Autism

I’ve realized I don’t talk much about being autistic. When I started the blog, I’d intended to, but I haven’t. When I thought about why not, I realized it’s because no one really knows what “autism” is. People who have it know what their experience is, but as far as I can tell, “autism” itself is the new umbrella diagnosis for any kind of social ineptitude that can’t be explained otherwise.

I think this is a thing psychology does. Anyone else remember back in the 70’s through 90’s (or so) when almost every boy had ADD or HDAD (and when they combined the two)? Any child, particularly boys, who had trouble paying attention in class seemed to get labeled as ADD. If they fidgeted, they were HDAD. As time went on, medical science (both mental and physical) seemed to out there was other explanations and now there’s not so many cases. Or, at least, that’s my experience of it.

It seems to me like that’s what happened to autism. Any social ineptitude that can’t be explained some other way becomes autism. It’s not that there’s a plague of autistic children, it’s that the definition seems to be catch-all.

So it’s no surprise that no one knows what autism is because it’s pretty much everything that’s not something else as far as I can tell.

The other thing is things like the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” that gets attached to autism. Not only does those say so much nothing (functional or non-functional–is that so hard?), but it also gives people the total wrong impression about how it is to be autistic.

I can’t help but think that most people think of spectrum of autism is like this

Low-Functioning                                    AUTISTIC                                       High-Functioning

It’s not that simple. Nothing in life is really ever that simple.

It seems like it should be because most people don’t think about what it means to be successfully “social”. It’s so natural to people without a problem that it’s not thought through. Being social means being able to respond correctly to conversation; join in conversation easily; to comprehend what is being said as it is meant; to be able to start a conversation with family, friend, authority figure, or a stranger; to be place a phone call–every little action it takes to be part of human interaction is a different possibility for success, failure and anywhere in between.

For instance, because I can start a conversation with a stranger, go grocery shopping or hold down a job doesn’t mean that I don’t have problems being social. I am pretty much utterly literal. It’s literally taken me decades to learn to consider tone of voice as well as words being used. I have been known to argue dictionary definitions against colloquialisms I’ve never heard and aren’t apparent in usage. Most humor doesn’t register with me. When I think something is supposed to be funny, (even professional comedians) I look to whoever;s around to be certain. Please don’t waste your puns around me, I don’t get them. Even in writing. (Honestly, puns just register as ignorance at using the wrong word. Seriously.)
Have too many people in a conversation and I start to shut down. I can’t do large, loud parties anymore because that’s one of the few things that has caused a large emotional/mental melt-down. On top of all that, Tact and I have only been recently introduced, so I still struggle with not just blurting whatever I’m thinking, though I did learn to stay silent as a child most times.

I have a friend with an autistic son who is also considered high-functioning, however he has difficulty having a conversation with anyone he doesn’t already know. He has never held a job. Sometimes he has difficulties talking to his aide, though he’ll talk to his cats endlessly. Yet, we’re both on the same place on that scale, but we’re not in the same place in functionality.

Sometimes I think of autism as more of a graph, with an X and Y axis, but even that’s not quite right because I’m not sure there’s one universal set of X and Y’s.

Not a wonder no one knows what autism is when I think about it. I have it and, frankly, I’m not always sure what it is. I just know my brain is wired differently than pretty much everyone I know and I’m the one who’s always had to learn to cope. And I have. I’m functional in the world, to various levels of success.

There’s some of my thoughts about being an adult autistic. You can see why writing fiction can be a challenge sometimes. I have dreams of writing an autistic protagonist/narrator at some point, but I’m definitely not certain he will be sympathetic or even comprehensible to most readers. It certainly would be interesting to see if the experience is cathartic or panic-inducing. Won’t know until I try, I guess.

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