Introducing Autism: A personal account

“He’s just odd like you!” my husband grinned; his humour had exposed a truth that I was previously unaware of. I had been expressing my concern at my two year old son’s peculiar behaviour to my husband when he uttered the words that forever changed the way I interpreted the world and how I thought the world interpreted me.

I had sometimes reflected on my life with the purpose of trying to understand past experiences where it was obvious that I was completely unable to converse or where I had exhibited extreme vagueness beyond what would be considered a personality trait and yet in contrast to that, I excelled academically. However, until my husband’s comment that day, I did not know that I appeared generally ‘odd’.

What occurred to me next was that if my son had inherited the difference that made me appear ‘odd’ to others then he might experience a life like I did. All I could think about was that I didn’t want him to have a childhood like mine, being unable to relate to and being afraid of my peers. I knew then that I was going to do everything I could to find out what it was that my son and I had in common that made us different so that he could have a ‘head start’ finding his niche in the world.

Shortly after that, perhaps days or weeks, I watched a documentary on Aspergers Syndrome (AS). I hadn’t intended to watch it, it just happened to be on when I sat down to watch TV and it caught my interest such that I didn’t change channel.

The reason it caught my interest was that it referred to an Autism spectrum. It had previously occurred to me that my communication difficulties were like a form of Autism but I was unaware that Autism existed on a spectrum until then. I was only aware of the more extreme presentation of it without any understanding of what a person with Autism was thinking or feeling. Although I couldn’t relate to everything that the documentary addressed, Aspergers Syndrome described as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was the closest that I had come to an explanation that fit.

Broadly speaking an ASD is a complex neurological condition which affects social communication and is also characterised by restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour interest and activities*. As a Spectrum Disorder it represents the wide range and complexity of challenges and abilities of people with an ASD.

According to one of my most favourite books on ASDs, ‘Inside Asperger’s Looking Out’ by Kathy Hoopmann:

‘In general, a person with Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism, is someone who may have:

  • Difficulties relating to others in social situations
  • Difficulties understanding nonverbal communication
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell
  • Set routines and a strong preference for order
  • An intense ability to focus in specific interest areas
  • A great loyalty towards others
  • A unique mind which is able to see life from a new perspective’

Another of my favourite books ‘Asperger’s and Self-Esteem: Insight and Hope Through Famous Role Models’ by Norm Ledgin, lists positive traits of ASD including: a natural sense of fairness, justice and honesty, being creative in several interest areas and having an appealingly droll sense of humour.

By creating this blog, I hope to promote an awareness of the positive traits of ASDs because there are many and they deserve to be recognized. I do not believe that we can adequately support people (in an environment that caters primarily for those without an ASD) without first having respect for them. Being aware of what people with an ASD can achieve because of the ASD rather than in spite of it, may help foster respect.

Primarily this blog is designed to offer insight for parents, teachers and health professionals and informed guidance to parents on how to support their child with an ASD.

*My understanding of Autism has moved beyond the medical diagnostic criteria since writing this post. I never really believed that it was a disorder but have come ‘full circle’ on understanding it to be a disability (according the Social Model of Disability) and a part of the neurodiversity paradigm. I encourage you to read this article by Nick Walker (a guru in the neurodiversity paradigm) for a more nuanced understanding of what Autism is. Unfortunately, my early posts may contain ableist comments. For instance, people should not have to “achieve” in order to be respected.