April: Autism Awareness Month

Original artwork: Briony

Autism is a complex disorder. If I was to look at a “normal’s” IQ test result then this would be a reasonably straight line, a few ups and downs but overall; regular. This is not so for someone with one of the Autism Spectrum of Disorders, our IQs read akin to roller coaster; troughs and quite often substantial highs.

An Autism Spectum Disorder (ASD) person, can be perceived as being exceptionally clever and/or talented, however on occasions quite dense. Ok, so I know that you’re going to believe me on that one. 😉

Therefore the fact is, do not take it for granted that we are intelligent in all matters.

People with ASD have problems with social and communication skills, the most notable of these is taking statements literally. The invention of smileys is a god send to ASD people, because then you know when the person is smiling when they make the statement, or is it serious? This is not clear to people such as myself with ASD. I’m certain that everyone has been through this: But I didn’t know that it was a joke. People with ASD have to deal with this on a daily basis, having to interpret whether the person is serious or just joking. Then throw sarcasm in for good measure. With sarcasm, an ASD person is well and truly stuffed, because the statement contradicts the person’s intention.

An example of taking things literally comes from a young lad, age 14yrs. This boy had previously been diagnosed as being “a behaviour problem” and from this example, you will see why.

P* to his High School Geography teacher: How do I write an essay?
Geography teacher: You would write it as you would talk to me.
P* replied: But I wouldn’t talk to you.

Although the cause of ASD is unknown, it is a reasonable assumption that this is a genetic disorder, albeit the exact cause of it has not yet been found. Within one family you may find one person with a milder manifestation such as Asperger’s Disorder, someone who is verging on Savant, and yet another person in the dark realms of the severely autistic.

Many people with ASD have unusual ways of learning, of paying attention and of reacting to sensations. Within this imaginary set of blood related people you might have someone who cannot speak on the phone, someone with a series of phobias and hypersensitivity, and someone with a special talent, usually mathematical or musical. An example of hypersensitivity might be an ability to hear a conversation across the street, and this might coexist with an ability to sort data in one’s brain, due to the ability to visualise the pattern. A negative trait might be not being able to have certain fabrics touch the skin. We all have phobias, but ASD people are often endowed with a number of these, and all relate to a hypersensitivity.

An Asperger’s person is likely to be fascinated with technology as technology reacts in a logical sequence, cause and effect.

The first Autistic person to challenge perceptions of what it means to have ASD is a lady by the name of Temple Grandin. This lady was, as a child recommended for a special school but due to her mother’s perseverance, Temple Grandin learned to speak and then later discovered a special talent: she could visualise how cattle perceive things. Yes a very unusual talent isn’t it, but Ms. Grandin went onto a highly successful career in the US cattle industry. A movie has been made of her life story which I don’t think is in the video shops, but it can be downloaded. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in true life stories.

“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?

You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.” Temple Grandin, “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s”

Asperger’s especially are characterised by all encompassing, all pervasive interests and can become fixated on things. When these interests have a practical application generally there isn’t a problem, but these can become a problem when these interests take the place of normal human interaction. For example, an all pervasive interest in Egyptology can become a career, but an all pervasive interest in watching Three Stooges movies does become a problem. A young lad who I was assisting when a Disability Advocate had a fixation on tomatoes, another much younger boy had a fixation on his mother’s elbows.

Almost all Asperger’s have an unusual gait. I personally tend to “trot” when I walk, and have to concentrate on taking larger steps.

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime and today, 1 in 110 individuals are diagnosed with some form of autism from the spectrum. Males are far more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than females, however it is unknown whether this is genetically based, or rather that society expects more conformity from males than from females; that is, it’s a matter of expectations.

From my Invisible Disabilities topic:

Wallace: After everything she told me, and checking on your excellent record in college, I’m wondering why you choose to drive a taxi for a living.
Donald Morton: At my interview with IBM after I graduated college, they asked me what my plans were, and I said, “Probably go to McDonalds for a 12-piece McNugget and two cheeseburgers, and then do my laundry.”
Wallace: Did they laugh, at least? – Mozart and the Whale, Biography & Autobiography by Jerry and Mary Newport (both have Asperger’s and Mary is also an autistic savant)

The Autism Awareness Campaign can be found at: Autism Awareness

Note: the above artwork is Briony’s first ever color drawing.

55 comments on “April: Autism Awareness Month

  1. What a wonderful post, Min.

    I think most people would have met an ASD person at some stage in their life. this piece can only add to their understanding.
    Well done

  2. Handyrab, thank you. It’s not a lot different from being hearing impaired, and who can forget you amazing topic on this subject. Obviously I have both, hearing impaired plus an Aspie, otherwise I’m normal..almost… 😉

  3. I work with a fellow who I reckon is “borderline” Aspergers. He can tell me in an instant exactly how long he’s worked there, down to the day.

