Categories
Definitions & Characteristics

Atmosphere – Streaks (Part 1)

When we describe autism in terms of binaries, discourse communities, or circles, we construct a very unreal, [very black and white,] very us/them reality. […]

The typical autism essay, ironically, often proclaims that autism cannot be placed in a box, all the while concurrently placing autistics in boxes – LFA, HFA, mild, severe, verbal, nonverbal, etc.

And, I would also posit that autism should not be (because it cannot be) contained within tidied-up circles, which, despite being round, are themselves boxlike.

Discourse community theories fail to account for how these circles get created, get named, get claimed, get dismantled. In effect, discourse communities largely render their users passive.

In “Hybrid,” Bizzell claims,

These elements [discourse conventions] are so powerful that the discourse could be said to take on a life of its own, independent of individual participants; it could be said, even, to ‘create’ the participants that suit its conventions by allowing individuals no other options if they wish to be counted as participants.

Per this logic, I have been passively constructed into autism – by discourse. I have been passively constructed into aspiedom – by discourse. My other autistic commonplaces – or identity markers – have also been shaped or spawned by discourses: stimdom, speechdom, lack-of-eye-contactdom, patterndom, take-everything-literally-and-then-somedom.

But discourse alone can’t name these things, can’t claim these things. These facets of me, the diverse facets of other autistic individuals, of human individuals – autistic cousins or not – only fit within these circles because someone has squished them there, has proclaimed generalization as the new world order.

Low-functioning autism exists because the people who write the typical autism essay say it does: they make the circles; the circles themselves don’t independently create themselves; the circles aren’t material objects that exist or breathe or birth or contain people, all neatly sorted; the circles have human help. While I like to objectify humans and categorize stuff [very much], circles alone just don’t do the trick.

Melanie Yergeau

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There are many autistic people whose best method of communication is nonverbal. By which I mean, not speech, not writing. […]

Most people don’t know this because the current theories of autism all involve us being terrible at nonverbal communication. By which people mean, terrible at one specific kind of nonverbal communication that most nonautistic people are good at.

So for many of us – nonverbal communication, and the world of things outside of words, are our best way of communicating. Whether we can also use words or not. […]

It’s true that many people who are thought not to be able to use or understand language, actually are. And it’s terrible that they are overlooked. But in their desire not to overlook such people, many people claim that all disabled people who can’t communicate through speech fall under this umbrella. And that’s simply not true. In order to communicate with people who will never use words, you have to learn their language.

Mel Baggs

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‘Autism steals their voices.’

The idea of “voicelessness” presents itself as a convenient vehicle to get from autism to (living) death.

Voicelessness, here, does not refer primarily to literal variations of mutism […]

To be a voiceless autistic person does not entail an incapability of using language, but rather, an all-encompassing credibility gap.

Are autistic people, after all, expressing themselves, or merely their symptoms? Are they themselves expressing, or is autism? […]

When autism speaks, autistic people do not.

Voices here are only reserved for native speakers of a particular kind of symbolic language.

This language assumes and creates a normative, human subject, one who both comprehends and is comprehensible to other humans.

The faith […] is put in a shared, normative language, as a tool to fathom oneself and other people […]

This mechanism, while steeped in hyperbolic doubt, is intertwined with an essentialist humanism.

If the symbolic connects all humans to a network of intelligibility, the subjects who fall outside of this network must not be fully human.

Anna N. de Hooge

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Categories
Definitions & Characteristics

Atmosphere – Snowflakes (Part 2)

[…] You describe introverts becoming rigid under stress.

Autistics who are under constant, intense pressure (as are many, by well-meaning parents and others who want them to function) become very rigid and black/white in their thinking, this is then taken as an inherent part of autism. If they are given less stress, their thinking ‘magically’ becomes more flexible.

Ettina

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[…] The closest analogy I can make is that what happens prior to initiation is like standing on the edge of a swimming pool with the intention of jumping in.

You know, that few minutes where you dip a toe in, check the temperature, adjust your suit and goggles, comment on how cold it looks, do a few arm windmills, bounce up and down, take a deep breath, then another. There’s no real point to all of those actions and the jumping in is inevitable. But not quite yet.

Cynthia Kim

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@neuroemergent_insurgent has an alternative perspective on EF (executive function).

She posits that EF is a set of values, not a set of skills.

Emmeline Tyler

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Autism parents often hear from the professionals that “kids with autism thrive on routine.” On the surface this appears to be true. Autism kids are drilled to comply with a certain routine and when the routine changes, they react loudly and sometimes physically. Ergo, they must need routine.

In my opinion, professionals like routine because it makes their jobs easier. I am not convinced that encouraging such rigidity is in a child’s best interest.

