If you read one post on this blog, I’d suggest my review of Rethinking Autism.
I’m a dad with a young autistic son. Many autism parents describe a “far from the tree” experience, but, while recognizing the also-valid experiences of others, my experience has been the opposite. Our son is a lot like both of his parents, and certain of his other relatives too. He’s just fine — awesome in fact.
You may find that this blog is mostly abstract ideas. That’s what I like to talk about.
For our family, as we’ve come to understand autism it’s no longer a major trauma or hardship of any kind. Instead we’ve discovered a community of people, and an interesting (and sometimes disturbing) bunch of research, and realized that all this relates to us in some way. We aren’t always sure just how, yet.
Here are three ideas I find interesting:
- Deconstructing autism, that is, that autism may be a family of phenomena, with distinct causes and distinct traits. All autistics may have similar deficits in common (tautology alert: that’s how autism has been defined), but they have important differences as well. Autism may vary from extreme disability to amazing superpower, depending on the person and the context. See Rethinking Autism.
- Broad autism phenotype, that some or all of the autisms may simply be extreme points on certain dimensions of the human spectrum… in the same way that giftedness and intellectual disability are points on the intelligence scale, or that introversion and extroversion are points on personality scales.
- Hints, with limited research and exploration so far, that autism may be a kind of engineering tradeoff — for a brain to be better at some kinds of task, it may have to struggle with others. What are some of the positive, strengths-based ways to talk about autistic minds?
Temple Grandin has speculated that there may be different kinds of autistic mind. She mentions picture, pattern, and “word-fact” thinkers. As early as 1944, Hans Asperger said:
“Normal children acquire the necessary social habits without being consciously aware of them, they learn instinctively. It is these instinctive relations that are disturbed in autistic children. Social adaptation has to proceed via the intellect.” — Hans Asperger, 1944
It’s unfortunate that Hans Asperger used the loaded language of disease (“normal”, “disturbed”), but intellectualizing sums up for me very well how my son and I both approach the world, and what we have in common. This may be what Grandin calls a word-fact mind, or what Baron-Cohen calls systemizing, I’m not sure. It’s an interesting topic — what do “instinctive” and “intellect” mean exactly? Who knows!
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