All in the Mind

Is AS really on the Autistic Spectrum or are we just redefining Autism?

The overall message we get from the growing AS/Autism support industry is that we are part of the autistic spectrum and we have a psychiatric disorder, even if the language used by professionals when addressing us is much more diplomatic. I agree we have problems with socialisation and manifest behavioural traits that come under the broad umbrella now labelled as Asperger's.

I take issue with this arbitrary extension of the so-called autistic spectrum to include people with a high verbal intelligence quotient and who have very human emotions. It is kind of like saying "You were bullied at school because you're autistic but didn't know it at the time and now you've been diagnosed help is at hand". The truth is most of us were bullied at school because in a highly competitive society obsessed with coolness anyone who fails to conform to such standards is weeded out. As the saying goes "special needs are just weeds". As we are all so different, how could a label help anyone deal with us better. We are just human beings trying to navigate in today's social rat race and often choosing to opt out. I think the problems we experience are shared by a much larger percentage of the population, but to claim that such a reality represents an extension of autism is to misunderstand autism itself or rather to debase its value as a meaningful diagnosis. This term should only be used for individuals with a classic Kanner's autism developmental pattern and with associated cerebral abnormalities. Those who claim that aspies have radically different brains have misinterpreted scant data as most AS-diagnosed people have never had a PET or fMRI scan and recent studies are showing marked difference between the HFA/LFA (traditional autistic) group and the AS group and disproving earlier assumptions about the size of our amygdala (originally attributed to schizophrenics and psychopaths). The latter group manifest varying degrees of synaptic overconnectedness in the orbito-frontal cortex, but this is the most neuroplastic and evolutionarily advanced section of our brain and it is now known that it constantly rewires itself throughout adolescence and way into our twenties and even thirties. So it quite possible that millions could be manifesting AS-like traits not because we were born that way, but because our interaction with the modern environment led us to develop in a certain, with genetic factors only determining relative susceptibility. There seems to be a move to extend the autistic spectrum even further to include ADHD, Tourettes,OCD etc.. In some parts of the UK ADHD diagnosis has reached 1 in 5 children. So if we believe the psychiatric establishment, 1 in 5 kids has a neurological abnormality and will require drugs (they say medication) like ritalin (a commercialised variant of speed) or risperdal (think crack cocaine) for the rest of their lives alongside a support network, with teachers specially trained to deal with challenging behaviour..

This approach, labelling more and more people with one disorder or another, cannot be right. If something is wrong, let's look at the real causes. If we're told our problems are due to a neurological deviation, then we might believe that we need a label and all the stigma that that implies. By contrast if we conclude that society is at fault then we need to change society. Even small changes seem beyond the powers that be. Examples include reducing class sizes (i.e. replacing special needs learning support workers with real teachers and reclassifying all children as having special needs), putting limits on absurd sensory overloads in shopping centres and leisure complexes (loud music) and de-emphasising coolness. Why not? Because such changes would rock too many boats. Teamwork is the order of the day because in reality it means groupthink conformism. Many myths about AS-diagnosed people are spread by ASD evangelisers. We are supposed to lack interest in imaginative play or socialisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The imaginative play claim comes straight from textbooks that apply to Kanner's syndrome (0.2% of the population according to NAS stats). As for socialisation, just consider why so many AS-diagnosed people get depressed, because we fail to socialise. If we didn't want to socialise, we would not care if others shunned us..

Dyspraxia and hypersensitivity to sounds are very real, but there is simply no magic dividing line between the AS-diagnosed and everyone else, they both represent continua. It may, however, be the case that dyspraxic or hypersensitive children are more likely to be ostracised and develop AS-like behavioural traits. How can one seriously imagine that the enormous lifestyle changes we have witnessed over the last two generations have not led to major psychological changes in a sizable group of adults? Some such as Richard Restak (author of the New Brain) Peter Breggin (author of numerous books on the dangers of ECT, psychiatric drugs and the ADHD fraud) have suggested that ADHD should really be called TV-syndrome. Why? Because it has been proven that excessive exposure to TV (immersion of a virtual reality not just the other side effects of cathod ray tubes) causes the brain to rewire. Remove someone from a high-tech media-obsessed multitasking information-overladen environment and place them in a more traditional slow-paced focused environment and their brains rewires. Of course we are all different, that much should be obvious to anyone who has met more than half a dozen aspies, but we are also first and foremost human beings.