and rather esoterically. This was meant to be about the Autism Spectrum, when I’ve talked about barriers created by how psychotherapy systems diagnose and classify us and how others treat us, and overcoming those barriers. So how does all this relate to Autism.

Again, as I said in a previous post, do not be quick to judge another as not autistic when they speak that they are. But likewise be careful in judgement of how able a person on the spectrum really is, and how that affects your behaviour towards them. We are not fixed points on a ruler – we move about on the spectrum as our day to day functioning changes, depending on on how autism is for us as an individual, those we live amongst and act with, and also our stress levels and the daily events.

Really, it’s about treating people like people and not like a label or something we believe.

And from my digressions, that applies beyond people to societies and policy.

After all, people are not diagnoses.

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Why early diagnosis, and why good mental health support, is important

Trigger warning: This post may provoke strong reactions in people who have suffered physical or psychological abuse.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, I’ve been diagnosed with autism. What I haven’t explained is I wasn’t diagnosed until 28.

Aspergers Syndrome was something I did not know about until I was 21. Unfortunately, the person who first described and considered it for me, was a forensic psychologist – the kind at probation services and referred to in unusual criminal cases. At the time I had been recently arrested, prosecuted and found guilty (by plea) for threatening a random person. The psychological referral was because once I read the victim impact statement, I felt full guilt for my actions to self loathing, even preparing to report family members who appeared to be aggressively threatening me or others (by my misinterpretation).

That one-off incident was the result of undiagnosed mental illness stemming from a long period of bullying and violence at school, including psychological manipulation and abuse and a possible attempted murder via throat stabbing; from family dysfunction; predisposition to mental illness running in the family; undiagnosed Aspergers syndrome also running in one side of the family and the deficits associated with it; social dysfunction from poor guidance and support during teenage years, such that one had learned misguided or harmful attitudes towards social conduct, self, authorities and responsibilities; and the anger, suppressed rage but also absent self esteem coming from all this. Also I was being psychologically manipulated into mind games by an acquaintance I knew through a community group I was attending, and requests for help from other members were discounted, or were responded to as if I was causing a scene as a “newcomer” or “outsider”.

It took an extreme incident for mental health issues to be recognized. Despite displaying social behaviour at home, school or in public which by common social standards would be a warning sign. It could be said that today we know much more than in the past and are better informed about spotting these things. I would say it depends on the culture, societal attitudes,and regional attitudes, plus the willingness of each individual in your life to actually give a care and make the effort. General knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome was known before I started High School and also before it entered the DSM; It was formally accepted in the DSM-IV when I was in the middle of High School; Clear warning signs such as becoming afraid of interacting with people, staying in my room all day to play computer games and having trouble with basic life skills like eating regularly or reaching the toilet on time, doing a couple of things in front of others which socially would be considered obscene without their agreement to it and showing no understanding it was offensive until very carefully explained to me with all the social background norms, my great difficulty reading whiteboard writing from my class seat unless sitting at the front, until I explained the writing all looked fuzzy as did everything else and I was finally asked by an attentive senior year teacher when I could get glasses for shortsightedness; if my parents missed stuff it was because they were caught up in a marriage breakdown and were distracted, at the least my father tried to get advice from teachers, family friends, and in one successful referral a psychologist, but in each case got the response that “the boy has to start being a man and stop being a wimp”, while I must also thank a middle school principal who took seriously a report from family that bullies had run me down (and I recall, over) with bicycles; other teachers who witnessed the hideous bullying I received in class, my showing up with bruises and a broken nose at different times, didn’t report it or covered it up. Or decided I had to toughen up. Or likely in many cases were simply overwhelmed by large classes of dysfunctional teenagers, inadequately resourced, and as a quiet obedient child I simply went under their radar. Interestingly some other students who witnessed these events were emotionally supportive, though being only kids they couldn’t know who to report it to.

There is a lot that goes into why a person who needs help does not get it in contemporary circumstances.

Even with access to a psychologist with knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome, I was misdiagnosed. Their test consisted of drawing pictures and pressing a button. There were no tests for coordination, balance, mental processing, sensory processing or other things. I actually lost my temper, though in a polite manner, with the psychologist, to explain I believed they were messing me around and didn’t know what they were doing, at which point they acknowledged they could be wrong about me not having Asperger’s, and refused to continue sessions with me (kind of like they shot themselves in both feet, to use metaphors). But at least I had minimal support for Anxiety.

Later years would be followed by many misdiagnoses – they had a nephew with it and I didn’t seem like them (everyone expresses differently), they had worked with children and I didn’t seem like them (I was an adult), I didn’t meet their expectations (expectations are not assessments). But, a colleague of my dad had a son with Asperger’s – who behaved uncannily like me when I was his age, and we informally decided I had to have it. And later an understanding psychologist assessed I likely had a ‘very mild’ form of it so decided to formally diagnose me. I was 28. And even then I still met resistance to the claim, to this day, even from professionals.

Having discussed elsewhere Sensory Processing Sensitivity and how this can mask ASP or make up for deficits, one may think misdiagnosis to some degree was inevitable. I say that given SPS has been known about and well documented since 1998, so there has been plenty of time to find some measure to identify it and separate it from ASD assessment. The main reason for this not happening is cultural and professional stubbornness – Men with SPS are often treated with prejudice as ‘weak’, and this is particularly strong in my country particularly outside the main cities (such as I was living at the time), and my regional professional psychology circles had no standard for knowing that level of knowledge, or had older non-progressive frameworks for assessing presentation.

Sometimes it’s up to the patient to seek the correct treatment or assessment, but that assumes the patient understands what is happening to them and what is likely needed. By nature mental illness means a patient is not necessarily in their right mind. A good framework for assessing patients via the professional without reliable patient input is necessary, and that framework needs to be highly progressive, up to date and ethical. Consider, in some regions of my country, up to the late 1980’s, young women who had children out of partnerships or wedlock, including from rape, faced their child being confiscated into state care. Some are still banned from ever meeting their children. How much better would my diagnostic experience be had I been assessed in another western country?

From talking to support organizations in my country, it is estimated at least 12% of the prison population has an Autism Condition. Additionally a large proportion has mental health issues, or learning disabilities, numeracy or literacy deficiencies, or have been victims of violence or abuse at an early age.These estimates are roughly echoed across many nations.

Welfare agencies may tend to have high rates of clients with mental illnesses and disabilities, or conditions like Autism.

In support social groups, while long term common visitors are people needing long term support, people diagnosed later are more likely to need long term support than the average of the diagnosed population. The older diagnosed may need more time to adjust, may be less flexible mentally which can come with age / less receptive to older belief patterns being challenged, and may face more complications related to age or to life situation (such as friends passing away, retirement, etc).

Generally, the older you are when diagnosed and given support, the slower you are to adapt and make positive changes.

