Is it Possible to “Grow Out Of” Autism?

This is a topic that I’ve been meaning to tackle for the longest time, as this has the most personal significance. The New York Times reported this possibility back in January (I still have the article laying near my computer) and this is an issue that I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since. The conclusion that I’ve jumped to is… yes and no. By this, I mean that it is possible to learn how to work with or around any quirks that could interfere with living the life you wish to have but you will always have those quirks. In addition, if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll still carry the baggage of having been ostracized for being considered ‘mentally ill’ or something along those lines at some point.

Let’s assume that I didn’t have a long-term stretch of delusion and I really do have autism. However, if you saw me on the street, then depending on the day, you’d probably assume that I’m ‘normal.’ I don’t flap my hands, I don’t stutter in conversation, and I don’t engage in echolalia. Does it follow logically that I’m not autistic? You say yes? Let’s not jump to conclusions, now.

First, let me get this out of the way. A persistent myth is that you could tell that someone is autistic simply by looking at them. Autism is strictly a mental condition – and a very nebulous one at that. It affects one’s phenomenology in a plethora of ways. Some auties are far more sensitive to their surroundings than others. There is nothing physical about it so to say that you could tell that someone is autistic by looking at them is complete nonsense. Don’t believe me? Try dressing up as a person with autism for Halloween and see how far you get.

Now that leaves mannerisms. Again, autism is a wide spectrum so it affects people in a large variety of ways. It’s true that there are some common characteristics such as strong yet narrow obsessions but they are by no means universal. In fact, I believe that while there are common characteristics, there are no universal ones. I repeat, there are no universal characteristics of autism. I’m on the spectrum yet I don’t relate to all of the supposed symptoms of autism. I should also note that autism can be an invisible condition in which it’s more ‘visible’ in some than in others.

Yet people insist that they know what autism is and could tell that someone is autistic by looking at them. Even my father once told me as I was writing this blog that I’m “a very bad example of an autie[1]”, which I found very offensive. The problem with a statement like that is that it implies that there’s a good example of an autie and, as I’ve said in the last paragraph, there’s really no such thing. If there can’t be a good example, there can’t be a bad example. My father is implying that because I’m autistic, I should act a certain way and because I don’t act that way, there’s no way I can be autistic.

As a matter of fact, there is no good answer to the question of “what does it mean to be autistic?”. That’s why I get pissed off when I read people like this who pretend to know something about it when they really don’t. Autism cannot be explained away materialistically and emphatically by science and psychology – it’s a whole experience and I predict that in the future, there will be an ‘autism studies’ discipline that will be grouped with all the other minority studies disciplines. (Psychology and disability studies are inadequate.)

But because we live in a society that blindly assumes that the simplest answer is the correct one, researchers have picked a handful of characteristics and declared them universal to the autism experience. Admittedly, it’s impractical and extremely time-consuming for researchers to seek out every single autistic person in the world and observe them. Instead, for the sake of convenience, they observe a small percentage of autistic people and make inferences based on their findings. This may be practical but it is by no means logically sound. Just because all of the swans you’ve seen are white doesn’t mean that all swans are white and the same logic applies to autistic people. There’s a name for this sort of phenomenon: ‘inductive categorical inference,’ very convenient but logically unsound.

You could say that I ‘grew out of’ my autism in the narrow sense defined by society but my autism is a continuous part of who I am. It’s funny to talk about ‘growing out of’ autism because what the hell am I growing out if? Autism is part of my personality and my history. I am autism. And so are my autistic brothers and sisters. Yes, we’re all different. Problem? U mad science? 😛

[1] My dad actually calls them ‘autists’ but I think that sounds really pretentious and the way he pronounces it sounds too much like ‘aww, tit!’ I do my best to discourage him from using that term but unfortunately, he’s rather adamant. All I hear every time he says it is ‘aww, tit!’ Maybe it’s just a Freudian subconscious thing on my part but I don’t have to like tit.

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