Growing Into Autism

Disclaimer-some of the views in this post may appear controversial but they are my views from growing up with Aspergers and from my interactions with other people on the autistic spectrum.It is not my intention to offend anyone.

One of the most common questions I hear in regards to the topic of autism is “Can you grow out of it?” It is assumed by some that those of us on the spectrum who hold down jobs, are verbal and went through mainstream education must have “grown out of” our autism. Of course we have not grown out of our autism-that implies that autism is a phase in life that you can get over, something you live with for a couple of years and then it miraculously disappears. Autism is a “cradle to grave” condition-it is lifelong. Our brains are wired differently so, from the moment we are born, we are processing information differently even if the more obvious symptoms of autism may not become apparent until the age of 18 months or 2. It may appear that some people have “grown out of” their condition and indeed I have come across people on the Internet who claim this to be the case. I would put forward the argument that, if they are genuinely autistic, they still have symptoms of autism even if the manifestation of those symptoms has changed. I would suggest that those who genuinely feel their autism has vanished were probably misdiagnosed in the first place as there’s a vast difference between learning to live with your symptoms and your condition disappearing completely.

A good example comes from my own childhood. When I was a young child, I used to run around in circles clapping over and over again. This is an example of stimming although, obviously, as a child, I didn’t know what stimming was-I just knew that I loved the sensation of running around in circles clapping. Over the years, this stimming behaviour has changed from running around in circles to pacing while having headphones in and listening to my favourite music. It offers a similar sensory feedback but is seen by other people as “less autistic” and more “acceptable”. Therefore, I probably appear to have “grown out of” this particular manifestation of my condition but all I’ve actually done is replace the behaviour over the years with another behaviour. Some people continue to stim in the same ways throughout their lives and are viewed as low functioning if these stims consist of certain movements that neurotypical people find pointless such as rocking or flapping their hands. However, people who stim through mannerisms such as clicking their fingers or playing with their hair are not viewed in the same way because their stims are seen as more “acceptable” and indeed neurotypical people usually do these things to help their concentration or relieve stress. Some of these people probably feel urges to rock or flap or hum but have had it repeated to them over and over again that they must behave in an “acceptable” way. This links in with the functioning level post I did a few weeks ago. From what I have seen, if someone with autism does not communicate verbally and is seen as low functioning, their stims are often just viewed as part of that diagnosis (although I have heard of people diagnosed with severe autism being told off for stimming in certain environments) whereas, if you have no associated learning disability, communicate verbally and are considered high functioning, stimming in exactly the same ways as someone who is considered low functioning is viewed by many as inappropriate. They don’t understand the reasoning behind why we need to stim and instead tell us over and over again how we need to change these behaviours. I know a lot of people with Aspergers who rock and flap but have to do it in private because it is not understood. The fact that this is expected of us by so many says more about society than it does about us “growing out of” our autism.

Of course, stimming is just one aspect of Aspergers and other conditions on the autistic spectrum and I have met several people with Aspergers who don’t stim, usually people who are not affected by the sensory aspects of the condition. There are other ways in which people appear to have “grown out of” their autism over time. A good example is eye contact. As mentioned on this blog before, the majority of the Western world are obsessed with eye contact. Over the years, those of us with Aspergers who realise how prized the ability to make eye contact is in our societies and know how those who don’t make eye contact are misjudged as dishonest or creepy teach ourselves ways to look at people’s faces so it appears we are making eye contact. Some choose to look at the nose, others choose to look at the forehead, others fixate on a point in the distance and some others make brief, fleeting eye contact and then look somewhere else and then back again for the entirety of the conversation. It may appear that we have “grown out of” this symptom but we still have the same discomfort at the thought of eye contact-we have just come up with clever disguises that make us appear “normal”.

Social skills improve over time in a lot of cases because we painstakingly learn them and commit them to memory. Instinctively, most of us still struggle with social skills but our learned behaviour gets us through social interactions with those we know.Every time I meet a new person, I have to remember this learned behaviour the way that someone might remember something academic-I have learned social skills in an academic way. Many of us have also been through various therapies or courses in social skills. The person with Aspergers who may appear socially confident has not “grown out of” their condition. What you see in this person is the result of years of hard work and learned behaviour.

I leave you with this statement-it is not so much that I or people like me have “grown out of” our autism. Rather, we have grown into it over the years. We have realised that it is a part of who we are and have embraced it. I am not saying that it is always positive but, once you accept your symptoms and your diagnosis, you grow into your condition rather than always feeling like it’s an awkward inconvenience. Remember that you are unique and worth something. Nobody is worthless in life.For those readers who aren’t on the spectrum, just remember that every person on the spectrum who appears to be so “normal” has worked for many years and been through a lot of pain in most cases to get to that point-please respect that.

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One Response to Growing Into Autism

  1. I frequently get the you don’t have autism now or anymore because in a good mood, in a place I’m happy and with people i know i can fake it very convincingly. I’m getting better at the fake while drinking too. Doesnt mean it’s gone away it’s just hidden better and I’ve learnt to deal with things better. It will come out in the usual stressed, tired, sick, hungry etc.

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