“Autism: Perceiving Maturity”

Maturity I have noticed how autistics can mistakenly be perceived by others as “mature”, despite the fact that they are almost always chronologically older, than their actual emotional maturity and awareness and until they have been around longer than others, often not street-wise and are likely to struggle to understand things their neurotypical peers find instinctive.  Maturity means experience in life, learning from those experiences, gaining wisdom from those experiences and presenting a somewhat “sensible” face to the world and more than might be expected for your age.

Autistics often hold back when in social situations, they may struggle to know what to say or when to say it, or have plenty to say a-la-monologue, but be scared to start, having had adverse reactions in the past. They may have social phobia, or be shy.  They are very likely to behave atypically, is the bottom line.  Many, especially females, will attempt to mimic peers to “fit in”, but with something being slightly ‘off’.  Many autistics have a strong moral compass, or a phobia of everyday things, or a confusion over why other people behave and communicate the way they do.  So the autistic is likely to be reserved, to hold back.  This can present an image of seriousness, they may also be studious which will add to this ~ a geeky type.  To others, this comes across as “mature”.  A teenage autistic girl for instance, is unlikely to be gossiping (even if she makes a brave effort to join in, because autistics usually struggle with small talk and don’t see the point in talking about what others are doing salaciously), talking about parties and boyfriends or plastered in make-up and rolling her skirt up so high that it barely covers her underwear.  Not unless she has taken mimicking to the extreme anyway.  This will stand her out from neurotypical peers.  The absence of what are seen as the “typical” behaviours of peers, makes the autistic appear sensible and mature.

It’s frustrating that neurotypical observers make such assumptions about autistics.  I always say, autistics might do (or appear to) the same things as neurotypicals, but for very different reasons.  Autistics struggle to predict and usually take others at face value.  Whereas neurotypicals seem to have a radar for judging what is likely to happen and to analyse the words and actions of others.  Trouble is, this means they project ~ and this rarely works on an autistic!

So this reminds me again, how little autism awareness there is.  Autistics struggle to survive in a largely neurotypical world, we try to learn what neurotypicals mean by what they say and do.  But neurotypicals seem to think they’ve got the t-shirt already and apply their belief-system based on their way of thinking, to autistics.  Autistics are the minority, we think differently, we often behave differently.  Some have likened it to neurotypicals being Windows (for instance) and autistics being Linux ~ we are on different operating systems.

They say “never judge a book by it’s cover” but autistics are misjudged that way all the time, by the neurotypical tick-box.  This affects everything.  From schools thinking an autistic child is in no difficulty because they are masking and mimicking, to professionals wrongly judging families/parenting by the neurotypical tick-box, to every single interaction an autistic has with neurotypical people.

If I could explain to a neurotypical the way my mind works, I would.  I doubt I could though.  All I know, is that from as early as I can remember, I found others strange and wondered why they behaved the way they do and said the things they said.  I never felt I fitted in.  It’s a very deep level of difference.  So to all neurotypicals out there, if you happen to know someone is autistic, don’t ever assume ~ and if they don’t mind talking about their autism, why not ask them things to see what their perspective or reasoning is.  Even hearing the answers won’t tell you what it’s like to exist as an autistic, it will be just the tiniest sliver of their processing that won’t even amount to a clue.  But it might challenge the way you think and make the world that little bit easier for autistics.

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Professionals Not Understanding Autistic Presentations – Masking

Masks

There is such a lot of professional ignorance about autism out there.  Well, I do muse to myself that it could just be in the UK.  We apparently have rates of 1 in 100, but in the US latest figures are 1 in 68.  That tells us that either the Americans are over-diagnosing/have higher rates for some reason – or that the UK is under-diagnosing.  My own thoughts are that the cash-strapped NHS has a directive to only diagnose the most severe cases of autism.  Severity is likely judged by things such as whether the child is disrupting the class at school.  When a child is quiet and compliant at school, their support needs get ignored.  Sadly, this is the case even when parents are reporting their child’s distress and extreme behaviours in great detail and family life is greatly impacted by the fallout of supporting an undiagnosed child.

If you look at the NHS NICE Guidelines for Autism Diagnosis in Children & Young People it says:

http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/13572/56428/56428.pdf

1.2.5 When considering the possibility of autism, be aware that:

  • signs and symptoms will not always have been recognised by parents, carers, children or young people themselves or by other professionals
  • when older children or young people present for the first time with possible autism, signs or symptoms may have previously been masked by the child or young person’s coping mechanisms and/or a supportive environment

1.2.7 Do not rule out autism because of:

  • difficulties appearing to resolve after a needs-based intervention (such as a supportive structured learning environment)

The point being, that school (whilst not necessarily “supportive”) can be a routine and structure that enables an autistic child to function with few apparent difficulties.  That doesn’t mean they are not there.  Mental health can greatly suffer if the condition is not recognised and supported.

In the American DSM (which some clinicians in the UK use), it says:

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html

“Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autism Spectrum Disorder

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

  1. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).”

So at school, the demands may not have exceeded the child’s capacities, that doesn’t make them not autistic or not entitled to diagnosis.  Many high-functioning ASC children are highly anxious and are so inhibited at school and trying so desperately to fit in, they manage to subdue their behaviour, but this is like a volcano awaiting eruption and once they get home, where they feel safe, they release their anxiety and stress.

Professionals seem to be very keen to blame parenting and fob parents off with parenting courses which of course, won’t make any difference to the autistic child, whether this is deliberate and part of the directive not to diagnose as many as possible, or whether they truly believe there are that many failed parents out there, I will leave you to judge.  They seem to struggle to understand that autism is a spectrum, and that traits vary in their strength and manifestation between individuals.  Because some traits seem more subtle, they are telling parents “some autistic behaviours but not enough for a diagnosis” which is outrageous.

Professionals accusing parents of being the cause of their autistic child’s behaviour is wrong on so many levels.  The environment a behaviour is present in, doesn’t automatically mean that this is the environment causing the behaviour.  So I will leave this message to all those professionals out there, that seemingly cannot think outside of their box, do not understand autism and work in a culture of blame:

Edited to add this research: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08856257.2014.986915#aHR0cDovL3d3dy50YW5kZm9ubGluZS5jb20vZG9pL3BkZi8xMC4xMDgwLzA4ODU2MjU3LjIwMTQuOTg2OTE1QEBAMA==

“Abstract

This article presents the findings of ethnographic case studies of three girls on the autistic spectrum attending mainstream primary schools and illustrates the difficulties they experience and the ways in which these are often unrecognised. The observations of the girls and subsequent individual interviews with their mothers, class teachers, SENCO’s and ultimately themselves, reveal the personal adjustments the girls make in response to the hidden curriculum and the ways in which these go unnoticed, effectively masking their need for support, and contributing to their underachievement in school. The research also identifies a misunderstanding of autism in girls by some teachers that contributes to a lack of support for their needs, despite their diagnosis. Teachers need to understand how autistic girls present, and how they learn, if they are to recognise the need to illuminate the hidden curriculum. The implications of these findings are that without this awareness autistic girls in mainstream settings are also at risk of limited access to the known curriculum and of social isolation.”

Assume