Aut thou aware?

My own experience with Autism is a strange one. It involves research and rejection and frustration to ad nauseum levels. I have a surprisingly large number of Autistic friends. And whereas I have never been formally diagnosed (thankfully, as it turns out) it is fairly evident that I am one of the fortunate Asperger’s victims.

I could write extensively about the condition itself, mentioning the findings of my own research, but most people would not understand that. Including those in the medical profession, those who are considered experts in the field, and even those who have the condition.

I could write extensively about my own personal experiences growing up ‘different’ and struggling to cope, but most people would not understand that either. Including (as above). Which brings us to what I will write about, at least for now.

It is amazing how everyone accepts that Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’ – meaning there are a wide range of symptoms and severity – and yet patients and doctors alike still habitually try to pigeon-hole people who have it. Illogically they insist that it be both a spectrum disorder and a rigidly-defined condition with easily recognizable traits. I have also encountered those who deny the fact that everyone is ‘on the spectrum’ and that we only label it “Autism” when it shows noticeable impairment on life functioning. This is silly because if you don’t see a problem you don’t see the condition. It’s amazing how people left on their own are forced to find coping strategies for their ‘social unacceptable behaviour’ and manage to pass as ‘normal’ (i.e. neurotypical). The basis of this phenomenon is lack of understanding of the underlying cause: that the same variations in neural pathways that give individuals their unique physical and mental characteristics also, when varied sufficiently in certain ways, can endow them with Autistic traits. This is why there is no ‘cure’ for the condition: you’d have to re-arrange a few billion neural connections in the brain. It is not like some other disorders caused by chemical imbalance that can be corrected.

Which brings us to the topic of treatments. There aren’t any. All the claims you’ve read about diets and supplements are so much marsh gas, or at best a coincidental treatment for a separate condition that relief of which also eases the difficulties of functioning. This is quite easy to understand: if you feel bad physically your mental and emotional state also suffer. Everyone recognizes this. So a happy Autistic is one who doesn’t have a tummy ache from eating something he’s allergic to. Get it? And unfortunately Autism can indeed come with numerous other ailments in the mix. Some of them can be quite severe, such as Crohn’s or diabetes. Remember: just because someone has one problem doesn’t mean they have only one problem.

The best thing that can be done for an Autistic is to find the coping strategies that work for them. This is not an automatic “this works” thing, as it is a highly individualized disorder (the very nature of its cause dictates this). The first step is to identify and avoid whenever possible all the situations that can ‘overload the inputs’. Some of the most common sensory triggers are loud noise, bright lights, temperature extremes, and crowds. In fact the tension of having to deal with personal interfacing can be the absolute worst for an Autistic, even if they have ways of handling other sensory overloads. When you’re up against a group of people you are usually trapped in a situation that does not allow for an easy and quick escape to more peaceful environs.

Naturally children tend to be the main focus of Autism research and articles. As you can tell by the above paragraph they are the ones who find it most difficult because they haven’t had the time and experience to learn how to cope, especially not by themselves. But let us not forget that Autism isn’t anything new. It didn’t crop up overnight. It’s been around a long time, undiagnosed in most cases and incorrectly diagnosed in others. Many a child has been labeled with mental problems and spent the rest of their life in hell of incorrect treatments and medications when in fact they suffered from Autism. Or more accurately had Autism and suffered from the ignorance about it that was all around them. Few were able to find ways to hide the difference and carry on, leading almost normal lives but for the nagging doubts and uncertain knowledge that they were somehow different from everyone else. When you find out in later years you are Autistic it isn’t much comfort. Few things will change for you. But you will regret not having known when it was early enough to make a difference and you’ll find yourself wondering if life might not have been better for having known back then. Or it might have been worse. The “ifs” of our existence are not predictable, try though we do to make them so.

One last thought for today. The changes in environment that make life easier for Autistics have the same effect on neurotypicals. There’s no reason to live in a noisy, uncomfortable, fast-paced world. It raises everyone’s blood pressure and stress levels, and that’s not good for anyone – on the spectrum or not.

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