Autism is a mental condition that starts from childhood, signs generally showing at the age of two in the form of delayed development. It is often wrongly diagnosed as a behavioural disability or simply considered a fear of social interaction. However, there is far more to it.
HOW DO YOU GET IT?
No autistic person is the same as autism is on a spectrum. It is one of the broadest ranging categories of mental conditions you can find because it affects people in different ways and with different strengths. No one knows what causes it, but some see correspondence between autism and the amygdala; they have found some of those with autism have poor short term memory and poor emotional control. The amygdala also helps with making decisions, something those with autism often suffer difficulty with.
Though it is different for everyone, there are traits that most autistic people share. The primary defining one is the inability to register other people’s emotions or portray their own effectively. For example, an autistic child sees a man fall over. Because that man made a funny noise and is now on the floor crying, they laugh. This is because they have mistaken the sobs for laughing.
Another trait many autistic people share, is what lots of neurotypicals mistake for rudeness. Autistics often the lack the filter that helps people register what is appropriate to say to whom, so most speak their mind. An example is Daniel from ‘P.S. I Love You’ played by Harry Connick Jr. who has aspergers.
That is not all there is to it, but the other traits vary more between each person so would be a waste of time listing them all.
DISABLED, OR JUST DIFFERENT?
It depends on who you are talking to. As someone with autism, I understand that it could be considered a disability. You are not just different to, but are less able than neurotypicals in some places.
Autistics can be compared to those with social anxiety issues. They can be ready to go out – and possibly even excited – but then are suddenly unable to if their transport or friends are late. I’ve missed lots of school because of that anxiety, and it has likely lowered some of my grades.
Another reason it can be considered a disability is because most young autistics have to spend a whole day with the very things they hate the most. Crowds of people; teachers forcing them to discuss with the class and a routine that is at other people’s mercy. By four they are ready to collapse in bed and sleep through dinner.
And then there’s the hyper and hypo-sensitivity. This is the most physical of the autism related barriers. Certain sensory sensitivities can cause headaches and migraines, while a lack can cause frustration and eventual punishments for ‘not listening properly’.
HOW DOES IT FEEL?
This isn’t supposed to be too in depth about autism, so I will point you to a few resources at the end where you can experience autism as and/or with an autistic character (or child).
For now, I will explain briefly what – let’s say – being in a crowd of strangers feels like for me. My heart races. People begin to blend, becoming one mass. I become deafened to anything but the humming in my ears. It’s like I am drowning but I can’t swim to the top because something is dragging me down. My eyes are unable to register anything but the dark mass.
I look for space but often cannot find any. That is my reality of suffering autism and being in a crowd. ‘Adam’ is perfect at representing the other difficulties of being autistic.
There is much more to autism than meets the eye and lots of different variants of it. If you wish to learn more about autism, use the resources below.
Resources that can help you understand autism better: Adam (2009) Starring Hugh Dancy; http://www.autism.org.uk/; ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon; ‘Extreme Love: Autism’ Starring Louis Theroux; ‘Auti-Sim’ Game by Taylan Kay; ‘P.S. I Love You’ Starring Hillary Swank.
Image via: Kaboom Pics