Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Former autistics?

The orthodoxy among most of the autism bloggers I tend to read (mostly via lurking the Hub), especially those who identify as autistic themselves, is that people do not stop being autistic when they grow up; they just develop and adapt to their strengths and weaknesses like anyone else does.

This subject is interesting to me, because my boyfriend could probably be considered a "former" autistic, depending on how you define autistic. If it requires diagnosis or diagnosability by a medical professional, then technically speaking my self-diagnosed boyfriend is in all probability a "former" autistic. After all, he did fail to get an official diagnosis from a professional, who told him that he didn't seem like that professional's Asperger patients.

However, despite the degree to which he has obvious autistic traits or the ability to hide them, his history of autistic traits is a huge part of his past, and his past is a huge part of who he is now, especially given his long-standing (but lessening in the last few years) tendency to fixate on it and long for the authoritative certainty, freedom from responsibility, and special interests he enjoyed in childhood. Had he not grown up with autistic traits, he wouldn't be the person he is now. His comfortably-paying career grew out of his childhood passionate interests; his limited palate grew out of his childhood sensory sensitivities; his charming naivete grew out of his past and continuing difficulty catching onto the political games neurotypical people play; and his past and continued persistence at problem-solving and ability to easily think in text made him something of a wizard at pinball, board games, puzzles, and some video games requiring exquisite concentration.

The combination of past and present autistic traits also affects important day-to-day interactions - for instance, he has trouble understanding dark or cynical humor, seeing it as a sign of the person being upset and feeling a need to fix the upset in case it is or will become directed at him, when in fact the other person (usually me) is effectively using the dark humor to handle any negative emotions and doesn't really need anything to be fixed.

So, regardless of whether a person with spectrum traits fits the criteria to be formally diagnosed with a spectrum condition or not, autism is still very much a part of who these people are. So in that sense, autism is for life even if the outward symptoms are not, and well-adjusted and possibly subclinical adults referring to themselves as autistic or aspie are not entirely off-base in doing so. But, technically speaking, people with spectrum traits can lose or experience a great reduction in the strength of a number of those traits over time, and so would never have the "legitimacy" of official diagnosis to help cover their backs if people challenge their authenticity as people who have lived on the spectrum. (Not that that would stop the most adamant "shut this person up" voices from questioning the autistic person's authenticity or right to speak anyway.)

As for some people who seem to "outgrow" their autism while still children, it's possible that what they had was not like most of what is called autism - the kid was misdiagnosed, or had some quirk with short-lived autistic-like qualities that nobody has a name for yet.

And what if a person has a history of autism but is subclinical or nearly so as an adult, and does not want to identify as autistic? They certainly have the freedom to choose what they want to be called. Maybe they will decide later that their history of autism is important to who they are now, but there's probably no use trying to push that decision on them.


Casdok said...

I totally agree!

Ettina said...

I often wonder why people (including myself) get tied up in knots about it. Here's my opinion.
Firstly, you can't eradicate autism by changing a person's behaviors, any more than a gay person who only has sex with the opposite gender can be called straight. The underlying traits, in the gay example attraction to same gender and not opposite gender, are still there.
Secondly, everyone grows and develops in their own way. If a child naturally acts autistic at one age and neurotypical at another, I think they are simply a child with a distinctive developmental path. They never cease to be the same person, to describe them as 'autistic' at one point and 'neurotypical' at another makes no sense.
Lastly, even if they truly change to such a degree that it's as if they were another person, there should not be the value judgement there usually is on it. Why is it that neurotypical becoming autistic is analogized as a death while autistic becoming neurotypical is analogized as a birth? Both are either a birth and a death together, or neither of the two.