In yesterday’s post I quoted from and linked to an article that argues that the pathology paradigm is a cultural value judgment and not a objective scientific conclusion. So if autism is not a disorder, what is it? Most online scientific and medical literature still use the pathology paradigm, as do most sources within the autism community(a) and so are of little help when looking at what autism really is.
To gather a more accurate description one needs to look at the literature from the autistic community(b). The “problem” with following this course of action is that most descriptions are based on personal experience and are therefore subjective in nature rather than being objective in a scientific vein.
(a)Autism community: allies of autistic people; caregivers of autistic people; extended family of autistic people; professionals who work with autistic people; anyone who thinks they know anything about autism.
(b)Autistic community: autistic people.
And here’s why it’s a problem: The experience of every autistic is different. The picture I paint to describe what autism is for me will be different from the picture painted by another autistic about their experience. Some of my experiences might event contradict those of another autistic. Many non-autistic people have an issue with this. They see inconsistencies, discrepancies that they interpret as “nonsense”, “bullshit”, “you’re making it all up”. And we’re the ones who are supposed to have rigid forms of thinking??
Comprehensive descriptions that include autism in all its variations and follow the neurodiversity paradigm are few and far between, but I find the following from the NEUROCOSMOPOLITANISM blog one of the better descriptions of what autism is.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.
Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals.
According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.
Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly.
The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.
Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologized in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.What Is Autism? – NEUROCOSMOPOLITANISM, March 1, 2014