So, having already described the diagnostic criteria for Autism in the USA, what, exactly is Autism?
Autism is a neurological condition which is present at birth and which is usually noticed as a child grows. In the older generations, nobody knew of it, nor did doctors look for it. ( People who are now older adults went through their lives being noticed as “odd” or worse, but there was no understanding of “why” and many of us were considered defective in mind, character, or weak willed, etc., worse, accused of deliberately willfully behaving badly, when in reality many of us were baffled and confused most of the time, and had no idea what everybody was so angry about.) Autism in the individual causes a different way of processing information, and often involves struggles to interpret daily experiences. Autism can inhibit perception of expression or self expression and can affect the way the autistic person sees and interprets their world. It can powerfully work on emotional aspects of the autistic person’s lives, confusing perceptions, or causing emotional reactions to sensory overload.
Things that are easy for a person without autism ( those who have a typical way of processing neurological information received) will easily interpret many things which people with autism may miss or need to have explained to them. Things I refer to are things of every day living… a facial expression, a tone of voice, a body movement indicating an emotion, words spoken in sarcasm or metaphorically. Autistic folk often refer to typical or average persons as NT’s or Neurotypicals… This reference term is taken from medical studies and reports, and is an easy way of distinguishing those who are autistic from those who have more common neurological abilities to process information. If I use the term NT or Neurotypical in this blog, I am not intending to disparage or otherwise create an ” us or them” sort of atmosphere, but only to compare what the a autistic person vs the average “person on the street without autism” experiences. Any other meaning one finds in these words is in the reader’s head and intentions, and not mine. ( I have learned that autism’s many issues and approaches, like any other human thing, can be very divisive and polarizing. Politics is any place where two or more humans gather, by default.)
Autism is believed today to be genetic in character, and not caused by vaccines the mother or child receives, regardless of the timing, the quality of mothering one received early on, by the temperature in the place of the delivery room, by what your mother ate or was exposed to during pregnancy, by what you eat or are allergic to later as a child. These truths have been scientifically proven. I will not submit pages of documentation here but this information can be found in common internet searches.
Autism can not be cured or prevented in early childhood, the neurology one is born with stays essentially the same all through one’s life. Many people with autism are capable of learning ways to fit in socially and “work around” some of the difficulties presented by autism when dealing with society today. Those who become especially adept at the social skills needed to survive and thrive in this world are sometimes said to be “masking”. It is very difficult to maintain the vigilance and focus needed to navigate the social world, and to do so takes a great deal of energy and skill to do what comes as intuitive and automatic to “neurotypical” populations.
Although autism is neurological in origin, it mostly gives people who are autistic trouble with social issues. It becomes a behavioral issue when we try to function in our world without seeing how it affects our perception, our beliefs, our every day activities, our relationships with others, every aspect of a life as a human being can be and usually is affected by autism. Sensory or informational overload can cause emotional reactions of epic proportions. ( more on this later) . The degrees of being affected are varied and autism does not show itself the same in any individual. Thus the term “spectrum” when discussing autism. Many people with autism are gifted and have great talents, above average intelligence, and are contributors to society on many levels, from writing, engineering, medicine, biology, teaching, and so many more aspects of life. Many good things can come of that special neurological wiring, and an internet search of famous people with autistic characteristics or diagnosis might amaze you.
Autism is not the same in everybody. We are not “Rainman”, we are not Thomas Edison, or Einstein; we are not all to be confined to nursing homes or institutions due to severe difficulties in perception and behavior, although some individuals are or have been each of these things. Each of us is different. Autism is not consistent or the same in any of us. Perhaps that is why it has been such a long time coming in scientific description and understanding.