So the opportunity for early assessment and intervention, but also the presence of early and lifelong support, is essential. It means social support and learning can be effectively managed in childhood and teenage-hood, mental instabilities and extreme events prevented, and guidance into better prognosis and life outcomes.

All this also depends on society. Society has to change attitudes to be supportive and attentive to the above policy. Adults cannot discount the possible consequences of bullying or falling socially behind, cannot ignore other problems happening in the child’s life that they learn about. And, cannot use these events to victimize the child as it all being their fault, cannot externalize it as being the responsibility of the parents, other students, or other people, and cannot claim their hands are full and they have no time or energy left to care. They have to care.

From the newest teacher in a school, to the counselors and psychologists, right up to the Politicians. And that caring goes from saying something as simple as “Are you really alight?” to adequate funding and policy to train adults in identifying problems, adequate funding for mental health services and school disability support, and adequate training and standards for psychologists and practitioners in all sectors.

Because the alternative is a lot of mentally scarred people, bewildered, confused, unable to contribute adequately to society, continuing to be victims of manipulative or abusive people, and ultimately suicide, prison, or dying after a long time of needless suffering.

And the only real reason for that happening is people not giving a ****.

 

Writing time: 2.5 hours

Ambience:

How Fortunate The Man With None, Dead Can Dance:

 

Opium, Dead Can Dance:

 

All In Good Time, Dead Can Dance:

The Highly Sensitive Aspie

Forenote: much of this is from personal and anecdotal experience, so take it as loose guidelines, not hard rules.

Your alarm goes off in the morning. If it’s Summer, you’re already awake with the sunrise, but if it’s winter, likely you’re still very sleepy, and may need a light box or bright bedside lamp to reach full wakefulness. You’re more likely to have S.A.D. due to sensory sensitivity to light and sunlight. It also depends on your latitude and what you’re used to from your routines.

Showers tend to be longer because of the joy of warm water running down your skin, and your mind is probably already tangentially thinking about several things. If you don’t shower it can feel like a strange grit is crawling on your skin, and if it is humid or you are rushed or you are rewearing clothing it may feel like fine emery paper is brushing you during your day.

You likely prefer well lit areas for work, play or rest, especially before the afternoon. When exhausted likely you want dimly lit areas, and bright lighting stops you from relaxing. Something as simple as a cloud passing over the sun for a poorly lit room can lower your energy levels and affect your productivity and mood.

you could be tempted to have something especially pleasurable to the tastebuds for breakfast (and with sensory sensitivity, it will be more pleasure than for the average person), but you will react more badly (tired and slow) to heavy or high carb meals, and post carb torpor is stronger. Sweets and junk food if it gives strong pleasure will always be a bad temptation, and with aspie interests and thinking patterns / rituals, harder to say no to. Likely you will benefit from a light breakfast with some protein (like some fruit and yogurt), and a more moist heavyish lunch you can absorb over a half-hour lunch break (soups and stews may be a natural proclivity). Drinking extra water over the day will help too. Your body goes through water faster, and likely your digestive tract processes food a bit faster, hence the stronger reactions. It is also more sensitive to spices so watch the salt and extras. Herbs and roughage are a must especially as you age.

Being in an environment with lots of noise can drain, but especially being in a situation with frequent interruptions and no warnings will be a nightmare. You will need some routine or at least prediction to sensory events that will interrupt your flow. Having masking devices and barrier cues (which indicate you should not be disturbed) will be useful, but not foolproof.

Likewise your mood will be affected by those around you and events in the environment. A sudden visitor in a foul mood will particularly affect your feelings and energy. It might seem like other people’s emotions are invading your emotional space, though you may not be aware of this or able to name it at the time. Rather it will be like, you have a sudden emotional change or mood swing but no explanation, you may even think there is something wrong with you. But it is actually your HSP radar picking up other’s emotions in detail while lacking facility to internally set them as distinct from your own. If there is an especially difficult time identifying emotions, articulating them, and particularly sensing a distinctness between basic kinds of emotions (anger, fear, joy, sadness), then likely this is Alexithymia, a neurological condition whereby the limbic system (which creates emotion and mood as subjective experience) and the language centres and neocortex (which can label and articulate subjective and objective experiences, and identify related cause and effect) do not communicate adequately. But if you simply need more time separating your emotions and others while able to articulate and reason through both when you do separate them, then likely it is a particularly strong HSP trait for sensing and living other’s emotional experiences. In older times such people were called ’empaths’, and today it is called ‘extroverted feeling’. This can make dealing with strong feeling people a rollercoaster, but also give you incredibly uncanny insight into the beings of others.

You may be not very outgoing apart from a few close friends you really trust, and even then you prefer one on one catchups. But if you’re a rare extrovert you’ll prefer being outgoing and group functions, even if not the life of the crowd. Either way you’ll want a ‘recovery’ space, such as your bedroom or a den or somewhere outside the house (a natural setting especially). Interruptions in your recovery space will feel like violence, deliberate assaults and intrusions into your being.

To some degree you’re likely a quiet person, preferring to watch, listen and consider what is known and observed. Depending on your personality and such you may slowly build conscious pictures around things and understandings, or have flashes of intuition and insight you cannot explain. Because of Social difficulties from Asperger’s, you probably preferred as a child to ‘play beside’ others more often and into an older age, than ‘with’. Maybe you still do when overloaded. People who forced you to be outgoing or such were a big frustration, as were people highly insensitive to your needs, people with no consideration, awareness or base care for how their actions impacted on others or for the nuance of circumstance.

This doesn’t mean your downtime is solemn or quiet. you could enjoy online social interaction. social media with it’s filter bubbles and negativity can be a pain, but direct contact can be fulfilling. Hobbies and Art will provide an unrivaled joy, and interactions with nature have unique splendor.

You may be involved in a hobby or vocation that uses a sensory advantage, such as sensing stronger detail in colours, pictures and scenes, soundscapes and music, cooking and confectionery, and more. Or you may be involved in a discipline requiring awareness of emotional, cultural or social nuances and details, which through the HSP you’ll pick up on more. Teacher, Mentor, Counselor, are examples.

There will be times when the ASD and HSP will collide – you get an insight which is not exactly right (instinct is an art), but because of ‘stuck’ thinking or inflexibility you can’t change your mind. You can get stuck in trains of thought repetitively, just as you may prefer listening to the same music, watching the same movies, etc. Nativity from difficulty with non-verbal communication and cathartic honesty will still lead to challenging moments (unlike HSPs without ASD), until you have enough knowledge, self-control and self-development to inhibit it. Instincts from HSP will still come though, warning you about dangerous people. you may be frightened of them or misunderstand and ignore them earlier in life.

Managing stress will be important, as stress – and the anxiety that comes with stress – will overpower your HSP gifts. The Anxiety will fill your emotional sensitivity, so it will be all you sense, and engaging the coping skills you have for ASD deficits will be harder when stressed. Too much stress will make you ‘regress’ with ASD. Learning long term preventative skills to manage stress and staying in the moment will help you.

