What is it like to be Autistic?

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Behaviour that may appear maladaptive may well carry important messages and so an attempt to understand them should be made first before trying to change them.

Almost all adult account of what it is like to be an autistic child mention an overwhelming sense of confusion and a difficulty in making sense of one’s own experience. For them objects have no deeper or symbolic meaning they are just what they are. A smile is simply a widening of the mouth opening. A puppet or a teddy bear is nothing more than a structure of wood and cloth. When a person change unpredictably any relationship between others and self is not immediately obvious. It is impossible to get beyond tiny visual details to form an image of the whole. A tree appears accumulation of individual leaves which can never be merged into a single whole. It is difficult to switch off a distraction or to turn up a quite sound and listen to it. Things that are moving, things that are distant and things we are not looking at are much more attractive than anything in central vision. Pleasure comes with stability, and though stability may come slowly but it is disturbed easily. One way of maintaining stability is to do the same thing over and over again or to develop a peculiar interest or activity that is able to exclude all distractions.

Some theories are developed by cognitive psychologists that help us to understand the difficulties of autistic people. They state that the first core deficit identified is intersubjectivity. These people have deficits in differentiating between self and others. They are not motivated to respond to other people rather they are more interested in physical objects and thus preference for human interaction is poor compared to physical sensory inputs. The second one is theory of mind, that is, they are unable to form a mental image of what goes on in other people’s heads, or what it may be like to be somebody else. They cannot understand other people’s belief, desires or emotions. The third core deficit is executive function. Hence these persons have difficulty learning from mistakes and developing strategies to overcome difficulties, have difficulty in change behaviour in relation to feedback, and therefore persist in actions that are punished in some way. And then these behaviours may be labelled wilful disobedience, failure to attend, or provocative. The fourth one is central coherence. This means that they find it difficult to get the meaning of the entire story, rather remember certain words or sentences or thus focus on finer details. Thus there is a preference of parts over wholes. There is also an inability to use context in understanding objects or experiences which leads to difficulty in coping in unknown situations.

The cognitive processing found in autistic people should be regarded as a style rather than a deficit. A mind for details is not always a disadvantage and if combined with normal cognitive power can also become an asset.

Autism and it’s features – Pourabi Chaudhuri