Before I get into any other subjects, I feel it’s important to start out by being as clear as possible about what I’m going to mean when I talk about autism. In its simplest description, autism is a developmental disorder typified by impaired social interactions and, frequently, certain types of restricted or repetitive behavior.

Many people have different pictures of autism. We’ve seen characters described as autistic in film, literature, and television and we have little way to know which aspects of those characters come from autism, which aspects are from other problems that simply frequently occur alongside autism, and which aspects just represent and odd or quirky personality aspects.

Research on autism is still advancing, and we’re beginning to have a deeper understanding of the physical aspects of the condition, as well as indications of genetic risks relating to it. Many people have portrayed autism, especially milder forms, as simply aspects of a person’s personality or as tendencies in a child that can be weeded out with stricter parenting. While external influences can alter behavior, autism is a physical condition, not simply a way of thinking, and it’s important to remember this as we talk about it here.

Autism is often thought of as a childhood disorder, something seen in a young child and severely impairing their ability to interact with their parents and those around them. The truth is that autism affects people of all ages. Because we currently catch it through the observation of symptoms without any blood test or other absolute measurement, many people with autism but without many of the co-occurring symptoms may miss diagnosis until later years. With current diagnosis rates considered to be as high as 1 in 87, or even higher, odds are good you know someone who may be living with autism, whether they know it or not.

Autism most significantly affects social and emotional interactions. People on the autism spectrum tend to find it difficult to gauge and interact with the emotional state of others, and to understand the emotional reactions of others to the world around them. Many things that someone may take as “intuitive” or “instinctive” are things that those on the autism spectrum may not understand or experience at all. This can result in mild cases as someone on the spectrum seeming simply detached or a little odd, or in extreme cases as the child or person unable to meaningfully interact with people around them at all.

Lower functioning individuals often need specialized education to help them develop basic skills for day to day life. Unfortunately it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the lack of the skills isn’t autism, but rather just a symptom. Any comprehensive treatment must include an awareness of the fact that autism itself isn’t the lack of skills, but the mental condition that led to those skills not developing in the typical manner. Higher functioning individuals are often those who’ve been able to develop those skills, but still suffer from what are often the more subtle effects of autism. These individuals often live day to day with extreme anxiety or depression as they attempt to operate normally in a world that often frightens or confuses them.

Over the course of my posts here, I will talk about the condition of autism itself, attempting where I can to help built not just a better awareness of autism but a better understanding of how it impacts the lives of those who have it. As well, I’ll talk about research I hear about that may be of interest to those living with autism, or living with someone who has autism. I will talk about news and issues, and offer my opinions as someone living with autism on how the world seems to be approaching something I struggle with on a daily basis.

Paul Louden

Paul Louden was born in 1983. He was diagnosed with Asperger's, which may now be considered a subset of autism spectrum disorder, at the age of 23. He has been speaking about his views and life experiences as co-host of the Understanding Autism radio show and at autism conferences since late 2010. His young life was spent visiting and living in many different countries, and this has given him the opportunity to see a variety of cultures and helps him to think about and speak about his condition from a unique perspective. He currently resides in Houston, TX.

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