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Autism Advocacy

Autism (noun)a neurological condition of variable severity with lifelong effects that can be recognized from early childhood, chiefly characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.

Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: people who have various forms of autism are NOT super-human. They cannot perform any of that comic book/movie nonsense (although I think that having some degree of telekinesis might be kind of fun), but if I seem to have an unusually passionate defense of those who might be considered "different" -- regardless of the "difference" -- I think I have good reason to be.

"Peel away the mystery, here's a clue to some real motivation."

I have a form of high-functioning autism known as Asperger's Syndrome (A.S.). Like all of the other variants of autism, Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological condition (not a 'disorder') that is characterized by having a common cluster of autistic traits rather than a single one. These autistic traits usually have some similarities so they are often (poorly) grouped into an 'autistic spectrum'. Unfortunately, most people seem to view that spectrum as a low-high linear gradient where, as an example, a person on its lower end might sit in a corner rocking back and forth and cannot speak, but a person on the higher end might have a higher than normal intelligence but is also socially "odd". The reality of autism is far more complex.

Each trait that an autistic person possesses lies along a grid-like continuum. Think of the trait's intensity variable as gauged on the Y-axis and its function variable gauged along the X-axis. Now, take all of the traits and set the center-point of their graphs back-to-back along the same line. As you draw a line through each of the trait intensities and functions, you will start to see how each person's particular form of autism has on their day-to-day experience.

Both the intensity and the functioning of each trait affects every autistic person differently, so depending on the individual, some of their traits are more obvious than others. Also, no autistic person ever has ALL of the identified traits for their variant; they may have several of them, but not have any of a few of others. Their "collection" of traits and the "intensity" of each trait make up the individual autistic person's "pattern", and no two patterns are ever the same. So, if you know someone else who also has Asperger's Syndrome, you can rest assured that we have differing "patterns" even if we share similar characteristics.

Understanding Autism

"Different eyes see different things. Different hearts beat on different strings."

I think it's important for people to understand Asperger's Syndrome (and autism in general). Even though the DSM no longer includes Asperger's as a separate diagnosis, I believe that it's still a useful way to identify people having low social skills but a generally high intelligence -- along with higher than normal rates of manic-depression and suicide. Unfortunately, most people tend to perceive things in a strictly binary context, making it difficult for them to understand something in multiple shades of gray - especially something as complex as autism.

An example of one difference between someone having a form of autism like Asperger's Syndrome and someone who does not can be seen in the behaviors of children who like dinosaurs. At some point in their lives, most kids like dinosaurs. I think part of their affection is the idea that they can imagine sometimes themselves being Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. The primary difference between a neurotypical child who likes dinosaurs and an Aspie child who likes dinosaurs would be that the the neurotypical child will not memorize each species' Latin designations and the geological period when they lived; Aspie children have been known to do that.

"Too much fuss and bother, too much contradiction and confusion."

It's easy to see that a person in a wheelchair has a physical impairment and may require some help or support. As a neurological condition, the influence of Asperger's Syndrome and other autistic conditions are often invisible to the rest of the world. We are not stupid - most of us have higher levels of intelligence than most people who are neuro-typical, but because we don't always "fit in" socially, we are often teased, bullied, or otherwise vilified for behaviors over which we have little control. We don't often have many friends even though we want to, and those who care about us - family, and those we consider "family" - are often concerned that we are not taken advantage of for our "gifts".


My Struggles with Asperger's Syndrome

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