If you have more moderate or mild SPS (you’re more of a mildly sensitive person) then more likely your HSP side showed less than the ASD side in youth apart from food sensitivities, general sensory sensitivity or what appears like SPD, but with the odd moment of insight or sudden instinct. As you grew older, if you were able to develop good coping mechanisms with ASD, your HSP benefits likely got stronger (unless you were under heavy stress). also the HSP side would appear to get stronger as you age, which is natural. This combination means that your Asperger’s would appear to ‘recede’ as you approach your middle years – though it is still there.

And a consequence will be a lot of misunderstanding by others – from ordinary friends to psychology professionals. People will have trouble seeing how you are living with ASD because of the HSP ability to pick up on their social nuances and thus socialise adequately. Even though ASD is still there. Psychiatrists may misdiagnose you. Friends will underestimate your coping potentials. Perhaps the only people who will ‘get’ you from first meet are other HSPs.

 

 

Writing time: 2 hours

Ambience:

Too Many People, Princess Chelsea:

Heavenly Pop Hit, The Chills:

Pink Frost, The Chills:

Deceptikonz, Fallen Angels:

Sensory Processing Sensitivity and the Highly Sensitive Person

Pay attention. Stop being ditzy. Be more out going. Stop being such a dreamer. Why are you anti social? Why are you so emotional? Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. Pull your finger out and grow up. Stop being so sensitive.

I had heard the term “highly sensitive” before. Partly in New Age groups which I wasn’t comfortable with, otherwise as a derogatory term for a “blousy man”, weakling, wimp, pushover.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity, i first heard of, in my late 30s. I’d been hearing a lot of “you’re not autistic” which was annoying me (see¬†this post). But a question of “why are you using the label when you seem to be socially skilled?” Had been raised. Which led me to look at possible differential conditions. I watched a video blog by Hannah Riedel that mentioned HSP and went from there.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) was identified by Elaine Aron in 1998. She identified that 15% to 20% of the general population have a nervous system that processes sensory information in more depth, a survival strategy which gives more information for the brain to make judgements on. The sense organs, and the other parts of the brain are not different. Rather the filters that derive meaning and possibility from sensory information – including social sensory information (cues, speech prosody, gesture detail) and emotion sensory information (expressed in prosody and non verbal cues) process in more detail.

This has consequences. Processing in more detail requires more energy, which tires one more. But it means more meaning, nuance and understanding is derived from sensory input.

A Highly Sensitive Person is more exhausted by demanding sensory environments. Thus an HSP is more likely to seek distance to recuperate energy. In personality terms, HSPs are more likely to be Introverted, and gain social energy away from people rather than interacting with them (70%, while 30% are extroverted). Most HSPs are exhausted by environments with excessive noise and sensory intrusions have more impact. As an HSP child I was at times ‘out of it’, disassociative or with my mind wandering off on other topics because of overstimulation and needing mental distance. Internal sensory sensitivity to food, spices and alcohol is an issue too. HSPs are more likely to overthink things, have strong emotional responses to stimuli, visceral reactions to depictions of violence, pain and suffering. Sudden changes in morale or the emotional environment can throw an HSP off their activities. Also being placed under direct scrutiny, pressure or required to multitask heavy workloads can be more stressful than usual. While more collaborative and group or community focused, HSPs can be successful in business and individual endeavors.

However, due to their experiences, they are more likely to be considerate individuals, have stronger concentration, be more attentive and attuned to details, aware of emotional, cultural and social contexts in interactions, helpful, and creative and artistic. Spiritualism is more common in HSPs due to sensing more underlying intention and purpose in actions and events. They are less superficial and seek more meaning and depth in interactions and friendships.

HSPs in general can find themselves in many roles in life, even ones we may not consider suitable for them. The key-points are being able to manage energy, intrusion into recovery spaces, and finding their callings and purpose. A big difficulty of HSPs is actually “insensitive” people, the 30%-40% of the population who have no processing sensitivity traits. They are the most likely to perceive HSP courteousness as needless, lack care or awareness of the effects of pressuring HSPs in their duties, and not support or accommodate particular needs of HSPs in their environment.

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Sensory Processing Sensitivity is different from Sensory Processing Disorder, as the former simply processes in more depth, while the latter involves poor integration between the sensory system and the motor and intention systems, and sensory experience is either so intense it causes physical pain or harmful reactions (for example, a light breeze can feel like sandpaper grinding the skin), or there is no discomfort response even in danger situations (not feeling burning when grabbing the wrong end of an iron or touching a stove top). an HSP child can feel more overwhelmed and tired by a days events but will recuperate. An SPD child will have meltdowns from ordinary day events, and likely be fussy and anxious in an attempt to cope.

Both SPS and SPD relate to Autism through sensory sensitivity. An Autistic person can have some sensory sensitivity in childhood but not necessarily to the level or manner that matches SPS or SPD. Many Autistic people likely have some form of SPD experienced in childhood, possibly continuing into adulthood. But while Autistic people are slightly more likely than the general population to have SPS it is not guaranteed.

Finally, HSP men are less common, and can find growing up particularly tough. Stereotypical expectations of boys, especially in Western Societies can treat HSP men as weak or of poor character. I encountered this especially as a child growing up in New Zealand before the 2000s, and find this attitude is still prevalent in many areas outside the main cities. HSP men treated in this way have higher risk of poor self esteem, being bullied, and suicide. Though unless an HSP man grows up in an insecure or abusive situation (or rather like any person), they can quickly bounce back with good support.

Writing Time: 2 hours

Ambience:

Sleep, Max Richter:

 

References:

Aron, E. (1998). The Highly Sensitive Person. London, UK. Harper Collins.

Why i’m not part of the “Autism Community”

When I first began seeking support after diagnosis, I came across WrongPlanet, a forum specific to Autistic people. Where I was introduced to Autism communities and Autism Identity. WrongPlanet itself was well managed and I’d generally recommend it to others.

It can be common for people diagnosed with a particular condition to gather, to share information, and elicit support from one another. Autistic people can of course do the same thing.

Support communities offer useful advice for handing things Autistic people have deficits in, providing encouragement, and a safe space to discuss in (including special interests and private issues).

 

Then there is Autism Identity.

Autism as identity emerges from the use of language to describe and define people. We may define a person by their religion, ethnicity, gender and so on. In other words, we associate these things with a person’s identity – the sense of who they are, and what they stand for.

Likewise, there exists “Person first language” where one is primarily spoken of as a person and any condition or association is secondary, and “Person with Autism” is an example. And there exists “Identity first language”, where the association is primary, with “Autistic Person” being an example.

During my participation in the Autism Community, I encountered proponents of both sides of this language and the relationship to identity.

There is one group of people, primarily the family or friends of Autistic people who are not Autistic, who use Person first language. They regard their Autistic child / family member / spouse / friend as a person first. They seek to humanise how they relate to this person. Some consider the use of “autistic person” demeaning and have experience of this.

