Autism is a neurological condition that occurs in an estimated 1 out of 68 people of all races, religions, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and ages. While older studies say that there is one girl with autism for every four boys, more recent studies indicate girls often go undiagnosed due to being better at “faking” to be normal. Though sixty years ago, autism was estimated at 1 out of 10,000 children, recent rising in diagnoses are at least largely explained by better and more widely available diagnostic material, an increased number of professionals with the ability to recognize and diagnose autism, broader criteria of diagnosis, more individuals and families being aware of the signs of autism, earlier ages of diagnosis, and scores of autistic adults being diagnosed. Once thought to be caused by vaccines, studies of twenty years now discredit that theory. While some people believe autism is a result of bad parenting, new information has suggested it is genetic. With identical twins, the likelihood of autism is 60%. One of my ancestors, Ulysses S. Grant, was believed to be autistic.
Behaviors and their explanation of autism
Autism at a glance can range from mild symptoms to more severe. Common behaviors include lack of eye contact, social isolation, poor social skills, a limited range of interests, a dislike for being touched or hugged, poor motor skills, extreme attention to detail, and a habit of repetition. More “severe” individuals may not answer when their name is called, have trouble following certain tasks, lack of speech, repetitive behaviors-such as flapping their arms, a lack of independence skills, and in certain cases, self-injurious behaviors. Reasons for these include the fact that many autistic people, in order to do something such as follow a direction, and autistic person may need to visualize it first. If one is asked by the person behind them to look at them, they may have trouble doing so because they may not have a solid recollection of what the person looks like. Autistic savant author and mathematician Daniel Tammet wrote in his autobiography I Was Born on a Blue Day that he learned to socialize as he learned to associate people with numbers and colors, for which he had a fascination of. When I was younger I used to have a need to hand-write all letters the exact same way because that was how I saw it in my head. Today that is no longer the case.
Autistic people may also have trouble saying a particular word or phrase if they cannot visualize it in their head. Saying, “I love you,” to one’s mother may present difficulties because love is not a concrete thing, and “Mama” may be a hard word as other women in the world are also someone’s “mama.” I myself used to call my parents “Grant” and “Kitzi” in reference to their names, which indicated them as individuals, though I no longer do so today. Temple Grandin, a famous animal scientist, professor with autism described in her autobiography Thinking in Pictures: Stories of My Life with Autism that she spent her whole life and still spends her whole life thinking in pictures. I myself learned certain words as a young child through connecting them to pictures.
For a lot of autistic people, visuals can also distract from things such as what another person is saying. If one is looking at a person’s eyes, it can be hard to listen to the words they are speaking. Autistic writer and photographer John Elder Robison described this in his autobiography Look Me in the Eye describing his diagnosis as an autistic adult thirty years ago at the age of thirty-nine.
In many autistic people’s minds, they won’t do something like look at a person and basic things of that nature because they don’t see any particular reason for it, such as psychological or survival need-based. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy commonly used on autistics breaking down certain independence skills (grooming, dressing, and such) and practicing them for often forty hours a week and getting a reward each time they do so (whether a snack or a toy, etc.). Thus it is thought that flapping one’s hands or dressing one’s self is something they are motivated to do and after a certain period of times it becomes a habit. Some though, like I, believe autistic children can have incentive for independence skills and appropriate behaviors without the need for outside rewards. It is important to note however, that not all autistics are fans of ABA. Some find it ridiculing and humiliating while inhibiting them from living a normal childhood. Other autistics have noted that even after “completing ABA” it took them great effort not to do things like hand-flapping.
Autistic people will also perform various behaviors, such as flapping their hands because it helps them to relieve fears and anxieties present in all humans. Lisa Jo Rudy a mother of a teen with autism and author of several blogs and articles related to autism since 2005 wrote,
Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it's important to note that stimming is also a part of most people's behavior patterns. If you've ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair, or paced, you've engaged in stimming.
The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the choice of stim and the quantity of stim. While it's at least moderately acceptable to bite one's nails, for example, it's considered unacceptable to wander around flapping one's hands. There's really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it's certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.
That being said, it takes a lot of self-control for autistics to live in this world, and that in some cases may result in aggressive behaviors or self-injury. The fact is no one outgrows autism. Children who receive the right individualized services, particularly as children at a young age and through the public school systems, can often go on to have successful careers and active social lives. State-funded agencies that provide this, however, are often overbooked and underfunded, and private agencies can often cost a family $40-60,000 a year out of their pockets, while insurance only covers some or none of the necessary costs in most states. Parents who advocate aggressively and continuously to the courts for their kids however, often give them the best chances of success, though that itself can be exhausting with many parents failing or refusing to take them time or get the emotional support for themselves. Many organizations have sprung up in the past few years that spend the bulk of their money on services for people with autism, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the Autism Women’s Network, the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, and the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, with autistic-run staff. The truth is most of us are comfortable being autistic. There are those of us who are not, but this is due to living in a social with discrimination and inequality. Autism also can include a variety of great strengths ranging from musical to artistic, to spatial and mathematical to logical. Autism is different for everyone who has it, and it requires individual-based support. Four major types include Asperger syndrome, the mildest; high-functioning autism; autistic savantism; and severe autism. People with Asperger syndrome include John Elder Robson. Among those with high-functioning autism is Temple Grandin, while autistic savants include Daniel Tammet. Notable people with severe autism include Amanda Baggs, Sue Rubin, Tito Mukhopadhyay, and Birger Sellin. The truth is, these differences are minimal, and all of us consider ourselves to be autistic, or auties, even though some people identify with having Asperger syndrome, or aspies. Famous people reputed to or admitted to having autism include Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Daryl Hannah, Dan Akroyd, and Johnny Deep.