The History of Autism

I know the title above is rather ambitious for a single blog post, but I do want to give you an idea of how it came about and how some of the statistics might be deceiving. I have been studying this topic for a few weeks now and thought I knew enough to put out a continuous series of posts on the subject, but as my snippet on This N’ That Sunday mentioned I just didn’t know how much I didn’t know. So, I am going to put out bits and pieces of what I have been learning as I go along. After all, a blog is not supposed to be novel length but instead snippet of info.

To the layman, it seems that “Autism” just came on the scene in the late 1980s. Before that is was almost unknown by the general public. In reality, the term itself was coined in 1908  to describe a subset of schizophrenic patients who were especially withdrawn and self-absorbed.

Hans Asperger brought it to the forefront in the field of psychiatry in 1944 when he describes a “milder” form of autism now known as Asperger’s Syndrome. The cases he reported were all boys who were highly intelligent but had trouble with social interactions and sometimes specific obsessive interests.

After World War II there was a lot of psychoanalytic work done on autism where researchers looked solely at the negative impact on life experiences.  At that time Autism was not considered biological or genetic. In 1980 “Infantile autism” is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for the first time; the condition is also officially separated from childhood schizophrenia.

It was not until 1988 when the movie Rain Man is released which stars Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant that Autism became widely known to the general public. At that time Asperger’s Syndrome was not included in the DSM category.

Finally, in 2013, The DSM-5 folds all subcategories of the condition into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer considered a separate condition. I have some strong feelings about that but I will leave them to another post. ASD is defined by two categories: 1) Impaired social communication and/or interaction. 2) Restricted and/or repetitive behaviors.

Some say folding Asperger’s into the DSM category was a mistake since it is significantly different when it comes to life experiences from much of the rest of the autism spectrum. More on that in a near future post.

Footnote: The source for much of this history is from the Parents.com website.

(WS) Autism In The Elderly?

 

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When I got a recent comment from one of my regular viewers I realized it was time for another post about Autism. This one is about senior citizens who are autistic but are generally undiagnosed.  A recognized statistics is that there are over a million of us that are autistic in the Baby Boomer generation alone.

Even if those million were suddenly officially diagnosed to be autistic it is very doubtful that any but a small percentage of them would even accept that fact.  It is kind of like another area that I am familiar with and that is hearing impairment. Only about one in five seniors who have hearing difficulties seek help.  They just insist that all of a sudden everyone started mumbling.

In that same vein, too many in our boomer generation see autism in any form as being a disgraceful thing that is to be locked in the closet, and for the most severe cases that was the general rule for our generation. Sadly, that is a totally misconceived notion that I want to try to put a small dent in with this meager post.

Autism is not a dreaded disease but instead is really just a way that a significant portion of the population see and react to the world.  Their perceptions in some ways make them unique and special.

I admit that I am just beginning to learn the intricacies of the autism spectrum so I have a lot to learn.  For that reason, I can’t really address the spectrum idea with any degree of knowledge. But, what I have studied is a condition called Asperger Syndrome so I will concentrate on that anomaly for the purposes of this post.

Here is what the Autism Speaks organization says about Aspergers:

Asperger syndrome was generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.

The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:

• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms

Many in the Baby Boomer generation readily admit that they have always had several of the traits of Aspergers. The causes of those characteristics were labeled as just being: shy, timid, introvert.  Many say that they have problems with making eye contact or trouble with conversations/small talk that others seem to readily accomplish.

Some, who are much more knowledgeable than I have put together a list of possible undiagnosed Aspies in the celebrity world today.

  • James Taylor – Age 70
  • Dan Aykroyd – Age 65
  • Vladimir Putin – age 65
  • Susan Boyle – age 57
  • Isaac Asimov – died at age 72
  • Daryl Hannah – age 55
  • Bill Gates – age 62
  • Abraham Lincoln – died at age 56
  • Robin Williams – died at age 63
  • Bob Dylan – age 76

A good portion of this list is Baby Boomers. I would be proud to be included in this influential list with them. They, because of their Aspie traits are very creative people who speak their minds.  Aspergers is not something to be ashamed of but instead just describes some fundamental characteristics of our personalities that make us different from others. If you want to see more details on why these people are either confirmed or likely Aspies click here.

Before I close this topic, I want to delve a little more into the general topic of autism.

From Autism Speaks — Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.

In the end, what does in matter if seniors deny the possibility that they are Aspies? In most cases, there is likely no harm. But it is also known that these traits become more significant as we age and lose some of our inhibitions so maybe this information in the hands of our caregivers would be valuable.

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Aspie Trait #2 – We are honest to a fault

Banner Aspie   We Aspies are usually brutally honest and speak our mind. Our allegiance is to the truth, not people’s feelings. Most people learn not to tell the truth all the time. Sometimes white lies need to be said so as not to hurt friends’ feelings. But white lies just seem immoral or at least illogical to many of us Aspies.

Of course, being brutally honest is not the way to make friends at least at a casual level so many of us lack those kinds of friendship growing up. I realize that I sometimes hurt people’s feeling here on RJsCorner by what I post. But usually, that is a secondary thought that only comes until after the post is written. Honesty to me is almost everything. I have come to realize that is one of the things that is making our current times, especially inside the Beltway Loony Bin almost intolerable to me. I just can’t fathom someone being celebrated for telling “alternative facts” that they know are untruthful.

One of those areas where being honest is lacking is in today’s religious establishments. I was asked to leave a Missouri Lutheran congregation because I openly said that I couldn’t accept that the earth is only 6,000 years old just because an old Jewish document written by hundreds, if not thousands of different people dated it with their counting the generations after the Adam and Eve story. That got me in trouble, but perhaps even more so that I just couldn’t make any sense of how current Christian practices changed so drastically from the words of their founder. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Being honest is considered an asset by most in our society, but not in every circumstance. That is the part we Aspies can’t understand…

 

Aspie Trait #1: We Don’t All Have The Same Traits Or Severity

Banner Aspie

I thought as part of the RJsCorner rework I would add a weekly snippet about Asperger’s Traits.  I want to emphasize here that I am not an “expert” on this condition but I have apparently lived with it most of my life and I have also done quite a bit of study on the topic over the last few months. Since everyone seems to like numbered lists that will be the format these posts will take. The numbers are only the order of presentation and have nothing to do with priority. Let’s get started.

It hasn’t always been so but Asperger’s is now considered part of the Autism spectrum. I know that those in the professional community like to call Aspie traits as symptoms but I chose not to do that as the word “symptom” is just too negative for me. It indicates a sickness rather than a variation in human characteristics.  Aspie traits can generally be labeled either an asset for a liability. I am proud of some of the things I am able to do as a result of being an Aspie but there are other things that seriously get in the way of social interaction.

Aspie Trait #1- We are not all alike. There are dozens of human traits that have been labeled a part of the Aspie Syndrome. I will be covering many of them in this series.  No Aspie has all of them. It is also important to know that Aspies don’t have the same degree of any of the traits. Some are debilitated by a trait while others are simply inconvenienced by that same trait. Some have only a few traits while others have more. The Aspie spectrum is broad indeed. 🙂

I can remember my first encounter with the concept of Aspergers. It was a TV show where the character was constantly cursing and had uncontrollable actions. Of course, that is in no way realistic for the vast majority of us Aspies. Many lead pretty “normal” lives but are challenged by one trait or another. Some Aspie traits are assets which actually enhance the life of an Aspie and make them special people.  I like to concentrate on the assets but recognize the liabilities as a part of the syndrome as well.