    During the Japanese disaster last year, he could tell me the half life of all the various radioactive compounds released with the melt-down of the cores of the reactors at Fukushima.

    Lovely fella – probably spend more time talking with him than anyone else at work.

    If only the manager would learn to treat him (and the rest of us) as individuals with individual “talents”, rather than robots who are all the same – he could get a whole lot more out of his team 🙄

  4. Hi Min, this is a fantastic and important post. Sorry! I went ahead with that Abbott one on Miglo’s suggestion and not hearing from you I didn’t refresh here! I used your new email address when cc.ing to Miglo, by the way. No matter, mine can be deferred a day or so if it detracts from this.

    I think that Labor’s Disability Insurance scheme is going to be the one piece of legislation that Tony Abbott won’t dare oppose. The debate over it is going to lead to greater awareness of all sorts of disorders, mental and physical.

    Peter Martin’s post http://www.petermartin.com.au/2012/03/ndis-labor-is-poised-for-greatness reports Bill Shorten’ address to the ALP National Conference about why Labor must support an NDIS.

    As Peter Martin said I would, I found it very moving. Shorten mentions Autism as one of those hidden conditions so many of us are unaware of or insensitive to.

  5. Bacchus and “borderline Asperger’s”..well we are all about to cross that border one way or the other.

    The thing about Asperger’s is that it is not a mental illness, it is a way that the brain computes data. Just because a person is different, it doesn’t mean that they are “ill”.

    I’ll try to explain. Everyone receives X data, and everyone computes this data differently. An Asperger’s is at the top end and also at the lower end of the scale which can make us appear somewhat different. However, it’s not an illness as in a distortion of data. I hope that this makes sense.

  6. Bacchus, I don’t know that particular lad..but when we Aspies have an inclination to do anything..there is not much which will stop us.

    I should mention about the artwork. It’s from daughter Briony. It’s her first piece in color. It’s taken her over 20 years to be able to do color.

  7. I shouldn’t imagine that I’ll get many comments on this topic – but then sometimes the number of comments isn’t what it’s about. The same for Miglor on his indigenous subjects.

    I believe that if I can spend a day or so writing a topic to bring awareness about the Autism spectrum, then it is time well spent.

  8. Min, my impression of my highly intelligent Aspie friend is that she has all of the best human qualities. 🙂

  9. Pip, fairly hopeless at times having to swap from logical to t’other side of the coin.

    It’s difficult to explain. Aspies are drawn to the humanities because it’s “a mystery”. My time in teaching was a nightmare: imagine an Aspie standing up in front of a class and there was all this subliminal chatter assessing one.

    And you cannot understand why this thing called Japanese kimonos isn’t as fascinating to everyone else as which you find it yourself. The history of it, the art work. Why couldn’t everyone else see how amazing it is!

    Eventually I found law, loved it because it was logical and practical. Law is where my logical, practical brain could function with people who were also logical and practical.

    Many Aspies are drawn to technology – law has the same foundation of rules. That is, if doesn’t work then there has to be a reason.

  10. Min, there should be more questions asked than comments on this thread.

    I have known an Aspie for 13 yrs. He was 13 when I met him (he was a friend of my kids). He went through absolute hell as teenager. Picked on at school relentlessly to the point of violent retaliation. His parents moved him from school to school, all of which he found himself expelled. They got him a place at a Steiner school…but alas he was asked to leave. He ended up doing his HSC through home schooling. Not a great result but he passed.

    His parents finally ‘kicked’ him out because his ‘behaviour’ was affecting their other sons studies. They didn’t leave him alone and fully supported the transition.

    This person is the most polite human I have ever met. He just doesn’t handle the world like us.

  11. Handyrab. That would be typical of Asperger’s – always getting into trouble for things which we don’t understand.

    The worst is bullies – whether it be the playground type or the office bitch. This is difficult enough for you normals, but for we Aspies, it’s hell on wheels. Reason: Because it does not compute.

    There has to be a logical reason for behaviour (we Aspies ascertain). But normal human behaviour can be for no computable reason: the bullies, the denigration for no reason. And that’s what is almost imcomprehensible to we Aspies. Why would people do things if there was no reason? It does not compute.

    Aspies are also often the subject of bullying because we are perplexed as to how to fight back. I remember a gang of kids throwing me down a drainpipe near the Glenferrie football oval. I did not even know these kids, they did it because they wanted to.

