WHAT IS AUTISM? AUTISM. IT IS DERIVED FROM THE GREEK WORK, AUTOS, WHICH MEANS SELF. THIS REFERS TO THE APPARENT SELF ABSORPTION OF THE FIRST CHILDREN STUDIED, WHO GAVE AUTISM IT'S PLACE AMONG MENTAL DISORDERS TODAY. AND YET, DESPITE THE FACT THAT AUTISM WAS FIRST DOCUMENTED AROUND 80 YEARS AGO, IT IS STILL NOT FULLY UNDERSTOOD. IN THE MODERN WORLD IT IS ONE OF A MULTITUDE OF NEUROLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS THAT EXIST IN THE WORLD OF PSYCHOLOGY. IT IS ALSO THE VICTIM OF A HUGE NUMBER OF MISCONCEPTIONS AND STEREOTYPES. IN REALITY, MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT THE CHALLENGES FACED BY AUTISTICS AND ASPIES (PEOPLE WITH ASPERGER'S SYNDROME) ACTUALLY ARE, OR HOW THEY EFFECT DAY TO DAY FUNCTIONALITY IN THE MODERN WORLD. THROUGH THIS ARTICLE, I HOPE TO ILLUMINATE SOME OF THE KEY ISSUES, ADVANTAGES AND MISCONCEPTIONS SURROUNDING AUTISM AND AUTISTIC SPECTRUM DISORDERS.
Preface and disclaimer. I am (at the time of writing) a seventeen year old male, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at the age of fourteen. Of course, this doesn't mean I magically acquired AS at this age, it is a lifelong and incurable condition, with no known cause. The implications of the diagnosis have been nothing but a help. After all, wondering why you were having such a hard time talking to people with nothing to hold accountable, is an unpleasant experience. During this article I will refer to anyone with Asperger's syndrome (including myself) as an aspie. This is not a derogatory term or slur. It just flows off the tongue a lot easier. Autistic spectrum is AS. ASD stands for autistic spectrum disorder. During this article i will refer to Anyone with autism as an autistic, and anyone who is 'normal' as neurotypical, or NT. Any experiences I share, that don't line up with what you may have experienced don't invalidate either of our experiences or opinions. Everyone is unique. No exceptions.
The autistic state of mind. Living with autism is quite difficult to quantify. After all, I have never not had autism, so I have no standard to judge against. Therefore, I am basing my comparisons on conversations I have had on the subject with various different people, autistic and neurotypical. These are my opinions and observations. One of the main issues when living with an ASD is the inability to read and interpret nonverbal social cues. For example, I cannot tell the emotional state of a person by looking at them. At least not easily. Every skill I have picked up in that area is a thing I have learned, and practiced, rather than an instinct. This can become a problem in a multitude of different ways, especially considering that most human communication is nonverbal. This leads to a massive deficit in the amount of information available in a conversation. To compensate, aspies in particular tend to have extremely formal and idiosyncratic speech. This is in order to make our communication as precise as possible, and overcome our limitations. The upshot of this is that a lot of us tend to sound like we are from a century ago, and quite arrogant. Of course, this leads to its own issues when forming lasting friendships, as I'm sure you can imagine. It's an almost insurmountable obstacle when trying to find a girlfriend. This is one of the biggest, most difficult challenges that anyone on the spectrum will face. Between the difficulty in interpretation, and challenges in empathy, talking to girls is exceptionally hard. At least, any girl you would be romantically inclined towards. Unless you (the reader) are a girl, in which case replace any mention of girl with boy. Obviously. Speaking of which, one interesting/disconcerting fact about the autistic spectrum, is that three quarters of us are boys. In addition, many of the traits that make relationships difficult are far easier to compensate for in girls. For example, most autistics will tell you that starting conversations is a difficult thing to do. Especially with people you don't know very well, and even more so if they are an attractive member of the opposite sex. Girls however, (according to unspoken social convention) are not expected to start as many conversations. At least in the sense of starting a relationship. Men are more expected to initiate conversations, to be suave and charming. This is a role that women/girls are not expected to take as much. As a qualifier, this isn't me being sexist, just a phenomenon I have observed. This poses an issue for autistic spectrum guys who have more difficulty approaching people than a NT man. And while this can also be a problem for girls, it is less prevalent. And once in a relationship, the challenges only escalate. Many relationships involving autistics and NT's break down due to the perceived lack of empathy displayed by the AS partner. This isn't always an actual lack of