What Actually is Autism? Here Follows a More Accurate Definition.

How many websites are there that include a page called something like “What Is Autism?” or “About Autism’? How often do organisations, professionals, scholars, and others feel the need to include a few paragraphs of basic introductory “What Is Autism?” information in a website, brochure, presentation, or academic paper?

I’ve seen so many versions of that obligatory “What Is Autism” or “About Autism” text and they’re almost all terrible . For starters, almost all of them – even the versions written by people who claim to be in advocates for “autism acceptance” or to support the neurodiversity paradigm – use the language of the pathology paradigm, which, in my view, only serves to contribute to the discrimination of Autistics.

On top of that, most of these descriptions of – even the ones written by Autistics – propagate inaccurate information and ultimately false stereotypes. Some are so bad that they actually quote the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM).

Of course, there are also a few really good pieces of “What Is Autism” text out there. But for the most part, they’re rather personal pieces concerning the authors’ own unique experience of autism, rather than general introductory definitions.

What is needed is some good basic introductory “What Is Autism” text that is:

1.) consistent with current evidence;
2.) not based in the pathology paradigm;
3.) concise, simple, and accessible;  and
4.) formal enough for professional and academic use.

Since I couldn’t find such a piece of prose elsewhere, I decided to write one. And here it is.

WHAT IS AUTISM?

Autism is a genetics-based human neurological variant.

The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current scientific evidence born of neurology and biochemistry indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterised by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience much more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals. On both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both marked and less predictable.

Additionally, it  is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it originates in utero and has a pervasive influence on the development of autistic person, on multiple levels, throughout their lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals. Whereas most of the world runs Microsoft Windows on their computers, Autistics runs The Apple OS.

According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.

Despite possessing underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes much more subtly.

The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to be consistently disadvantaged . An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.

Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologized in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.

2 Replies to “What Actually is Autism? Here Follows a More Accurate Definition.”

  1. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, awesome blog!

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