  12. As a teacher, I witnessed some dreadful cases of bullying. And they were always directed at the most harmless and never at the kid who topped the class. It seems that bullies have this innate sense to pick on those vulnerable. Never quite worked it out through 20 years of teaching. Regrettably I never identified any in my charge as Aspies, though there were probably a few.

  13. S* got a bad report from the idiot manager at his performance review last year and immediately resigned. “Why would people do things if there was no reason? It does not compute.

    It took a lot of talking and explaining from a manager who actually does have a clue to get him to stay – he’s one of our best resources when handled correctly…

  14. I think Migs took the keys with him….

    Hang on, I’ll rustle up my duplicate set – shhh, just don’t tell Migs 😉

  15. Migs will probably at he golf club, Bacchus. Wouldn’t worry.

    I think all of us has a little ‘Aspie’ in us. I think it might be growing in me.

  16. Handyrab, and often directed at people with the best of intentions. It doesn’t compute does it.

    That is one thing that I hated about teaching. There were a majority of teachers whose attitude was to man up/don’t bother me, when kids were distressed from bullying.

    I suspect that bullies will always remain bullies. They are the ego trippers, the office bitches, the person who responds with sneers.

  17. Min, great post, I would say your still a teacher…
    My son is friendly with a ‘Aspie’ they play a card game called ‘Yugioh’, which is beyond me, at the Yugioh Competition at our local community centre, Tharron is in his late 20’s and is is well liked amoungst the kids. He is a wealth of info on, not only Yugioh, dungeons and dragons etc, but teaches all the kids the latest tricks, cheats etc with computer games( again beyond moi), he is articulate, friendly and, at least to me, a big kid.
    Min I now see him differently, thanks.

  18. Baccus, handrab, Min, if ya gunna pinch drinkies at least leave ya money on the fridge or put them on TB’s tab………… as per usual………I’ll have a beer and make it a double…..cheers big ears…

  19. Thank you LOVO. I’ll give an example, my youngest who is about to complete her PhD in molecular bioscience spent 4 years singing the same song, over and over and over and over. Want to be driven up the wall!!

    Have a look at the pic above on the topic, that’s done in pencil. Every tiny little fur is a stroke of a pencil. That’s done by my eldest and it’s her first ever drawing in color. She has a degree in Environmental Science and is a manager in workplace relations.

  20. I remember a gang of kids throwing me down a drainpipe near the Glenferrie football oval. I did not even know these kids, they did it because they wanted to.

    FFS, Min! What is wrong with these people?

    Your accounts of bullying and maltreatment reminds me of son #2 who suffers a severe language disorder (an asd condition) and is also retarded. The little bastards didn’t have the guts to make physical attacks on him, because he’s a very large economy sized chap, but tormented him unmercifully.

    They were lucky neither my husband or I got hold of them. I had a very handy curse to visit on them!!

    He punched holes in classroom walls a couple of times and kicked a hole in a wall once.

    The teachers knew it was happening but they were too cunning to get caught. After the last incident, one of the male teachers hauled the culprits aside and told them that if my boy gave them the same treatment as the wall, the staff would ignore it.

    Shortly afterwards, the ringleader was expelled. I was very dark on this boy, but subsequently discovered that he was one of 5 kids, all with different fathers and a mother who was a ratbag. He was what I call a throwaway kid-his family and society just threw him away.

    The anecdote about Donald Morton reminded me of my son when he was learning to ride a bike and I was teaching him about road safety.

    Me: If you see cars coming down the road, wait until they’re gone, before you go onto the road.

    Son #2: OK.

    4WD approaches and son starts to enter road.

    Me: Screeech!!! Didn’t you see the 4WD?

    Son #2: Yes, but that’s not a car.

    I don’t know about you, but this inability to understand and use umbrella terms is a characteristic of language disordered kids. He didn’t actually know what a table was until recently; he’s 24.

    Another anecdote. His SSO, a couple of teachers and I went to Adelaide for a conference devoted to teaching and supporting language disordered kids. There were a couple of other conferences at the venue that day and the SSO got lost.

    We came upon a group of people talking and listened to their conversation. A woman was talking about her daughter who she had asked to get the milk. The girl asked where it was. Her mother replied that it was in the fridge door. 5 minutes later, she found her daughter staring at the unopened door of the fridge, looking for the milk.

    We knew we’d found the conference.

    Despite the handicaps, he has managed to get his P plates and this week he’s going to have another crack at the Hazard Perception Test for P2. He’s been practicing the test online and he’s got it nailed with minimal help from me. So it’s off to Naracoorte on Friday.

