Adventures in Autism

So I have been working in a school for autistic-spectrum children for about 4 weeks now and it’s been terribly interesting, enjoyable, exhausting and challenging! I even applied for a job (I am currently supply staff).

I recently read a review article in the observer from May 2013 (I refuse to throw away papers until I have read every word!). The reviewed book/ essay was ‘Strictly Bipolar’ by Darian Leader which appears to be a discussion on the identification of what was formerly ‘manic depression’ – now bi-polar disorder. The following quote identifies part of the argument :

‘When a diagnosis seems to be both categorical and dimensional – at once a disease and a spectrum of symptoms – it loses power and definition.’

Which I thought interesting in relation to Autism – being a spectrum disorder. A quick look at the tremendously informative National Autistic Society (NAS) website highlights the complexity of the condition, the importance of: clear evidence based identification of symptoms, understanding root causes, accurate categorisation and the context and mitigation of the resulting behavior.

Autism is defined by  the autistic person’s ability to process and communicate language: specifically in a social context, meaningful information, semantics, semiotics or subtext. An autistic person can know but finds it hard to understand. How much an autistic person understands depends on the severity of the effect of that autism, hence an autistic spectrum. If we accept the importance of meaning in social communication, imagination and interaction it is clear why these three factors form the core diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. What is also clear is that although misdiagnosis is an issue, according to the NAS, correctly diagnosed autism as the NAS defines it is a ‘lifelong developmental disability’, which is an important distinction from a condition that could improve with the right intervention.

I have been wondering about social, individual, academic, cultural and public perceptions when talking about conditions such as bi-polar disorder or autism.

Autism itself appears to be comfortably diagnosed as a spectrum disorder: but I do wonder whether awareness of autism is inhibited by the issue of losing ‘power and definition’ as a spectrum disorder. There appears to be quite substantial public profile for research and awareness of autism nationally through TV, other media, charities and political awareness: do the public still struggle with understanding what autism is and what it means to be part of a society in which it is acknowledged?

Three questions occur to me: a) Does the very nature of a spectrum disorder produce an inherant ‘loss of definition and power’ in the public consciousness? b) Does this apply to autism? c) Is this an issue of and for community awareness of autism?

To be continued…

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