empathy, but instead merely an issue expressing themselves and their emotions. This is a big problem, but not one that can realistically be solved at the autistic end of the relationship. Another symptom (or indicator if you would prefer) is extremely logical, detailed thought processes. Oftentimes people on the spectrum are exceptionally good at focussing for long periods of time, on what others would consider boring and unnecessary minutiae. While this can be a very helpful skill, it can also hurt your ability to see the big picture, leading to several issues of its own. Several autistics, and in particular aspies, can have exceptional memories. They can easily remember interesting facts and details for almost infinite amounts of time. One of the few advantages of Asperger's syndrome. The last issue is one that is relatively rare. This is the increased prevalence of various sensory issues in aspies and autistics. For example, I suffer from what I term 'auditory overloads'. This when I am in a place with a lot of different sounds going on, and then start to suffer from severe headaches and splitting ear pain in bad cases. I know of people who don't like to be touched, who have visual overloads, and even olfactory (smell) overloads.
Misconceptions and stereotypes of the spectrum. The public image of autism is fraught with inconsistencies and unfair stereotypes. I hope to address as many of these as I can, but if I miss anything, feel free to let me know, or research it yourself. The most common stereotype is the savant. These people are generally more severely autistic, but seem blessed with a seemingly miraculous gift. These examples are well documented and diverse. They include calendrical calculators, people who can take any date given to them and give you the day of the week it was. As well as amazing artists with photographic memories, genius mathematicians, and various other unique and astounding talents. These people however are the exception, not the rule. Most people with autism don't benefit from such a gift, instead they are saddled with a heap of social and cognitive impediments, with little to no payoff. We can't all be Sherlock Holmes. Another stereotype is that autistic people are stupid or somehow immature. I hope that the fact I am writing an article on the subject helps to disprove this somewhat on it's own. The fact is, a lot of people with autism seem like they have a lower IQ than most. However looks can be deceiving. The intellect of autistic spectrum people is no different to neurotypicals. In fact, Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism are characterised by average to above average intelligence. The impression of stupidity stems from the difficulties in articulating our thoughts, not difficulties in forming them. The last major misconception I will cover, is that autistics are emotionally crippled, or even emotionless. This is the easiest to debunk of all of them. The appearance of this is caused by the fact that many autistics are as bad at expressing emotion, as we are at reading them. After all, if someone doesn't show emotion, assuming they don't have it isn't entirely unreasonable. However, a certain degree of tolerance and background knowledge is essential in this case to make educated judgements and decisions. As well as remembering that autistics have emotions too.
The last thing I want to discuss is the primary differences between AS and NT people. Besides the social impediments I have already discussed. I will also discuss some of the measures taken to compensate for autism by autistics and aspies themselves. Firstly, we are forced to painstakingly learn and memorise all the little social conventions and etiquette that come instinctively to everyone else. This is a very effective method to make our lives easier, but requires constant effort and takes many years to learn. I still slip up all the time, and have not mastered the art of socialising by any means. Examples of what somebody who hasn't bothered, or finds it more difficult, can be seen in characters like sheldon cooper in the Big Bang theory, or Benedict cumberbatch's Sherlock homes, from the show, Sherlock. In fact, those two characters are pretty accurate depictions of aspies and autistics, without being overly stereotypical. Another coping method I employ, is simply to take breaks. I know that sounds weird, but it is an absolute necessity. Taking some time away from people to relax and recharge your batteries is essential when dealing with an autistic spectrum disorder. By doing this, you avoid running out of energy, and becoming completely unable to continue socialising. So all you neurotypicals, if you see an aspie going off to sit on their own for a while, just leave them alone, they're fine. Probably.
i hope you have learned something today, and hope you read my articles in future.