    Language Disordered kids can’t process language and that’s what makes it very difficult for them to interact with the world around them and make friends. They don’t understand humour and the subtleties of language, and are unable to read body language.

    Being an Aspie, you probably relate to this, Min.

    LOVO, Yugioh is a character in an animated manga cartoon. My son is a very big manga fan and is also obsessed with drawing stylised Samurai figures. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge about manga and samurai, another feature of language disorder sufferers.

  21. Cafe Whispers; A university of life………. just say’n…. keep doin’ what ya doin’ Min, you are being heard!

    My eldest (17) rang me today and told me she was preggers… she waited while I did the rant…. then said ‘April Fools’……. (phew)…. Im so glad she’s got my sense of humour….. just say’n… 🙂

  22. Jane, your son’s traits also fit in with being an Aspie, but different specialists like to use different terminology. When son was about 23yrs old he came home on leave from the Navy. He said, Look mum. I looked. There was son with a very cheesy grin on his face. He proudly announced that he had learned to smile on cue. This was something that he had never been able to do: Smile for the camera. Impossible! He could not pretend emotions which he didn’t feel.

    Son is now in his early 30’s and the father of 2 little girls. I would say that the improvement in him from about 26yrs onwards is beyond all expectations. Sometimes he still doesn’t understand consequences, acts on impulse and then does not understand why he’s in strife – because he knew that he had no bad intentions, therefore couldn’t understand why others thought that he would. Difficulty in being able to walk in another person’s shoes is another Asperger’s trait.

    Mind you, there was a time when if I made a statement about walking in another person’s shoes..then he would have been looking around for the shoes.

  23. LOVO, how long did the rant last?

    Min, #2 talks with an American accent, but is unable to carry on a conversation. He has no real concept of the past, in that he will refer to something which made him angry as if it has just occurred when in fact it may have happened months ago.

    And he carries a grudge. Boy, does he carry a grudge!

    I thought he was autistic before he was diagnosed as language disordered, because he wouldn’t make eye contact, head banged, walked on tiptoe and flapped his hands amongst other things. He still tiptoes and hand flaps a bit.

    He and I are very close. He calls me Mom. I asked the doctor who diagnosed him about the American accent. He told me that it’s very common for language disordered kids to speak with an American accent; it’s not known why.

    He ruled out Asperger’s and Autism when he made his diagnosis, but he’s in the spectrum.

  24. Jane, the one about the American accent is something I hadn’t heard of before. I’m sure that specialists have tried to work it out – but what about learning language from external sources ie tv rather than as for other kids, from family.

    Yes, I walked on tiptoe when I was a kid..was always getting into trouble for no known reason, not known to me anyway. I remember my mother using the phrase Don’t backchat me. This to me was nonsensical – what is backchat? Why is it wrong? Under which circumstances? Plus a dozen other variables which had to be applied differently. As I’m sure that you would know, one has to be very specific and be prepared to explain things a half dozen times for things to sink in.

  25. I spoke to a woman recently from up Mullum way who claimed her son was autistic ‘because of his dope smoking father’.

    She also claimed that autism was out of control in that corner of the world because of the ‘wicked weed’.

    No idea on the veracity of her argument, but this is an interesting development.

    “The key as I see it is to try to reduce substantially the profit potentially able to be made by criminal activity in the drug trade and the only way to do that as I see it, ultimately, is to legalise, regulate, control and tax all drugs.”

    ‘Mr Cowdery said politicians were reluctant to reopen the debate ”for fear it would be politically disadvantageous”.

    ”’That’s why I think we need to have the discussion in the community and … to demonstrate to the politicians that there is a significant proportion of people that want something better.”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/drugs-war-a-failure-that-bred-criminals-20120402-1w8v3.html#ixzz1qv4czcGu

  26. El gordo, people around Mullum can often seem that way. 😉

    Mullumbimby High School is the school where I acted on behalf of a young lad in the HREOC/Anti-Discrimination NSW case. In those days Asperger’s was recognised only as a “learning difficulty” and not as a disability, therefore assistance for Aspie kids was just about non-existent.

    Mullum High now has at their Learning Center a specialist teacher in the Autism spectrum. This could be the reason why there are more kids with ASD around – that is, they go there for the specialist assistance.

    ASD is genetic, and while having “a dope smoking father” certainly wouldn’t have helped the child it is highly unlikely that there is a causal relationship.

  27. El gordo, you might be interested in this topic which I wrote..it also links to my earlier Medical Marijuana topic.


    From your link:

    THE Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, is among a group of prominent Australians who have declared the ”war on drugs” a failure in the most significant challenge to drug laws in decades.