There is another group of people, primarily autistic, who uses Identity first language. They cite Person first language as separating them from a condition or association which profoundly influences their life experience, and through that their identity. And that has truth, Autistic people have differently wired brains from birth, and so what is taken in to inform them and their self-perception can be different from the average Neurotypical (Non-autistic).

Both groups have worthwhile points. Person first groups want Autistic people to not be dehumanised, or boxed into a category. But at the same time Person first language can regard Autism, an incurable permanent condition which is not damaging in itself, like a disease. Identity first groups seek to have the impact of the condition – both in benefits and flaws – respected, and their identity valued, an identity which includes the effects of Autism, despite the very real flaws and limitations Autism gives.

Both groups seek to uplift the worth of Autistic people, but in different ways.

I have respect and see value in both groups.

 

But now this brings me to the problems I find within these groups.

In Autism communities, some advocates can have a strong superego, and take on a “rule enforcer” role. They have an inflexible approach to the expectations of participant behaviour and be very unforgiving.

I have unintentionally “offended” some of these people by statements or actions which, unbeknown to me, broke rules, and because of that I was labeled some kind of evil person. Those superego advocates then proceeded to turn other members of their group against me.

Another problem I found, when using online communities, attending in-person, or managing my own support group, were attendees who put off other visitors. With meetups and online forums in general, there is occasionally that one attention seeker, arguer, or buffoon who cannot see how their actions upset other members. But in Autism support groups, meetups and communities, and given the nature of Autism with social communication deficits and less flexible thinking, this is much more of a problem. Because of this I found my attempts to run my own advocacy groups would fail long-term, as people new to the group would be put off by these difficult attendees.

Next, long term, Autism support groups tend to retain members who have long-term problems or distress. This is obvious in the sense that long term problems means they will keep using the support group longer, and appear at meetings more often. The situation turns into a kind of pastime game, with the support group tending toward the same members long term, not improving or changing.

Lastly, some Autism communities despite preaching neurodiversity (we are all differently wired and should respect each other’s different neurological perspectives), and inclusion (we should practice respecting one another regardless of differences), act like they know better than other groups, and treat Non-autisitcs as the enemy / inferior to them. I have found this very offensive.

 

Fundamentally, I find the nature of Autism means Autistic people are not necessarily the best to help one another, because of the limitations and inflexibility the condition gives to some individuals.

I can understand if Autistics prefer to avoid Neurotypicals because of painful experiences, but likewise if Neurotypicals find some Autistics challenging, some have good reasons. Listening to Neurotypicals and Autistics discuss the challenges they face with one another, even when good friends, I hear good points raised on both sides.

Much of social science can trace problem behaviour in all parties to childhood experiences, emotional scripts, personality disorders, and other stuff in the irrational parts of the brain. Those same parts are helpful through gut instincts, rapid social cue processing which saves time, and subconsciously pushing us to reciprocate in friendship, build rapport and so on. If Neurotypical patterns are most common, generally these patterns are more successful in the social sphere. Autistic people can still do well socially, of course. Rather, a world view of Autistics as superior, or of some Neurotypical conspiracy, or simply being inflexible in how your actions isolate oneself and damage friendships, is not as good.

I believe that Inclusion should usually include all kinds of people including Neurotypicals, and Neurodiversity should, in turn, respect mainstream or more common neurological patterns, as we would want common neurological patterns to respect our less common difference. The keypoint is no one group or pattern should dominate the others.
I am simply wired differently. I am both an Autistic person, and a person with Autism. And, I am neither an Autistic person an a person with Autism. I am a Human Being. I am no more or less than any other human, I never was and never will be. And I find that people in general have so many hidden quirks, talents and flaws, that Autism as a Label, not really meaningful.

I still have Autism as a condition though, and that’s ok.

 

Writing time: 2.5 hours

Ambience:

Dance with Me, Willard Grant Conspiracy:

Distant Shore, Willard Grant Conspiracy:

 

 

References

http://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/

http://www.humanologyproject.org/autism//autism-and-self-identity-a-spectrum-of-perspectives

 

“I don’t think you’re autistic…”

I’ve had this from a lot of people over time – from strangers, a few friends and colleagues, but also from professionals, meaning phychiatrists and psychotherapists. It comes in the explicit spoken form, but also implied in body language and how people keep up contact over time and he way they keep up.

I want to write a little on why people can think an Autistic person is not Autistic, and how to respond to, or prevent, this.

Basically how you appear as a person, or how you appear to behave, doesn’t match their expectations of an Autistic person:

Stereotypes. They are using generalised examples drawn from popular culture, old ideas or other over generalised common descriptions. Stereotypes are narrow and few people can meet them. This is more common amongst people who have little experience of Aspie people. 

Misinterpretation of diagnostic criteria. The DSM-V provides a means to diagnose Aspies, but is not exacting, because diagnosis needs to get to how a possible Aspie is thinking and feeling and behaving and why, and if that matches with how Aspies do think and feel and behave, and why. A professional may be not allowing for this interpretation factor – taking diagnosis too literally, or too biased. Or ignoring how other matters affect the expression of the Aspie. They are too hungup on how the Aspie appears, now how they actually are.

Masking. This is when another condition, syndrome or learned coping behaviours, change the appearance of the Aspie. Many cultures place young women such that they get more early social experience compared to men, and cultures may easily stereotype meltdowns, outbursts or such as “women’s emotions”, so women are more likely to be underdiagnosed due to cultural expectations masking he presentation of Autism. Conditions like SPS, which means deeper processing of sensory and emotional information, can make an Aspie appear to have stronger social insight than expected. Eastern Cultures have more tolerance for things like a lack of eye contact, and other social cue differences, which could make mild Autism hard to see. And an Aspie might learn enough about social communication to ‘pretend to be normal’.

Public presumption. Assuming how you appear in public is how you always appear. This is general ignorance. Everyone to some degree behaves differently in their private space, compared to the public world (even if just a change of clothes or language or habits). You will encounter this if you are ‘pretending to be normal’.
Where diagnosis is generally denied (by ordinary people), it is often a lack of education. There is a common notion from Socratic times, people upon learning a few truths about a field of knowledge gain a lot of self confidence, then believe they are like an expert (from the confidence). If exposed as knowing less than they think they do, they may try to save face and avoid embarrassment. But very few people are malicious when denying an Aspie is an Aspie. 

Professionals on the other hand, should know well enough. A professional not acknowledging your diagnosis can be dangerous, by misprescribing medication or therapy, or denying essential support. They have a responsibility to listen to patients and keep up to date on interpretation and knowledge.
When dealing with professionals, bring them into your world – give examples of what is going through your head, your emotions and so on, so they see beyond presentation to your subjective experience. Reason with them in full honesty, about how and why you are autistic. 

