What is Autism?

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Autistic people are normal people

Autism is alternative wiring of the brain, or rather a range of similar brain wirings and part of a larger range of wirings that are called Neurodiversity and includes other conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, OCD and ADHD. Like other neurodiverse conditions, they occur naturally, if you are autistic you were born autistic and grow up autistic. Also, autistic people having co-occurring other neurodiverse conditions is common. Autism often runs in families, there is a genetic element.

We often, have social difficulties and communication difficulties to various degrees, we can keep calm under stress by doing repetitive tasks to keep us calm, such as flapping our hands to fidgeting. This is called self-stimulation or stimming.

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As autistic people, we think differently, we process our senses differently, we communicate differently, we socialise differently and we may need help with daily living. Not all autistic people have all these features, there are lots of different ways to be autistic. It is OK to be different. Autistic people are different from non-autistic people. But we are still normal people.

Some autistic adults are upset by what is revealed by their diagnosis. This is because both the tools used in diagnosis, the DSM-5 released in 2013 in the USA and the ICD-11 from the World Health Organisation released in 2019 and which came into effect in 2022, have collapsed the previously separate diagnoses of autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) into a single diagnosis of ‘autism spectrum disorder’, (ASD). People previously diagnosed with Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS can continue to use those terms.

The upset is caused by two things, firstly the word disorder, we are normal, not disordered, and secondly, the diagnosis criteria focus on negative aspects of autistic behaviour. How we behave when upset or stressed, while correct does not show what we are really like as we are not normally upset or stressed. How would psychologists like it if people defined psychologists only by how they behave while under stress? We need a better definition of autism that sees our good side as well.