Amy Yardley

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To comply with a certain routine and needing to be prepared for something are not necessarily the same thing.

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is change a problem for autistic people?

They say Autistic people don’t cope well with change and unexpected events, insist on routine, and can be oppositional if they don’t get what they prefer.

It’s just not that simple.

Autistic people do struggle with change and unpredictability. But it’s not just because we don’t like change.

We struggle with change because of what it costs us in terms of increased demand on our sensory system, executive function resources and how it impacts on our energy budget.

If we are well supported during a change or unexpected event we find it much easier to navigate and to manage the increased demands the new situation places on our bodies, our processing and our emotional responses to all that.

Michelle Swan

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Self harm is complex and full of contradictions. Something I often remind people is that it is common in the animal kingdom. Animals and birds experiencing inescapable pain – loneliness, captivity in an unsuitable cage: too small, too stressful, too close to predator species, overcrowded, or physically ill and suffering, many will head bang, pluck their own feathers, chew or lick off their skin, tear out nails and claws. On one level, self harm is a nearly universal response to certain kinds of suffering. This is the context, the broad picture. We are mammals, part of the world, nervous systems wired this way.

Zooming right in, we get vast diversity in who, how, and why. Some find a single cause and many more a complex web of reasons, needs, struggles. […]

What it is not, and has never been, is the circle I hear so often. They self harm because they are mentally ill: we know they are mentally ill because they self harm.

We self harm because something is wrong, because of pain, because it is the best way we’ve found to meet a need we don’t understand or accept or can’t express.

Sarah K Reece

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In many instances, the discourse(s) of involuntarity governs autism as a condition. Most obviously, autism is not a voluntary condition – one doesn’t choose autism, per se.

Of course, framing autism as a neurological involuntarity is a false construct. After all, does anyone really choose their neurology? And yet, even though neurotypicality is as much an involuntarity as is mental disability or neurodivergence, the construct of involuntarity is culturally inscribed into autism as a condition. Autistics wrench and scream and rock their bodies, and they have no choice; they have no agency; they project little to no rhetorical or narrativistic purpose.

Within this passivity-centric framework, involuntarity might encompass shit smearing or body rocking; it likewise encompasses any act of communication, or what white-coat types might otherwise reduce to inappropriate behaviors; it encompasses embodiment; it encompasses how one dwells in the world. It signifies a lack of purpose, a lack of audience awareness, a lack of control over one’s own person – and under the banner of person, I’m including how we conceptualize mind, body, being, and self-determination. […]

Melanie Yergeau

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Categories
Definitions & Characteristics

Atmosphere – Snowflakes (Part 1)

Yes, I have social problems, but honestly I feel that the idea that autism is a ‘social disorder’ is putting the cart before the horse, and really missing the point. Autism is primarily a sensory and information processing and filtering difference, and the descriptions of autistics written by allistics are simply descriptions of the differences that allistics can see, and think are important.

Kirsten Lindsmith

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Differences in sensory processing do of course affect what might be called ‘social skills,’ for example many autistic people don’t integrate incoming visual information in a way that allows them to easily notice the tiny subtle differences in body position and facial expression that are used in neurotypical communication […]

Sensory integration also affects motor movements, and so many autistic people may not show the body language that non-autistic people expect for the way they are feeling. […]

Quincy Hansen

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In recent years the narrative has shifted from saying that autistic people feel too little – usually due to a purported empathy deficit – to saying we feel too much.

Perhaps the most worrying thing here regards how this new framing leads to autistic suffering being blamed on autistic oversensitivity.

In this regard it is worth drawing attention to a form of psychological domestic abuse sometimes called ‘gaslighting’. What this refers to is the systematic undermining of the victim’s sense of reality in order to make them think the abuse is their fault rather than the fault of the abuser. Very significantly, one of the core ways to do this is for the abuser to convince the victim that they are just too sensitive, meaning that any hurt they feel is not down to their abusive environment but rather due to their own inability to cope with the world. […]

With this in mind, I am wary of all accounts that frame autistic suffering and disablement stemming from us being hyper-sensitive. Far from reversing it, all this does is make the pathologisation of autism more subtle, more hegemonic.

In fact, the issue is that the sensory world is designed for the neurotypical, and so has by and large failed to accommodate the autistic sensory-style. That is, whilst it is true that we suffer from ‘too much information’, this stems from the neurotypical-centric way in which the world is organised – not due to how we process the world as such.

Robert Chapman

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So I’m sort of bad at figuring out how I feel about things, or just how things are, objectively. This is probably due to growing up with gaslighting although I also think that not being able to identify your feelings is supposed to be normal for people with ASD.

Although maybe it’s normal for people with ASD as a result of gaslighting.