For Lay people, take a friendly authority approach. Explain that outside of psychiatry and those with the condition, no one really understands what Autism is like, not even family members. Ask them how they think you’re not autistic, and respond with a well constructed example of how someone who appears that way could still be autistic. Be friendly about it, you’re kindly improving their wisdom (though don’t tell them that).
The simplest way to avoid a denial situation is to not tell the other person you are Autistic. Only mention it if you are required, such as in a psychotherapy session, or you do need particular support or social accommodation and discussing it is the only way to obtain that support.

A crash course in Asperger’s Syndrome

During which we will probably fall down the crash course tree, strike several crash course boughs, face-plant the crash course bus into the crash course ground before driving the crash course route into crash course town. Or not.

 

The history lesson: Hans Asperger was studying a group of intelligent, but socially awkward children in Germany. He determined they shared patterns of behaviour he described as ‘pathological autos’, meaning they were egocentric and with a fixed cause, as opposed to a curable psychological one. This was at a similar time as Leo Kanner studied another group of children in America.

It happened that this was during the second world war – Hans was based in Nazi Germany – and his home (with his research) was bombed and destroyed. He did manage to publish a paper in a obscure German Journal. It wasn’t until a researcher translated the journal into English that the psychology establishment became aware of it. Asperger’s Syndrome became official in 1994, around 50 years after first identification.

Aspergers is regarded as a Pervasive Development Disorder. Unlike Specific Development Disorders which affect one development element (imagine a child with only delayed speech acquisition, or only delayed coordination development, but only the one condition or delay). Pervasive Development Disorders affect multiple development elements. Aspergers is currently classed as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

 

Asperger’s definitely shares some developmental difficulties with Autism, namely delays developing social communication, and socialisation (interacting with others, building and keeping friendships and relationships, and more likely to have difficulties with wider social skills such as negotiation, persuasion, self-assertion, empathizing and sympathizing etc. compared to the non-autistic population). But people with Asperger’s do not have delays with language acquisition and use, and do not have intelligence deficits. Forming interests of an intense nature, and suddenly starting or stopping such interests, has been observed too. Most people with Asperger’s have one co-morbid disorder, with Anxiety being the most common and then Depression. They may have more conditions and disorders, but compared to Autistic people this is a statistically less common issue. Also like Autistic people they sometimes have issues with clumsiness, coordination between left and right sides of the body, deficits with spatial awareness of body positioning, and differences in sensitivity (or insensitivity) to the senses and pain – this can extend to memory, perception, stimuli and arousal responses.

To give examples, growing up, I found some clothing uncomfortable but didn’t understand I could communicate this as a problem (or was unsure how to communicate it). I sometimes wore clothing in unusual ways – such as only wearing gumboots for a whole week during a school holiday, or wearing sweatpants backwards because it was easier to retrieve stuff from the pockets. I described in previous posts about misunderstandings in language use and speech, and misunderstandings in social customs in a few situations. Academically I did well at school in the sciences, but average in English classes, interesting the only time I did badly in math was with a tutor who did not teach in a structured logistic manner with clear language – the sciences tend to have more literal terms and precise meanings, while creative language use such as prose allegory and poetry, and historic use such as in Shakespearean plays, are much more figurative, euphemistic and context-dependent to their time or cultural period.computer games were an obsession as much as a sensory experience as an interest, but esoteric books on sciences and math bore great focus too, and may have helped toward a reading age of 16 by my chronological age of 9. I could give more examples but I want to move on in this discussion.

 

While Aspergers is now classed as a form of ASD, there is some debate of if the name should still be used in society – that is, being in favour of continued use. Asperger’s has elements not present on the rest of the Autism Spectrum such as normal language acquisition (if speech mannerisms and actual usage is ignored), and normal intelligence. In fact more recent observations indicate people with Asperger’s tend to have higher IQs and are more likely to have a field of high ability (meaning, a subject they are really good at). Stereotypes limit this to the sciences, math and computers but it can include creating games, art, music, and a range of other things, and anecdotally any being drawn to machinery and sciences may be because of the more literal and deterministic properties of these systems, and because a machine doesn’t impose unexplained cultural expectations.

This is not to speak down of other individuals with ASD or their accomplishments or devalue their life experiences. Rather, the Lay perspective may not understand ‘ASD’ or ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ well, and has a long perception history with ‘Autism’ (and a shorter one with Asperger’s Syndrome). ASD can easily be mis-crossed with Autism in meaning and usage. A lay person considering ASD may think of and instead use the word Autism. But a Lay person may consider Aspergers in a very different light. From my own experience using the term Autism has led to confusion or denial by other people, or a nodding “yes, yes” response which in my culture can be a placating response, pretending to accept or agree while not really understanding. Saying I have Asperger’s Syndrome, then if they have time briefly explaining my particular experience, has a much more positive response.

 

Unlike what some believe, this is a lifelong neurological and genetic condition, and doesn’t mysteriously get better after childhood. However, this brings to the fore a particular difference between people with Asperger’s and people with Autism: People with Asperger’s Syndrome are more likely, on the average, to learn to cope and live a more ‘normal’ (or as I prefer, satisfying) life. This is not to say, again, all Autistics do not cope and all Aspies (shorthand people with Asperger’s) will. It depends on early experiences and interventions, quality of early life, available opportunities and the using of them, and love and luck, for both Aspies and Autistics. I met an aspie with significant deficits, but who is doing well because of extended family who look out for them. Another aspie was pressured out of the home at an early age despite a serious lack of life, employment and social skills, with little contact from family afterward. I also know a moderate functioning Autistic (whether this is Autistic or Aspie, I do not know or care), who lives independently, advocates in the wider community, and studies biology despite living with several uncomfortable conditions and PTSD. All the same I’ve met Aspies who are especially repetitive or restricted in their deliberate choices (though this could be anxiety), or don’t do much with their lives, or won’t make changes to improve their lives.

 

Aspies often have poor executive function, which combines willpower, task planning, starting and keeping momentum on tasks, and responding when problems arise. This can mean more impulsiveness not starting tasks or failing to complete them, intransigence if a task does not progress as planned (giving up or proceeding even with bad results), and more likely to be distracted from a task. Aspies also with ADHD will have worse executive dysfunction. Untreated depression leads to more difficulty starting tasks, and anxiety leads to that too with more distraction or impulsiveness. Sensory issues can distract, but Aspies with Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) can concentrate harder until sensory overload. There are ways to improve executive functioning and general psychotherapy can help. Note that in midlife, executive functioning can decline. Some people are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in their 50’s in response to support or assessment regarding executive function.

Some Aspies act as rule enforcers. They follow a rule very literally, inflexibly and do not tolerate deviation from the stipulations of the rule, even for others, regardless of context. Rule enforcement may come from naive breaching of a rule, and as a compensation act the Aspie follows the rule strongly, which avoids the negativity of failing the rule again. Enforcing can also some from a strong superego. I have seen more rule enforcing in Aspie parents and Aspies in psychologically authoritarian roles. Generally I find rule enforcement to cause more trouble and it seeks to prevent. This can be very difficult to manage, as by nature, enforcement is rigid and inflexible, thus resisting to change.

