Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Autism is everywhere

It seems like autism programs are everywhere you turn. On TV. On the radio. People are asking if there's an "autism epidemic." They are wondering if heavy metal poisoning causes autism. They are talking about prevention, and cures.

When I look at myself, I don't really identify with that kind of talk. Like many Aspergians, I think I am a natural product of creative and intelligent parents. I look at the spike in Asperger's and autism in communities around Microsoft and I see the same thing. Smart, creative, and eccentric people are concentrating in areas like that, and they are marrying and having kids. It's no surprise that more of those kids are Aspergian than elsewhere in the population.

While my Asperger's made it tough growing up, it also brought me significant advantages. I'm imaginative, and creative. I've done fairly well in life, and I'd attribute a lot to my Aspergian advantages.

The situation with severely autistic kids is very different. It's certainly possible that metal poisioning causes brain damage, and it may be that environmental factors are causing an increase in that sort of thing.

Since most mental health professionals describe a continuum with barely-functioning autistic people at one end and high-functioning Aspergians (like me) at the other, that's a cause for concern. Obviously, these are two very different situations, with different causes and different probable outcomes. I would not want to give false hope that a kid with severe brain damage from chemical exposure would end up like me or other high-functioning Aspergians just "because we did OK."

I hope that the increased public awareness of autism issues will lead to a better understanding of the various causes of autistic spectrum disorders. Knowing the causes, we may be able to group people whose similar cause may indicate similar outcomes. I hesitate to describe "treatments" for someone like me, because I don't need treatment. I benefit from increased awareness, but that's about it. There's no pill to make me normal, and none is needed.

The situation with a poisioned or brain damaged kid might well be different. I could certainly see that such a kid might benefit a great deal from some kind of medical treatment. If that's true, we need to find a way to separate people like that so they can be helped.

I think we're going to see many new discoveries in this field very soon.

5 comments:

concerned heart said...

I don't think Asperger's belongs in the category of autism at all.

I can't think of a good reason for your kind of Asperger's inclusion under the umbrella of autism except to confuse everyone about the epidemic of children being born with severe neural developmental disorders caused by advancing average paternal age. Please read this paper and this blog of some of the various genetic disorders that increase in offspring of older fathers. Your comments would be appreciated.

http://ebdblog.com/paternalage

http://how-old-is-too-old.blogspot.com/

John Elder Robison said...

Concerned heart, I share your concern about some kinds of autism and Asperger's being different.

With respect to your suggestion that my Asperger's does not belong under the autism umbrella, all I can say is, it's the doctors who made that determination, not me.

I agree that many different conditions are lumped under the autism umbrella. I think new diagnostic criteria will certainly emerge as we learn more.

There is no doubt in my mind that my Asperger's presented me with real hardships while growing up. There are autistic kids who are much more impaired than me, and Aspergians who are less so.

concerned heart said...

Dear John Elder,

I am looking forward to reading your book. In your family are there any autistic family members or any other people with Asperger's? I hope you don't mind my, asking and I understand if you prefer not to answer. If you come from a family of scientists, it is very different than if your father was 49 or so when you were born.

John Elder Robison said...

I do not have seriously autistic relatives, but I have highly creative and probably Aspergian relatives and ancestors, which reinforces my belief that my own condition is largely inherited.

Music and preaching are two themes that run in my mother's side of the family. My mother had cousins - dirt poor Florida swamp farmers - who did not have electricity or running water. But they owned a piano - the only one in the county. And they named their kids Tenor, Alto, and Soprano.

Other ancestors and relatives were Baptist preachers in the South.

My parents were 21 when I was born.

I did read your story about older dads fathering autistic kids with interest. In fact, a psychiatrist friend and I were discussing that very situation this afternoon.

We both think that there are many things that can produce autistic behaviour in a child. In my case, I did not talk to other people because I was fully absorbed in my own world. There are other kids who don't talk and present themselves to mental health workers in much the same way, but for completely different reasons.

In my book, I talk about turning points, and the things that (I think) made me decide to engage with society at about age 6. Had I chosen the other path, there would be no book today, at least from me.

I do hope that people read my book and evaluate how people in their own lives may or may not be similar to me. And if they are similar to me, and young, I hope my story will provide them inspiration.

However you wish to describe my condition, when my book comes out - read it. And then read Born on a Blue Day, and Bring on the Idiots. In many of these new works you are going to see striking similarities in how we describe out thought processes. Reading those other new works has made me realize that things I thought were unique to me may actually be Aspergian traits that have not previously been described.

That's one of the reasons I said we have many fascinating discoveries ahead of us.

If indeed the medical community is right, and people like me are farther along a similar continuum than those more damaged autistic kids - that will mean that studies of our thought processes may help unlock the mystery of those unreachable children.

THE MOM BOMB said...

Hello - I've read your book and recommended it to friends and readers of my blog. Your blog is of special interest to me now, since my son exhibits some Asperger's tendencies and we're trying to decide whether to have him evaluated.

This was a fascinating post. My husband and I were discussing this very topic last night -- i.e., whether the rise in Asperger's has something to do with the increase in smart, creative types who find each other and start families.

It seems to me that in prior generations, men often didn't marry their intellectual equals. Nowadays, we have a kind of self-perpetuating socio-economic caste system, where the so-called "top tier" minds meet at prestigious schools and go on to marry. It'd be interesting to track the educational credentials of the parents of Asperger's kids.

Then again, maybe I'm just trying to convince myself that b/c my son is Asperger's, I'm incredibly smart and creative!

BTW, my husband is the proud owner of a Porsche 968. If you know of any negatives to this model, please share because I'm tired of hearing him brag about how cool his car is.