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It seems bizarre to me that science and psychology has a huge array of what they call “high functioning” autistics at their disposal yet still seem perplexed at the behaviours of those who are considered “low functioning”, which is often just a rather offensive way of saying “non-verbal”. Why not just ask the verbal ones what is going on with the non-verbal ones? Granted, each human being has behaviours that no one else could translate, but we do have an overall idea of what common traits represent. Same must be said for those who share the common denominators of autism.

Autism is considered a “spectrum”. If it is indeed a spectrum, then autistics are not diff-functional to one another in different ways, just to different degrees. Whatever is going on for your average aspie is going on for your speechless “low functioning” autie, just at a severe level. I read so many psyche articles theorising on why they can’t do this or that, such as look people in the eyes.

As a person with family members diagnosed, and who scores high on all aspie tests, who resonates with every book ever written autobiographically or objectively, and who is still considering the value of a diagnosis… here’s my theory:

I always visualise the spectrum as a line, with low functioning to the left and high functioning to the right. I see the stereotypical autistic, speechless and those such as Rainman, on the left. I see Asperger’s and those who seem relatively typical to the far right (although either end can have moments or traits that sit more left or right on the line). The whole world would fit on that spectrum, I posit, if the line were long enough. But most people fall off the line altogether at the (arbitrary) cut off point. There are people who are assessed and are (fairly subjectively) considered having “traits” but apparently, no, you are not autistic.

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Maybe you hum while eating lunch. Maybe you get in a fluster over making dinner and organising your day to day life. Maybe you just don’t fit in and have trouble making friends. Maybe eye contact unnerves you. Maybe you feel your routines and structure save you from sucking your thumb in a corner some days. Maybe you have an affinity for animals and running water. Maybe light touch, bright lights or loud noises irritate you. Maybe all of the above. Close, but no cigar.

Perhaps you can see, autism is normal, in extremus. It’s not like they look different or behave in some inhuman way. Their “quirks” are, when in the right context, completely ordinary. What makes them unique is when, where and to what degree those behaviours manifest. For example, what would it take you to lose function in menial tasks… how much stress or distraction? Or to be unable to look someone in the eyes, or to even go to the extent of rocking or having a complete incommunicative meltdown? For some it may take extended periods of torture but you’d get there eventually. That’s because autistic behaviour is human behaviour… in overdrive. Contrary to popular myth:

– They aren’t delusional, they don’t sense things that aren’t there, they sense things that are there, but better than you do.

– They aren’t unfeeling, they’re highly sensitive, so sensitive that unless permitted to soothe the incoming data or to filter it out by only using one sense at a time (eg, listening while not looking at you, or looking at you but not hearing what you’re saying) they can suffer overload.

– They don’t lack the ability to understand your feelings (empathy), they feel them on a visceral level… and oftentimes know you’re feeling something before you do, and when you deny you’re feeling what they’re sensing, they’re the ones assumed to have missed the cue and learn to distrust their instincts.

– They don’t turn to animals because animals are a void, they turn to animals because animals do not contradict the signals they give off and therefore autistics can actually communicate with animals more clearly.

Picture this, you are an autistic sitting with six people having a conversation in a room. The neuro-typicals are largely full of bullshit signals as we know, they follow cues, they say the right things, they’re socially “well adjusted” (read: trained). Now imagine thought bubbles above each person’s head that express their real feelings, intentions and thoughts, the parts of themselves they have learned to deny, repress or even outright ignore so effectively they have not recognised them at all since they were about 4 years old.

You, the autistic, have access to those thought bubbles.

How would this conflicting data affect you? Would you feel confused? Unable to pick up nuance and seemingly lacking empathy? What behaviours would you start to exhibit? Could you look them in the eyes? Would you tune out? Would you focus on your own point of view more strongly? Would you learn to prefer the company of those so close to you the bullshit factor is all but removed?

Now throw in a dropped coat-hanger that sounds like an oncoming train to your wolf-like hearing; the pulsing constant flickering of a fluorescent light that others barely notice distract your eagle eyes; you can taste perfume in the air.