Aspies may process information with fewer sensory or subjective channels than non-autistics. Input processing in the brain has multiple elements, including each sensory channel, channel resolution, channel integration, and extracting meaning from the channels and the integration. This is at the neurological level. While aspies tend to have more difficulty with integration, channel resolution is more fine grained (they pick up more detail). It may be possible with the right therapy to improve integration but I say this cautiously. I am certain Aspies can learn and improve meaning extraction, both in therapy and from experience, depending on their variation of Asperger’s Syndrome and on their individual psychology. I myself underwent auditory processing therapy to reduce distraction when doing something. Generally I showed little improvement, but when closing my eyes (reducing to auditory channel alone) my hearing seemed to strikingly improve (the finer detail I mentioned above). Note that having more detailed sensory channels can be advantageous, depending on how they are used.

Some Aspies have difficulty learning from experience. This involves understanding what worked and didn’t in the present, and comparing to the past. Particularly it includes noticing differences between similar experiences in the past, and understanding what these differences mean. Aspies can be inflexible in changing their approach to a situation despite knowing or identifying slight differences.

Theory of Mind (ToM) is the concept of understanding others think differently from ourselves, with their own desires, emotional patterns, and thought patterns. Aspies can be more challenged with this. They might assume everyone thinks like them. Or they may simply not see cues indicating the other feels or thinks independently. Historically ToM has been presumed to be innate to non-autistics and missing to Autistics and Aspies, but more recently it is understood it is mixed nurture / nature. Identity of emotion and thought doesn’t form until age 2, and separation of identity not until age 3, which appears innate in many people. Disruption by alternative neurological development in Aspies may delay development or prevent full development. But also, differences in processing sensory information and difficulty with learning from past experience may limit growing skills and knowledge in social communication. This is important because coherent communication is the means by which we can tell if another is expressing something, and experience gained from social communication teaches us the cues indicating emotions and thoughts, and enough of that teaches that others have different thought and emotions to us. different cultures, with different rules about eye contact, emotional expression, literal interpretation, and language or culture context, can complicate social communication, making developing Theory of Mind more difficult for Aspies. Additionally while children normally experiment with social interaction through play, including role-play (a major way of learning social skills and ToM), Aspies role-play via literal copying, instead of responding to another person’s state of mind, and can tend to continue copied behaviour until a more literal instruction encourages change. This literal copying is well observed in children prior to the age of 4, and that suggests mechanisms for interpreting and generalising social meaning from other people are underdeveloped – bringing us back to ToM.

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There are generalised social rules about how strangers interact, how that changes into acquaintanceship, types of acquaintanceship and association, and how friendship is formed and maintained. In turn modified by social and cultural morays, personality talents and flaws, other psychological conditions etc. For example, strangers tend to make friendly small talk at first, then on specific topics of personal or professional interest as they not only get to know one another, but build a minimal trust (that is what acquaintanceship is). There is a kind of giving / receiving personal information in this process, minimal but enough to help build trust (we see in this information they are harmless, at least). The minimal is less in amount of content, but more in how deeply personal the content is. this is why strangers make a lot of small talk. Part of this particular process is using what is given, but also what is not given and what is read between the lines, so to speak, to determine intentions of the other and how genuine their trust is. The “Stranger Game” is unavoidable – identifying how safe the other is while interacting well enough to get them to open up and prove trust. Hence the existence of Social institutions like religious gatherings, clubs, meetups and so on, help manage the stranger game by creating rules of conduct, expectation, and common interests, reducing the awkwardness.

Aspies with deficiencies in understanding facial expressions, gestures, figurative meanings, and other social communication, thus likely to have less useful social experience and have picked up less skills, likely find it harder to befriend strangers. “Cathartic Confession” is a common issue, being naively open and honest to a deep level without establishing trust first. So can easily give too much which can lead to mistrust – the other feels they are being ‘dumped’ on, or that the Aspie is clingy / immature / already created in mind a friendship when they barely know one another. Alternatively some, not knowing what to do or too slow to process the communication or unable to keep up in conversation, listen too much, and aside from awkward silence, if the other continues to share then a new awkwardness comes fore, for to the other the Aspie now knows too much about them and can misuse that, or so they think. Another risk from Cathartic Confession is manipulation, as the other can misuse the info the Aspie has shared.

Interestingly about the above, I have met Aspies who show good instincts for what another is intending. This is likely more true of women with Asperger’s than men. Alternatively his may be a personality trait or another condition compensating, or life experience.

Alexithymia is a condition whereby a person is challenged in naming emotions, distinguishing their emotions from others, or understanding why they are feeling an emotion. Some alexithymics have an anxiety response when experiencing an emotion due to the deficits mentioned. Aspies are more likely to experience Alexithymia, but not guaranteed. Aspies who tend to confuse their emotions with those of others, but can identify the emotion, may have another condition instead of Alexithymia.

Aspies can display sensory differences, being insensitivity or sensitivity to each sense, in different contexts. sensitivity can be positive or negative. Common issues are noises being painful or inciting meltdowns, uncomfortable textures on clothing, and disliking touch. Aspies are more likely than general to have sense related syndromes like Irlen’s.

 

Empathy capacity is related to social communication and emotional understanding. Cognitive empathy (naming emotions in ourselves and others) is more difficult, however emotive empathy (feeling the same emotion in response) may not be affected.

Also there is the question of general and personality psychology development. Our growth as a person is again both nurture and nature, some traits we have innately but our full quirks and individuality growing out of life experience. If a person has deficits in the social sphere in childhood they may not develop at the same rate as other people, and seem more of an ’empty vessel’ until later in life.

Asperger’s may influence personality development, or it may not. What is curious about Asperger’s and Personality (and is a lesson in not taking diagnoses and descriptions too literally or gospel) is some Aspies I’ve met show personality traits which would contradict general descriptions of Asperger’s. Excellent memory for past experience, good cognitive empathy, mighty insightful instincts for people or systems, and more. We must be careful to not over-generalise descriptions (including those I’ve given above), and be flexible in interpreting a person’s behaviour in relation to Asperger’s.

Finally, depending on cultural expectations and early life experiences, certain people may, to the Lay person, appear ‘Aspie-like’ but not be Aspie. I have met people who showed curious social behaviour which as an Aspie I thought was Aspie – but turned out to not be. This prompted research into Personality Theory as a special interest. People who have had life experience limited to a very narrow experience range (geographically, culturally, socially, etc), or have had unusual experiences in early childhood which led to strange beliefs, expectations, or otherwise, may have a more muted or an unusual personality, and a person inexperienced with Asperger’s Syndrome may mistake such a person for an Aspie. People can prefer their own company, have limited emotional expression, or not care much for other’s feelings, share heavily in interests regardless of how others feel about them, and so on, without being Aspie.

