The definition of what autism/asperger’s is can be very difficult to describe. There are many definitions available, some of which are very precise but difficult to understand (such as the triad of impairments) and some which are too basic to be considered to be a good definition. I will attempt to give a good idea of how autism affects me in my own opinion and based on my own limited understanding. All of this is based on the small amount of research I have done so far and my own experience.
Autism is a mental disability where the brain of someone with autism is different to that of a normal person. The way that the brain sends messages from one part of the brain to the other is different. When comparing the brain of someone with autism against a normal person, messages are sent across the brain using different connections and I believe this is due to the connections not working in an autistic mind so messages have to be sent using different connections. In a way it is like mild brain damage that you are born with. Just this alone has many implications. The autistic mind cannot be fixed with current medical technology, no matter how good you are at faking or acting being normal many things have to be learnt instead of being natural or instinctive and therefore some things may be able to be improved whilst others may not. Although there are negatives to having areas of the brain being more dominant than a normal person’s it can have positives such as being exceptionally good with mathematics, creative arts and research. I believe that this is similar to a blind person that hears things better than a normal person as they rely and use this sense more so something changes in the brain to improve this.
Whilst autism affects the brain, the brain controls the rest of our body so for most (if not all) people with autism there are physical disabilities. The more severe the autism the more obvious these symptoms are to other people. I work with people that have much more severe autism than me and differences include: not having the capability to communicate, having physical outbursts which can include hitting and biting people, making loud unexpected noises such as grunting or shouting, not being able to walk correctly, losing a lot of their independence due to not being able to interact with others and having stronger reactions to sensory overload.
Autism effects different people in different ways and different severities but the least affected are people like me with high functioning autism. Which for me is the same as Asperger’s Syndrome although some will disagree.
I can only truly give a definition of high functioning autism as this is all I really know and most of my definition is independent to me as others with autism could have very different issues.
Communication: For me, autism affected my communication when I was younger. I could not talk to most people and I could only talk to a limited capability with the people I trusted. I found verbal communication very difficult and was almost mute at school. I could ask questions, if I really needed something, and answer questions but not make general conversation. Even in my early teenage years I could not make any form of general conversation with anyone, not even close family. I still struggle with this today.
I am now in my mid 30s and when I talk I am quite fluent and able to form sentences very well but at the same time I struggle to keep a conversation going, start a conversation or join into a conversation with two or more people. Sometimes this mismatch of being able to talk well and confidently when answering questions but not being able to start conversations and therefore seeming to be shy or quiet at other times gives people a lot of conflicting information. When I started to learn how to talk properly, by self teaching, I made a lot of mistakes and used to hate it when I could not pronounce words properly or form sentences correctly but now I am much better at this. In essence conversation does not come naturally to me and I still have times when I cannot talk to people well or only talk in a very limited way (especially strangers and people I do not see very often) but this has drastically improved over the years with hard work and determination.
Body language, eye contact and gestures: I can do a bit of good body language but gestures with my face are impossible for me. Perhaps I could learn one day but my face is usually expressionless apart from an occasional smile or frown. I don’t like making eye contact but have learnt how to do this a bit – still not a master by any measurement though.
Walking: I can walk and have done this as a hobby in the past but it is not a natural walk like other people. People always comment on the way I walk and that they can recognise me from a great distance away by the way I walk.
Sensory overload: visual and touch the most. Followed by sound then taste and least affected is smell.
Anger: I do not get angry often but when I do I deal with this in two methods which are crying or have a violent outburst (but never hurt or injure others). As a child I had incredibly strong tantrums that could not be controlled (but again these were rare). Other people, that are more autistic, will deal with anger in different ways such as hitting or biting another person, shouting or running away.
With all of these things in mind I appear, to almost everyone including family members, to be normal. Perhaps a bit strange, perhaps a bit shy (which I am a bit anyway, probably due to my autism but not directly) and perhaps a bit different. But mostly in the normal category somewhere. But because I appear to be normal and I am not this is where the problems lie. Some of the few things I have difficulties with that may or may not be obvious are:
– Poor or misunderstood communication (such as saying the wrong thing)
– Appearing to be unempathetic (when sometimes I just don’t know what to say or how to say it or not allowing myself to feel empathy due to it effecting me too much emotionally)
– Not outwardly showing or expressing emotions
– Laughing at the wrong time
– Not getting involved or talking to people that I don’t know very well (even if they are family, never mind potential friends)
– Avoiding things that trigger sensory overload even at the cost of being rude to others such as: walking away if there is bright sunshine, bright lights, bright colours or irritating sounds
– Getting headaches, tiredness, stress, anger and sadness mainly due to sensory overload
– Finding change or unpredictability very difficult to deal with
– Having high qualifications and being very clever in some areas but at the same time I cannot understand or do some of the most basic things that people know or do naturally
– Finding it difficult to fit in – such as at work, school, university, family gatherings or college
– Not drinking alcohol – which can be socially unacceptable in some cases
– Having travel sickness (which I deal with by taking travel sickness tablets on a regular basis, especially at work where travelling is expected)
These are some of the issues I can think of at the moment but there are some I may have forgotten about or may not have learnt about but suffer the consequences. However there are many positives and many techniques that can mask or improve some of the issues that I have.