Amanda Forest Vivian

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[…] But it is also a context where many of the things – such as eye contact and physical contact – often used by parents to show affection for their children either panic us or cause us physical pain, and where our ‘emotional growth’ might be measured by others in terms of how much we can deaden our bodies and emotions and allow ourselves to be subjected to terror and pain on a regular basis.

Imagine growing up somewhere where to be hit upside the head and locked in a room with a large predatory animal are the two highest forms of affection, and your emotional development is gauged on how well you learn to put up with those situations.

To people who experience certain kinds of touch as pain and eye contact as a predator-style threat, that is some part of our experience growing up. And that is an experience we can have in the most loving and caring of families, if our families don’t understand what those experiences feel like to us (and not all of us show pain and discomfort by pulling away, either, so it’s not always possible to gauge our reactions by that sort of thing).

Mel Baggs

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Neurotypical kids’ social development is fostered by feedback from their parents, who mirror their behavior and thus model reciprocal interactions from an early age. As Morton Ann Gernsbacher and her colleagues pointed out, autistic babies don’t give the usual cues their parents are expecting, and the parents don’t necessarily mirror them or give them the social feedback that helps neurotypical babies.

So how much of an autistic person’s social disabilities come from their own characteristics, and how much from early differences in their interactions with caretakers?

Emily Morson

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culture, class and disability play such a huge role in how we show emotions

Mel Baggs

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Many autistic traits are a result of being so in tune with other people’s energy that it literally hurts.

Shutting down to others emotions and taking them on without discrimination are two sides of the same coin.

Briannon Lee

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Categories
Definitions & Characteristics

Atmosphere – Silhouette (Part 3)

In her 2005 book Constructing Autism, Majia Nadesan provides a useful but woefully under-recognized definition of autism.

She writes that autism is “a nominal category useful for grouping heterogenous people all sharing communication practices deviating significantly from the expectations of normalcy.”

In simpler terms: autism is a label for people whose social behavior is very different from what their culture expects. […]

Autism does not reside a priori within my body.

Autism is an idea, a social category. Autism is the meaning that we project onto certain modes of behavior. It is made up of society’s collective anxieties around what it means to be ‘normal,’ to be fully human.

There is still a stubborn essentialism that pervades the entire discourse around autism […]

Caroline Narby

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Autism is not a thing. It’s an abstraction.

The only concrete reality is the existence of the people who get called autistic.

So when I say what autism is, I mean how my particular brain, that is called autistic, works.

Amanda Baggs

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I think that my ‘story,’ though intensely personal, is not at all singular.

Beneath its idiosyncrasies lie vast strata of commonality, communality

Out of context, N. Mairs

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For many years, ‘autism’ and ‘autistic’ were also used descriptively: […] autistic disorder is a disorder characterised by autistic features, ‘autistic’ being an adjective that describes behaviour

Since 1979, a different use of the word ‘autism’ has crept into general use, and even into specialized use.

It’s now used to refer to an underlying medical condition that is assumed to cause autistic behaviour.

Why does that matter? It matters because what has also crept in is the assumption that if people meet the diagnostic criteria for [autism], that means they have the underlying medical condition that causes autistic behaviour – that everybody’s autistic characteristics must have the same cause.

Sue Gerrard

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A lot of autism research begins with the premise that even though there are [over a thousand] different ways of getting an autism diagnosis, being in the autism ‘gang’ makes you (a) fundamentally similar to all the other gang members and (b) fundamentally different to everyone that doesn’t make the grade. That’s a big, big assumption.

Jon Brock

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We acknowledge the heterogeneity within autism, but our intuitions still drive us to seek a common essence of autism.

The essentialist view of autism goes hand in hand with the way autism research is conducted and reported. […]

By always beginning with autism and working backwards, we have invested too much significance in the label itself.

Jon Brock

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Critics […] pointed out the circularity in Spearman’s argument.

Intelligence tests were assumed to measure intelligence, but because no one knew what intelligence actually was, the tests also defined intelligence – even if they varied considerably.

logicalincrementalism

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No true Scotsman / Appeal to purity

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[T]here is no consistent underlying ‘essence’ to those ways of being we now classify as autistic; rather, in each case, the underlying difference is idiosyncratic and unique. […] Of course, this is not to deny that autistic cognitive and behavioral profiles tend to overlap in specific and interesting ways.

Robert Chapman

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The problem with calling {something} ‘biological’ is that biology is complicated.

Hardly anything in biology fits into […] neat categories

Partial quote, Luz Delfondo

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Just because something’s a social construction doesn’t mean it’s not real […] Now, is it based in biology? Influenced by? Completely unmoored from?

That’s a different argument, and one we can’t get to until we stop conflating it with this one.

Sam Killermann

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