And that’s as far as I’ll take this, having probably taken out an entire crash course country by now. This is a complicated condition, and interplay with other conditions, upbringing and personality (as it forms and when fully formed) makes things far more complicated. Please excuse me while I drink a very long hot chocolate.

 

Writing time: 3.5 hours (over 2 days)

Writing Music:

(Warning: some sudden high pitched or loud noises)

Com Truise, Silicon Tare EP:

Com Truise, Brokendate:

ActRazer, Classics:

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Pervasive_developmental_disorders

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_developmental_disorder

Executive Function

Adventures in Language and Communication

“One way to keep conversation interesting is to say the wrong thing.” – name withheld.

The classroom was silent, students bored or concentrating as they tried to answer the teacher’s joke. “What is white and black, and read all over?” Then I suddenly broke the silence in deadpan manner, while focused on a fascinating contrast of pattern between the linoleum floor and the edge of the sitting mat: “A skunk with a nappy rash.” Class broke into hysterics. Technically I had answered wrong (It was “a newspaper”) but unexpectedly my offering was better.

I later tried to be the class ‘walking joke book’, maybe to recreate the experience I had, and because I didn’t understand how else to interact with peers. At least I enjoyed them (the jokes), if no one else did.

 

I described in a previous post how I used to speak in a monotone and took things literally. It would take me a while to realize metaphors in statements (sarcasm still catches me off guard), or interpret non-literal meaning or cultural and deeper social interpretations. Due to auditory sensory issues and differing accents (German grandmother, British father and New Zealand mother) I mis-heard other people’s pronunciation of “th-” (the, they, there) as “v-” or “d-“, and this wasn’t acknowledged and corrected until my mid 20’s. Think (or imagine) a time you walked into a different culture, maybe as a tourist, but with little research or knowledge, of how the regional language is used including euphemisms and sayings, of cultural expectations and habits, etc. Now imagine you grew up as a child but didn’t pick up on not only the culture and social habits of your family and community, but even the more general aspects of language, meaning and spoken and/or written communication. You start to see what it has been like for me.

 

Language is more than ‘say this, mean what you say’. Linguistics means we speak with varying rhythm and pause, pitch, tone, stress; use sensory input and interpretation to understand phonetics and pronunciation; relate speech to cognition, to understand grammar, importance, indications to listen and participate (discourse), and make sense of emotion and meaning. Language is really complex.

I recall a discussion in Business Communication class, in 1998, about how French has around 200,000 core words, German has around 260,000 with compounded nouns, but English has over 1 billion which includes core words, and a large number of unavoidable nouns especially in today’s tech driven world.

Typically people have an interest in using language, first as children attempting to obtain needs from parents and later negotiate with other people they play beside. And this leads into social communication, but also social relationships (through beneficial exchanges expressed through language, speech and writing, alongside actions). Remember as a kid trying to worm your way out of eating that last mouthful of dinner but still getting dessert. Or making friends in a new class or dorm in College.

Now imagine that you are more fascinated with the differently shaped and colored bottle caps, to the point of collecting and searching the paying field and even out-of-bounds staff rooms for them, when you should be playing with other kids; Or you are still content playing beside other kids when they are making friendships and deciding who is popular or not, and you’re not interested until you’re a few years older; Or your neurology simply develops slower or later.

Some people may have difficulties transforming abstracted ideas, visual imagery, and other things as they are in the mind, into words, sentences, and speech or writing which carries desired meaning. Anecdotal discussion in autism support groups links it to unique thinking styles in autistic people, but it has also been observed in non-autistic people. Anecdotally it has been observed in children with dyslexia, both speech and writing forms, and in children with¬†dyspraxia. It appears more common with specific personality types (INxx types, Myers-Briggs class models). General variations include writer’s block and ‘speech block’ associated with passionate emotions.

An additional challenge is one I call transmitted meaning impedance. The speaker or writer (transmitter) constructs the communication based on the desired meaning, in turn interpreted from their experience of language use. But the other person (receiver) interprets meaning based on their own experience too, which is not completely the same. This is usually overcome by personal familiarity (we learn how the speaker or writer uses language to mean things and interpret their communication accordingly) and culture rules. But such filtering may break down in multicultural situations, persons who insist on an expected interpretation (regardless of other’s perspectives), neurological or psychological limitations, or even a lack of life experience.

Another particular barrier is the relationship between identity, neurology and language – learning a new language has been shown to change not only how the brain’s language center is wired but other parts too (citation needed). What language you have (especially first) particularly affects how you think. Might explain interesting and stimulating debates I have had with my international colleagues.

And I should not forget, language communication, while primarily spoken or written, includes non-verbal elements, such as gestures and facial expressions. Interestingly, there is much research indicating facial expressions are common across most cultures and appear to be innate. Some autistic people show more limited natural use of facial expressions and even from an early age, evidence toward deeper differences in neurological wiring.

But difficulties with other gestures are more common in general than many people realize. Think of the gesture you use for hitchhiking. Most westerners and many non-westerners today, will think of the ‘cocked thumb’ gesture. However, as little as 25 years ago many non-westerners in the Balkans would have understood it as ‘get lost’. The American ‘OK’ gesture, used in Brazil, may mean ‘butthole’ (perhaps a particular use of it). And the ‘raised shoulders’ gesture which in Western culture means you couldn’t care less, is still used in Pacific Island cultures to express confusion. Now imagine a Pacific Islander misunderstanding a western authority figure. Oh dear.

But I note in western cultures, since the social media became mainstream, that gestures are being used less often. One less minefield, I think.

 

So, solutions?

Firstly, all language is learned. Even Our native language is learned as children, even if not learned well. So treat it as a skill to exercise.

This assumes you have an interest in building language skills. If you have no real interest or motivation, you will not improve well. However, sometimes we need a push in this direction before we realize the benefits – benefits which can motivate us.

Of course if we all spoke and wrote literally in formalized plain language in monotonic manner, there would be no difficulties (well I really mean I’d never have difficulties).

Plain, direct language use, called ‘low context’ language, is less ambiguous and more accurate in general communication. ‘High context’ language is more implicit, containing more meaning than in the literal words and relying on intuitive understanding. Such context is itself on a spectrum, and people can switch between levels of context depending on the other individuals and the cliques they are interacting with.

Learning to recognize the language context used by others – and thus how much hidden meaning to expect, if there is hidden meaning – is a good skill to have. Realizing there is a mismatch between contexts can clear up misunderstandings.

Low context language is not mandatory – speaking to your closest friend, knowing what they probably will say before they say it, high context is ok, and more naturally preferred. forcing a low context may cause awkwardness. So, understanding and becoming comfortable with all contexts of language use, is a second skill to have.

Then, practice and study! Famous speeches, letters, literature, poetry and prose. Study language use in detail. Practice speeches and writing with a good friend who offers constructive feedback.

