Google that term and one is faced with a lengthy list of deficits. The definitions of autism are cloaked in subjective language. All the words used are in relation to non Autistic neurology: “severe impairment”, “life long developmental disorder”, “social impairment” and one site went so far as to say, “A mental condition in which fantasy dominates over reality, as a symptom of schizophrenia and other disorders.” None of these “definitions” have been helpful to me, personally, nor have I found them to be factually correct. The most common definitions of autism out there have increased my fear and encouraged me to pursue therapies and treatments that have done far more harm than good.
People often ask, “so what is autism exactly?” Over the years I’ve had a variety of responses, but like the definitions above, they always seemed inadequate, unhelpful and inaccurate. So now, when I answer that question all I can come up with is this: Autism is a type of neurology. Short and sweet. No judgment, no comparison, just six words. It is a neurology. It’s the best way I know of to describe what is often mired in negativity and judgment.
Comparing Autism to non autistic neurology has gotten me into a great deal of trouble over the years. I have found it is important that I avoid doing that. (I’m keeping this personal. I speak only for myself and do not presume this is how others feel.) For years I worried about my daughter’s ability to have friends. If I believe the common definitions of autism, her ability to make friends is “impaired”. Yet the impairment is less about her desire and attempts to have friends as it is about non Autistic neurology being out of sync with hers. When Em was in Florida with her friend Henry, they had no problem hanging out together, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Just because they typed to each other and didn’t engage in endless verbal conversation, didn’t mean they didn’t have a blast together.
If I listened to and believed the definitions of autism, I might think my child couldn’t learn to read or write. I would be wrong. Not only has my daughter learned to read and write, she also has learned to type. Because I no longer believe the common definitions regarding autism I do not limit what she should or shouldn’t do. I do not limit her future with set ideas about her future capabilities. I have found it helpful to disregard those organizations and people who insist that Autism is a dreadful “affliction” and compare rates of autism diagnosis with cancer.
So what is a longer definition of autism?
It’s a terrific question. Finding an answer that is factual as well as helpful to me, has been difficult to find. However there are a few who have done a terrific job defining autism and in doing so have also helped me, personally. Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) defines Autism ‘here‘ and this post by Brenda, over at Mama Be Good, gives a great, comprehensive answer to the question and at the end includes her personal observations of her child and what it’s been like to parent an Autistic child.
So I ask you, how do you answer the question – What is Autism?
Em on her way back to Henry’s house – April 2013