    ”The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are letting it happen,” says a report released today by the group, which includes the former federal police chief Mick Palmer, the former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, the former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, a former Defence Department secretary, Paul Barratt, the former federal health ministers Michael Wooldridge and Peter Baume, and the drug addiction expert Alex Wodak.

    There are 2 sets of illicit drugs in Australia, dope which is most frequently used for recreational purposes but also used for pain control. The other, and far more dangerous set of drugs include heroin.

    Given that law enforcement has only a finite amount of resources, would it not be preferable that these resources be directed to the area which does by far the greatest amount of damage?

    The thing which encourages the illicit drugs trade and the importation of these is the fact that it is illegal, hence huge profits to be made by smugglers and distributors.

    I would therefore like to see ALL drugs available on prescription. In this way we take the addicts off the streets and to where they can receive appropriate medical assistance. This also would substantially reduce the criminals making huge profits out of this addiction – why pay a distributor, risk being arrested when you can go to your doctor and receive a dose legally on prescription.

    Clearly there would still be a number of people who want drugs of all types for recreational purposes, also a number of people who would not want to declare themselves an addict by going to the doctor. However, I believe that it’s an improvement.

  28. Thanx Min, that clears that up.

    I enjoy reading local knowledge reporting…it has integrity.

  29. They are releasing the report in detail at this time. ABC24. Will cause some uproar, I believe.

    The PM has just announced $60 million for disability accommodation. Not one question on the announcement by the media.

    Why do the still ask questions that the listener cannot hear.

    It is annoying.

  30. Cu, I can imagine that all of the Come Down Hard On types will go into a state of apoplexy.

    Clearly disability accommodation is no where near sexy enough for the media; for the subject to be worthy of even one single question.

  31. Min @12.48am 3/4, Dr Cockington thought that external learning wasn’t a factor, possibly because it is peculiar to Language Disordered kids. Autism sufferers are quite often language disordered apparently, but they don’t have the American accent.

    They may have found a reason by now; #2 is 24 and he was diagnosed before he went to kindy. I haven’t kept up with the latest, to be honest. Information was thin on the ground because it’s not a very common disability.

    I did find an American site, but it hadn’t been updated for several years, so was pretty much defunct.

  32. (Does the curious-looking tarsier – the one with the unusually-extended tarsals, tenuously gripping a cladistic branch on the tree of life, in a habitat prone to vanishment – have a name?)

  33. Jane, son’s diagnosis eons ago was hyperactivity with mild autistic tendencies. Another one was that he had a hearing impairment due to the fact that he used to hear only “sometimes”. The latter is more than likely auditory input deficit.

    One audiometry he had while a lad pronounced him hearing impaired, but a follow up one could find nothing wrong with his hearing.

    This book by Tony could be useful..it describes how kids with Asperger’s from the UK and Australia speak in American accents.


  34. At last night’s community cabinet there was a question on assistance for kids with autism going from primary to high school. Garrett, part of gonski report was devoted to this area, also more funds and assistance is happening

  35. Sue, that’s good news. Also the thing which came to mind is the fact that if journos actually spent some time sitting down to read the report instead of working out their next headline, then they might be able to ask relevant questions.

  36. Sue, thank you so much for that. Kathy Lette’s assessment is completely accurate. I like this one..

    Because Aspergic people have no filter – they always say exactly what they’re thinking..

    The difference is when the normals say something, the intention is to be rude and sarcastic, however when an Aspie says something it is merely an accurate observation.

    Lette says raising a child with Asperger’s is ”a bit like raising a Martian. You sometimes feel as though you didn’t give birth to such a child, but found him under a spaceship and are now raising him as your own.”

    I wrote this one almost this same time, last year..


  37. Min

    It may be that Kathy Lette read your blog liked the title. Kathy Lette in the interview says she started writing her book last year.

    Any way my pleasure in posting todays link, and thank you to you.

    have a good day

  38. (“Still, the similarity between the species rests on just four molars of Afrasia, Kay notes, although teeth are the most reliable way to measure relatedness. And some researchers have yet to be convinced that Afrotarsius in Libya is a stem anthropoid rather than an ancestor of tarsiers, primates that are not anthropoids and, thus, are more distant relatives. Kay, however, says the scales are tipping toward an Asian origin. “We’ve all heard about Out-of-Africa for human origins,” adds Beard. “Now we think there was an Out-of-Asia migration into Africa first.””)

  39. Meta, whether out of Africa or out of Asia the most interesting thing to my mind is what was the catalyst. Why did out human ancestors remain the same/similar as other of our cousins for several millenium, but then the great leap forward.

    It surprises me not at all that an ancient ancestor was the size of a chipmunk.

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