Friday, February 12, 2010

The Dissonance Factor

When you read about autism, you are very likely to hear about how tragic it is. All these higher functioning sorts have no social skills and are doomed to a life of isolation and depression. They may or may not have spiffy skills that allow them to work, or cute quirky obsessions that make them book material. No matter how you look at it, though, they aren't going to have close friends and they are tragic figures who know only loneliness.

That, however, is utter crap.

The basic social skills can be taught to anyone who is functional enough to speak. With the internet and autistic groups and just the sheer number of kooky quirky freaks out there, any autistic has a really good chance of making several close friends in person and probably several close friends over the internet. Being alone is a choice, usually made out of fear or out of a poor conceptual construct of what people and friends are.

The real "tragedy" is that we are young. I'm not sure I can even explain what it is like to have a life time of experiences and still have a child's mind. Developmentally, autistics age very slowly. There is a huge dissonance between the perceived age of a high functioning autistic and their actual mental age.

We look grown up. We have good vocabularies and can discuss an amazing range of topics with logic and depth, making us appear adult. We might even have a really good grasp of our own basic emotions. We might have a bit of social awkwardness, but it comes across as shy or gawky or geeky. We tend to hold down jobs, sometimes extremely good jobs, and have apartments and hobbies. Sometimes even fairly common, socially accepted hobbies. Or at least normal within our peer group.

However, we are children. We are children with decades of experiences that cannot be deciphered in an adult way. Sometimes this leads to moments of clarity and insight. Sometimes it leads to extreme confusion.

I read often that children who deal with adult things have psychological and sociological development issues. In other words, dealing with things before you are actually ready for them will screw you over.

What does this mean for an adult with a child's mind who is having to behave as an adult? You have someone with an adult's vocabulary, but a ten year old's emotional and moral age, and they have no choice but to work and pay bills and live on their own. Is there any damage from this? If so, is the damage made easier to deal with for the length of experience, or does the length of time make it worse?

One of the biggest factors in a child taking on responsibility too soon is that they miss out on play and this damages their cognitive and social abilities. Play is absolutely vital to social behavior. We're already a bit lacking in social ability. And I think our cognitive is a bit wonky, at best. So what does that mean for us?

And why are autism get together groups not playgroups if that's the big thing that builds social learning?

I wish I could explain the dissonance factor and how much it sucks. There are quite a few movies about children magically going into adult bodies and realizing they aren't ready to deal with being as big as they wish they already were. Picture Tom Hanks in Big never landing such a spiffy job and just trying to get by and never having a chance to be put back into childhood.

We high functioning autistics are nothing but children playing house. Some of us do a better job than others, but when it comes down to it, we are all lost in the great big grown up world without filters or delusions to protect us. It's not an instability. It's knowing too much and having no recourse from the onslaught of reality as it beats down your door and has its way with you and all the while you are only a small child who can't understand it. You are just a young, feral animal going mad under the pressure until you build so many rituals to tie yourself safely up and hold you in.

And all the while you have enough cognitive ability to realize there is something not right. Something isn't meshing. Maybe you know you are autistic and too young to deal with being a grown up in this world. You can see the lack of social understanding and can grasp exactly what autism is and how it effects you. You know that you can't do anything about it because you know you are not yet developed enough TO do anything about it. You can't even really communicate it because those concepts are beyond your capacity to put into words.

I think most of the secondary problems adult autistics have stem from this dissonance. Social issues get worse if everyone around you grows up. Ever have a younger sibling who wanted to tag along and they annoyed the crap out of you because they were so much younger? Eventually the adult autistic is always the annoying younger sibling tagging along. You have to really search to find a group of people you don't pester. Knowing you pester most of the people you interact with leads to "social anxiety" and depression. You isolate to protect yourself and it just spirals in. It's harder to hold down a job when you don't interact correctly. And if you do learn the little rituals needed to interact successfully, those rituals are only stressful. They are lies and deceits and they burn autistics up inside, like any small child with a secret, especially a negative secret.

Adult autistics get more bullied. We are a naive group and most autistics have funny gaits and funny ways to phrase things. We often look like victims huddled in on ourselves against the outside world and victims will always draw bullies to them. In this world, naivety is a dangerous thing. Adult autistics are easy marks. Unless we can develop a fairly healthy paranoia, we tend to be extremely gullible. But is it worth it to learn to lie and cheat?

