Guess What Autism Is, and Isn’t

Certain things infuriate me, and one of those things is talking to people like they aren’t all there, don’t get it, or don’t understand. There’s a lot of stigma and misinformation surrounding autism and I’d like to have a chat with you about it.

Autism spectrum disorder is not an intellectual delay. People who are diagnosed with an ASD aren’t “idiots”. They are quite the opposite. It’s not uncommon for someone who has a high functioning ASD to have an average or above average IQ score. Savants are not so uncommon either. For example, you could send me to work in a building with absolutely no visible clocks, watches or cell phones for a week, and I’d still be able to tell you what time it is, because I can count time in my head. I can also teach myself most foreign languages within approximately 2 to 4 weeks. Now these traits are because I have OCD, but it’s easier for me to describe myself than somebody else. Someone with ASD can have a below average IQ score, but that still doesn’t characterize ASD as a learning disorder. I’ll explain why later on.

ASD is a neurological and developmental delay. Sensory and motor function is effected, as well as social interaction. Someone with ASD can have a hard time relating to other people, approaching them and maintaining relationships. They may seem awkward or inappropriate, clingy or distant. ASD effects the ability to walk, communicate verbally, use hands to work with small objects (fine motor skills), and emotional expressions. People can become easily frightened by things like rearranging furniture, which would be “no big deal” to someone who isn’t autistic. Hypersensitivity to sound and touch can be both upsetting and painful. Sometimes hypersensitivity to touch is based on levels of trust, and other times it’s because being touched is uncomfortable or painful.

Asperger syndrome, contrary to popular belief, is no longer considered part of the autism spectrum by most doctors and psychologists. The reason for this is because Asperger syndrome effects social behavior and language, but not always physical development. People with AS tend to be very skilled with manipulating objects, in other words taking things apart and putting them back together. AS involves more obsessive-compulsive type traits, such as fascinations with vehicles, mathematics and physics.

Autism is associated with aggression and violence, but that doesn’t mean it causes those things. Aggression can be brought out by intense emotional experiences, like losing a close family member or friend. Children and adults connect with other people differently from the average population, so they either don’t think too much of someone’s presence in their life, or that person’s presence is the most important thing in their world. Interruption and change in activities and routines can be also be met with aggression because they don’t always have a way to say they upset or make a compromise or easily make rational decisions. Not to insult anyone, but sometimes the solution to a problem is if Luke Skywalker suddenly appeared and started swinging his light-saber all over the place. There isn’t always a clear definition of where reality ends and fantasy begins in the mind of someone with ASD. Autism is not insanity; everything is just the same.

There is a believed link between the increased size of the amygdala in the brain, and ASD. An enlarged amygdala takes up space which means a loss of gray matter, leading to a lower IQ. In addition, the amygdala is directly below the sensory cortex and motor cortex, which explains in part why neurological development is effected. The amygdala is also the main emotion hub of the brain, and when it’s bigger, it’s going to produce bigger emotions. This characteristic has been observed in various brain scans, and many, but not all doctors are willing to call it a direct cause of autism.

Quality of life for someone with autism has the same chance at being great or terrible as every other human being on this planet. People with autism are not destined for loneliness, or living without independence (to an extent, severe ASD can greatly restrict self-care). Patience and understanding may sound cheesy but if you respect people and the challenges they face, you won’t judge them. In truth, the more exposure people with ASD have to other people and the world, the better they do as they grow.

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