 

Footnote: I once wondered if I spoke French, Chinese or a less inflected, grammatically ambiguous and language with high volumes of invented nouns, I would have less language difficulties in early life.

Footnote 2: The mispronunciation I mentioned above? I see similar situations with some international Chinese students – and more often it is accepted because they are ‘foreign’, even though it disadvantages them in finding work (effective communication barriers). This example shows how sociocultural perspectives influence how we respond to language, and that they are not guaranteed to be constructive.

 

Oh, and a father comes home to find his son lying perfectly horizontal, balanced across the space between two armrests. Dad: “Stop planking around!” Son: “But I’m bored.”

 

Writing time: 3 hours.

Writing Music:

Hellbent, Concord Dawn:

 

Shinkansen, Concord Dawn:

 

True, Spandau Ballet:

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosody_(linguistics)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gayle-cotton/cross-cultural-gestures_b_3437653.html

Pease, A. “Body Language”.

Pease, A. (1988). The Thumb Up Gesture / The OK Gesture. In Body Language (pp. 6). Sheldon Press, London.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-_and_low-context_cultures

Disclaimer and Conduct

Blog content:

  1. Everything I post is Opinion written from my individual perspective. It is a way to express myself.
  2. I am not a medical professional, trained clinician, psychologist, or specialist in regard to disabilities discussed. Anything I write is not to be taken as professional ‘canon’.
  3. I have some difficulty expressing myself in words (translating intended meaning into spoken or written form), and I am not the best at rational critical thinking (like many other people) so some perspectives I express may not make sense (including to me in hindsight). I write more intuitively than rationally. Please keep this in mind.

 

Conduct:

  1. Constructive comments, please.
  2. You are allowed to disagree with me, of course. But attacking me is not disagreement and is not acceptable behaviour.
  3. Corrections with evidence are acceptable.

On the Autism Spectrum

I’d often seemed an odd character as a kid and teenager, behind my peers in social development including rites of passage, obsessed with a range of different topics, and had some odd ritualistic behaviors (a favorite was rolling my body and head on one side while in bed, or on the carpeted floor with my security blanket behind the lounge chairs in my childhood house). I took things literally, had a strange intolerance to pain (I once walked home with a large shard of glass in my foot and never noticed), was naive and overly-trusting, spoke in a curious monotone, terribly uncoordinated, and had a fascination with visual and auditory sensory stuff (noises and lights. I would press the sides of my eyeballs to create funny lights, or stare at bright lights, or well lit patterns on wallpaper, furniture and more, for long times to create strange afterimages. And run around making strange noises with my mouth

Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism was new to me back when I was 21. I had undergone an assessment with, frankly, one of the crappiest psychologists I’d ever met, who had no understanding of Autism beyond early stereotyped clinical stories. Testing considered of pressing a button rapidly, drawing described shapes and redrawing simple images shown to me. No questions about my speech, use of language, social comprehension, intelligence, and thinking patterns. The same psychologist later admitted they could be wrong, and after a frank and frustrated questioning of their competence, gave up and refused to see me again.

But a colleague of my father had a 16 year old son with Asperger’s Syndrome – and he behaved very similar to me at that same age. I particularly remember a story of trying to navigate the east Auckland bus system, and after multiple transfers attempting to reach his destination, called his parents in a fluster. I went through something similar, but more with the social rituals with using public transport – some people getting on just put coins on the coin pad, others stated their destination. Once I put the exact change on the pad, but the conductor stopped me entering, and I froze stuttering because I had no idea what I was supposed to do (i had exact change, after all?) until the conductor yelled “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?” It turned out it was the wrong bus and I missed my ride (the east Auckland bus routes were designed by the goblin king of The Labyrinth). Another time was not knowing you had to stand up when you pressed the stop buzzer but before the stop, so the bus and me played a kind of buzzer whack-a-mole until the conductor clicked (still I got a good 2 kilometre walk in that day). The conductors skipping route stops to meet time targets wasn’t helpful too, nor a particular one who drove into the side of a tunnel. Good times.

So what is Autism, Asperger’s and so on? I’ll attempt to explain. And as many readers are not clinical professionals, and since diagnoses and conditions are reclassified over time, I will discuss from a ‘common stereotypical’ viewpoint (the Lay perspective) and attempt to map that to more current knowledge (the Spectrum perspective).

Asperger’s syndrome is considered high functioning Autism, often with strong intelligence and no language delays but always with social awkwardness. More ‘traditional’ Autism may include spoken language development delays or no development at all, is more likely to have and intellectual impairment. This can be considered the Lay perspective.

Autism has been re-classed as a ‘spectrum’ condition (Autism Spectrum disorder or ASD), a group of conditions blending into one another. If ASD is a ruler with one end marked severe, and the other mild, then Asperger’s is at the mild to moderate end, and ‘traditional’ Autism is at the moderate to severe end. Here I am mapping classical and stereotypical definitions as separate syndromes, (the Lay Perspective), to the modern clinical definition of a ‘blended’ condition: That there really is no separate “Asperger’s” or “traditional” autism. It’s all the same thing. That is the Spectrum perspective.

That can be hard to get your head around, that these ‘different’ conditions are the same. But they are, fundamentally. Any difference is in the ‘symptoms’, or expressions of behaviour, which people can observe (again, lay terms)..

Part of the issue is we use clinical definitions (currently defined in the DSM-V, a manual for diagnosible conditions). This defines ASD but does so more in terms of observable behaviour, not necessarily what leads to this behaviour (which gets into nurture vs nature arguments, epigenetics, development of secondary behaviours as coping mechanisms and more. Ugh). Until we have other means of identifying ASD, such as surefire epigenetic testing or accurate models of cognitive-emotive-behavioral-environment relationships in childhood development, we’re stuck with observed behaviour approaches.

Key symptoms that tend to appear across the spectrum, include challenges in social communication, challenges in social interaction which can include creating and maintaining significant friendships and relationships, repetitive and restrictive behaviours, and obsessive or intense interests which may come and go over time. Note that I say challenges – I have met many autistics with friendships or in relationships and marriages, even if they don’t always go smoothly.

What these symptoms mean can appear vague (there can be many interpretations), but being a spectrum it covers a wide range of variation between individuals with autism. The variation can include the ability to develop coping behaviours, self-advocacy, extreme mastery in a particular field or subject, and abilities that circumvent limitations in culture, social norms and common imagination or discourse. As I have grown my own knowledge and skill in contemporary psychology, electronica music appreciation, meditation, a highly creative and unrestrained imagination, and a strong empathic instinct.

I cannot give full examples of all the variations of this spectrum. I mainly know my own experience and insight into my own experience. But we can explore this over time and discuss insight into the second hand experience of other autistic people.

 

Writing time: 2 hours.

Writing music:

Endless, Shapshifter:

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_spectrum

https://www.autismnz.org.nz/about_autism

http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome