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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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:

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.

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