My thoughts on people claiming children can grow out of autism

One opinion I have come across rather a lot lately in autism groups online is that children can grow out of their autism once they become teenagers or young adults. This opinion is mainly held by parents who claim that their children have grown out of their autism. The most famous recent example of this was Toni Braxton claiming that her 13 year old son Diezel no longer displays symptoms of autism (my IPad is funny about hyperlinks but Google Toni Braxton autistic son and you’ll get several articles about it come up). However, I have also come across a couple of adults online who claim to have grown out of their autism and say that, if they were to go through the diagnostic process today, they would not get a diagnosis of any autistic spectrum condition.

Let me clear something up before we go any further-autism can not be grown out of. It is a neurological condition which means our brains are hard wired in a certain way that gives rise to the symptoms of autism. Every individual is different but, while outward manifestations of the conditions on the autism spectrum will differ from person to person, the neurological make up is similar. I do maintain that people who do not have the associated severe learning disabilities that can be co morbid with autism can learn social skills the same way that someone without autism can learn regular skills. This is how I learned the social skills I have-through years of hard work and many mistakes. This does not mean that I have grown out of my Aspergers though. It doesn’t take much for me to forget these social skills-if I am tired, stressed, anxious or not feeling well, my brain cannot access these as they are not natural to me and so people who haven’t seen that side of me before where I am unable to communicate verbally or blurt something out impulsively find it hard to match that person with the person they normally know me as. I am constantly working at 100% to be socially acceptable and the irony with that is that, when you work so hard to fit in with the world, people can be very unforgiving when you do have a bad day and suddenly, as the quote goes, “my autism starts showing”. It worries me that these children who have apparently grown out of their autism are putting themselves under immense pressure to fit in socially and, as such, are not given enough recognition that they do still struggle and, from experience, this can lead to a vicious cycle of low self esteem and self loathing because it feels like they can never truly be themselves. I feel a lot happier when I have an outlet for my stress, such as stimming. After a long day at work, I usually stim for at least 30 minutes uninterrupted and, after that, I feel calm enough to attempt to sleep. I know some autistic people who have been shamed out of stimming, either by relatives or by professionals such as teachers, and feel like they have no outlet for the stress that comes from having to constantly monitor your behaviour in order to fit in as best as you can with society.

I also maintain that people usually grow into their autism rather than grow out of it. Autism is a lifelong condition and, like any lifelong condition, over the years, you learn to live with it and you learn coping strategies. Many people with autism who are sensitive to noise, for example, really struggle as young children and can have very public meltdowns due to over stimulation but, by the time they become adults, they have learned which steps to take to avoid over stimulation such as headphones or ear defenders or ordering shopping online rather than going to busy supermarkets. People who have severe learning disbilities alongside their autism also learn, over time, how to regulate the auditory input they receive from the environment. A lot of autistic people make their own unique vocalisations which often serve to block out other auditory input by making that noise the loudest input they are receiving. We need to respect other people’s coping strategies. As long as it is doing us no harm, why force them to stop, creating more anxiety and distress? If someone flaps their hands to calm themselves down after holding it together all day, respect that and don’t try to stop them from doing it. I have never seen personally why hand flapping is considered so socially unacceptable by some. I can think of so many things that I would consider socially unacceptable but wider society deems perfectly fine but they can’t tolerate seeing someone flapping their hands. It’s one thing I really don’t get.

People with autism also benefit from extensive support (where available). This support can enable them to fulfil their potential but it doesn’t mean they are no longer autistic. I benefited hugely from the social skills sessions I attended in secondary school but I am still autistic. Yes, as a child, in home videos, I came across as very noticeably autistic (lots of hand clapping and running around in circles) and now, as an adult, I just come across as shy and socially awkward to most people (unless they work in the autism field) until you get to know me a bit better but that’s down to years of hard work. Another thing I find ironic is that, with the recent Government cuts, a lot of autistic children in both mainstream and special schools are having their support reduced precisely because they have benefited so much from that same support. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I find it interesting that most people believe that the people who have grown out of their autism are the extroverts. Toni Braxton claims that her son is now a “social butterfly”. Whilst there are a lot of people with autism who do present as socially awkward, conversely some of the most charming and sociable people I know are autistic. The media has done a lot of damage by portraying autism as introversion. Yes, a lot of people on the spectrum are introverts but there are lots of extroverts on the spectrum too and also a lot of introverts who are not autistic. It is not impossible for people with autism to make friends or to keep them. It is stereotypes like this that can do so much damage to our community. I have read accounts from women who have gone for a diagnostic assessment only to be told that they cannot be autistic because they made eye contact with the psychiatrist who was assessing them or because they are married. One man was told that he cannot be autistic because he works full time as a highly paid professional. Prejudice is still very much in existence when it comes to autism. There are still far too many professionals who believe that autism is a childhood condition and that, if you weren’t diagnosed before your 18th birthday, you’re obviously not autistic. People whose autism is not picked up until adulthood often have mental health issues such as depression from working so hard to fit in and never feeling like they can truly be themselves.

Lastly, misdiagnosis can and does happen although it is nowhere near as common as some people would have you believe (mainly the people who believe autism is just an excuse for poor parenting but that’s a whole other topic!) I once came across someone on an autism forum that had never experienced a meltdown or shutdown, never had obsessions, was very adept at reading body language and social cues, had no sensory issues, did not have any urges to stim and strongly felt that they had been misdiagnosed which we all agreed with but I think he was a very rare case. If anyone truly feels they have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition but do not have any of the symptoms any more, I would suggest speaking to your Doctor or the person who diagnosed you as you were most likely misdiagnosed. Although I have changed a lot since my initial diagnosis, I know that I would still receive the same diagnosis today if I went for a reassessment because my brain hasn’t changed since my last assessment. Well actually I would now be given a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder Level 1 given that Aspergers has now been absorbed into the spectrum as a whole which, in my opinion, was the best thing that could have happened but that’s for another day!

So Toni Braxton’s son, unless misdiagnosed in the first place, is still autistic. Given that I don’t think she ever accepted her son’s condition in the first place (she was quoted as saying that his autism was a punishment from God for a previous abortion-it’s pretty distressing to know that some people still consider autism or other disabilities as punishments), I think her eagerness to assert that his autism has now vanished is related to that. More than likely, Diezel, like most teenagers on the spectrum, has devised his own coping strategies and grown into his autism. I am sure he will grow into a fine young man who hopefully accepts his condition and works with it to achieve his full potential.

 

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One Response to My thoughts on people claiming children can grow out of autism

  1. Noah Weiss says:

    I particularly like your paragraph describing “growing into” one’s autism. Similarly, I used to be very introverted, but by working on my social skills, I have swung to the other side of that spectrum. But it doesn’t change my neurology–I am still an Aspie!

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