Autism is a lifetime disability that is marked most typically by reduced communication skills and repetitive movements. Characters portrayed on shows similar to “Rainman” and “Touch” are not a good examples of autism. This belief system is actually a myth. The individuals shown on those shows do exist on the Autism spectrum, however, they are by no means typical examples of autism. Believing that all Autistic people are savants is damaging because it leads to a false perception of what to expect amongst autistics that you meet. It also causes those autistics who may not achieve this level of intelligence to feel like they are less.
Many individuals on the spectrum are fairly normal in intelligence while others actually are fairly heavily intellectually impaired. Often those individuals that are shown as autistic or who are used as examples of autism are at the high end of the intelligence scale which tends to create a false belief of what autism is.
Autism Is A Complex Diagnosis
The definition below is from the American Psychiatric Association for a layperson, it is extremely complex and perhaps the best explanation would be that autism is often seen as a communications disorder, where the individual tends to have extreme difficulty in a social situations, they can also be non-verbal or have minimal speech however this is not always the case. Autistics also tend to have extremely repetitive behaviours.
An autistic indivual who fails to communicate can often demonstrate their frustration through aggression. It seems like this is often the only way that an autistic has to get the message out to those around him, that they find the situation they are in incredibly uncomfortable.
While in some extremely rare cases drugs can be used to help autistic individuals control their behaviours long enough to allow therapies to do their work, often drugs increase the autistic individuals’ disconnection from the normal world and their peers. Except when extensive therapy has failed, drugs should always be a last resort when treating autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder as per the DSM-V from the American Psychiatric Association
Must meet criteria 1, 2, 3, and 4:
1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, and manifest by all 3 of the following:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and response to total lack of initiation of social interaction,
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction; ranging from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body language, or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to total lack of facial expression or gestures.
- Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships, appropriate to developmental level (beyond those with caregivers); ranging from difficulties adjusting behaviour to suit different social contexts through difficulties in sharing imaginative play and in making friends to an apparent absence of interest in people
2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following:
- Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).
- Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour, or excessive resistance to change; (such as motoric rituals, insistence on the same route or food, repetitive questioning or extreme distress at small changes).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
- Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment; (such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or spinning objects).
3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)
4. Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.
Things Have Changed Since The DSM-V. Not For The Better And Not Officially
I have copied the above diagnostic criteria for to autism directly from the DSM-V. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is the current diagnositic standard. All licensed psychiatrists use the DSM-V to diagnose Mental Disorders including autism. The diagnostic criteria alone means that it is unlikely that anyone could self identify as autistic and meet the criteria.
It is true that the DSM-V was responsible for the inclusion of Asperger’s and PPD-NOS under the autism spectrum. However neither of those conditions truly fit the exacting definitions of autism as listed here. Asperger’s and PPD-NOS are often referred to as high functioning autistics.
There Is No Room In The DSM-V For Self Diagnosis.
The American Psychiatric Association published the DSM-V in 2013. It has become commonplace for individuals to self diagnose in the 9 years since it’s publication. Those who do self diagnose, claim to be autistic and refer to themselves as “actually autistic”. There is one major overall problem with self diagnosis (and even the inclusion of PPD-NOS and Aspergers). Those that self diagnose tend to claim to speak for those diagnosed within the criteria set out by the professionals. “Actually autistics” often avocate that all autistics should be accepted exactly as they are. They even widen that claim to include those profesionally diagnosed. However, the problem is that self diagnosed individuals tend to have no interest in help to address their communications issues. They want any negative behaviours accepted, even those that could become hazardous to themselves or others as they get older.
The “Actually Autistic” Community Damages Those Who Are Severely Autistic
The “Actually Autistic” community also often wants to see the end of classification labels. Their belief is that there is no true difference between high functioning Aspergers and Classic autism. They would rather instead see terms that softened the difference and usually do not see the damage caused.
When you are looking at doing what is right for an autistic person, it is very important to realize that every autistic person is different. What might not work for one person, could be exactly what another person needs. I have seen losses as programming in schools shifted from helping those on the severe end of the spectrum. Shifting to focusing most of their programming on the more visible and vocal high functioning ends of the spectrum. However, they often damage the progress of those most severely impacted by autism.