You’re all autistic, my friends. You can tune in, with training and practice… but you know that if you do, the incoming data will overwhelm you and day to day life will become more stress than it’s worth. It can also be as hard for a neuro-typical to tune in as it can be for an autistic to tune out. Next time you see your average Aspie and think how “normal” they can be, so why can’t they just be normal all the time? Why can’t they just try harder? Remember the exhaustion they feel at the end of pretending to be typical just isn’t worth it.

With your partner or friend or stranger: Look into their eyes, really see in there and allow them to see into you. Open up your bullshit doors, rip open your vulnerable parts, let them see who you really are, with all the fear that what they’ll see is everything, or worse, a shit ton of nothing at all. Don’t pretend, don’t smile or laugh awkwardly, that’s more bullshit. Just look. Be fully there in that moment.

How was it? Can you feel how much you’re barricading up from public consumption in ordinary eye to eye, day to day contact? Are you really connecting with what is here and now, with what is really in front of you in your daily life? Will you look back on your life and wonder if it has been half-lived, if you’ve been partly here and partly somewhere else?

Theories abound.  Some psychologists suggest it is an extreme male brain.  Some say it is a more evolved brain, that the rest just haven’t caught up yet.  A few hold the belief it is a less evolved brain, that they get caught in the primitive stages during development, more attuned to a simpler time of hunting and gathering.  They agree on one thing: their brain works differently.

If I had to choose between being stuck on a deserted island with a neuro-typical or an autistic I’d choose the autie hands down. Their connection with what is pure and true, their keen senses more attuned to a less stimulating modern world would, put simply, get shit done. The main problem autistics have is the neuro-typical expectations to be something other than they are. “DON’T dress in pajamas at midday, DON’T look away from me… DON’T concentrate on wheels/stars/research to the exclusion of everything else… DON’T taste that thing, DO taste this thing… DO hug me… DO look affected when I’m upset… DO learn behaviours that make people feel liked and interesting… DO learn to tie shoes, make a bed, pay bills and fit in to the society as typicals have structured it. DO look people in the eyes regardless how hard that makes your ability to communicate.”

I heard Tony Attwood PhD, Australia’s leading Asperger’s expert, summarise it perfectly… he said he had a cure for autism: put them in a room alone with no need to interact and problems associated with autism are cured.

Retarded means “stunted in growth”. I have some retarded plants in my garden, they’re in really poor soil. I know some look at a severely autistic child and think “retarded”. Think again. Who has more stunted growth and development? The autistic, whose sensory and processing systems can be considered anything but “stunted”? Who is staring out the window longing for a fig tree to climb, who resonates with the feel of water trickling through her hands, who hears echoes of life as it once was and can now never be?Or could it be you, who is so desensitised to the environment you’ve created for yourself you can stand in a night club and hold a god damned conversation? You, who can look me in the eyes and ignore my thought bubbles? You, who can “function” in a dysfunctional society?

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” – Krishnamurti.

Why are so many autistics and parents of autistic kids against the idea of a “cure”? Worth thinking about. I wonder how Temple Grandin would have turned out if her autism was cured.

Below are some videos that cover both ends of the spectrum, but show the common denominators and can serve to awaken the sleeping on this issue.

This first one is In My Language, with Amanda Baggs, who communicates with a computer to express how she interacts with the world.

 

This one is Carly, who could not communicate verbally in our language and who stuns everyone with the richness of her person and inner world when she starts typing on a computer.

 

This is Amythest, an autistic woman who holds a blog, Ask an Autistic.  Here she addresses autistic burnout, which is what happens when autistic people expend too much energy trying to be “normal”.

 

And finally, the magnificent Diablo; Anna Breytenbach is an animal communicator.  A beautiful meeting of the minds is captured here as she communicates with Diablo, a leopard who was very upset with his situation, and how Anna translated this and got his needs met.  To my knowledge, Anna is not autistic, this is purely to demonstrate the myriad communications around us that most people are unaware of.

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2 thoughts on “Autism: Diff-function Not Dysfunction

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