And while we're on the topic of interactions (isn't bullying an interaction?)... Relationships. What relationships can you have if you never develop past childhood? Children can certainly attach, and attach strongly. And love deeply. And feel passionately. But there is something different in grown ups when they are in a relationship. I don't know what it is because I'm not there yet, but I know it's there. I have been told about it and read about and all I've been able to figure is I'll be told when I'm old enough. Until then it makes no sense. It doesn't seem to be as big a deal with friends. Although my friends all have an amazing capacity for acceptance and patience.

And yet it gives us such wide eyed innocence. There is a charm to adult autistics. A part that seems to never be tarnished by the outside world because we never grow up enough to fully interact with it. How can that be all bad? We are honest and forthright and earnest, in general. We have that childlike sense of wonder and awe. I'm not sure it's worth growing up to lose that. We can't lose the childlike perspectives that see the truth and blurt it out. The wise old crone is also a toddler who points out that the Emperor has no clothes.


jdmimic said...

The big question though, is does anyone really grow up? I have read that many people never get beyond the level of concrete thinking, never goes on to more abstract thinking. Does that mean they never grow up? What does an adult relationship mean? If most people grow up, why then are there so many books telling people how to have a successful relationship and still most relationships are at best endured or limp along and can hardly be called completely satisfactory. So I am unsure there is really much difference in that autistics realize they don't understand and that they are a part of the problem, when NTs assume they understand and by and large blame everyone else around them for being screwed up.

Abifae said...

Excellent point! So the difference with autistics is simply the lack of filters and delusions ABOUT being young, as opposed to actually having that dissonance...

It would make sense that if humans really did grow up, we wouldn't have a world like we do now. We have an entire planet of "lord of the flies" because it's a bunch of children playing house.

zee said...

Without meaning to sound patronising - if you can make it without growing up... then don't. Growing up sucks!

I can only imagine the difficulties that you write about - but take it from me adulthood isn't worth aspiring to. The world is a cruel place and the fact that anyone can inure themselves from it (or remain aloof to it) is, I believe, a good thing.

Maybe the world would be a better place if there were more autistics and less NTs? There is a certain purity about that wide-eyed innocence and it's a shame that the world beats it out of people.

Abifae said...

thanks for replying zee!

well, that's my question... CAN you really make it without growing up at all?

we'll see :D

i don't WANNA lose my wide eyed innocence. i just want the REST of the world to change. *grins*

and i rather wish there was an "epidemic" because i agree. more high functioning autistics would be a good thing for the world. i just don't buy it.

if we call every runny nose the flu, that becomes an epidemic too ;)

zee said...

Hi - and thanks for the welcome...

In answer to your question, to be honest - I don't know. I think it's not so black and white, a lot of people think they are grown up because society says they are or should be... but when you talk to them you find they still get off on doing kid things. And I also guess it depends on how we define growing up, I am not on he spectrum (my 6 year old son is) - yet I can't help blurting out silly things or making a joke out of things... People say I never take anything seriously - but what is there to be serious about.

I guess what I'm saying is we ALL have the same needs - food, shelter (companionship) and (medical care) - if you can find a way of getting these essentials then you've "made it".

That's how I look at stuff with my son - I don't want him to be "cured"... I find a lot of the therapies (inc some ABA stuff) to be slightly barbaric - I would LOVE him to be able to talk (he's mainly non verbal) and to be able to have some kind of job - so he can be pretty self-sufficient. That's all. Just enough to get by (and hopefully be happy) in the NT dominant world.

Just to reiterate - what IS grown up? And really in the grand scheme of things - who cares?

zee said...

Sorry to hog your comments - but I just read this it's by Ernest Hemingway.

"If people bring so much courage to this world,
the world has to kill them to break them,
so of course it kills them.
The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
But those that will not break it kills;
it kills the very good,
and the very gentle,
and the very brave impartially.
If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too,
but there will be no special hurry.”

Jon A.S. said...

Hey Abi,

I like the idea that we auties have no filters to what we do...and never grow up, just like Peter Pan...we should never grow up out sense of curiosity...and wonder...just become more aware and responsible, is all!!!


Abifae said...

Feel free to hog comments :p I don't mind! I like the comments area to be a chat area for ideas.

I am overly serious. But it's still in a childlike way. I don't really play much at all. I just don't see things through the filters of adulthood. No shock since I don't really have any filters LOL.

I think there is a difference between choosing not to learn/use abstract thought, and adult thinking because it's harder and requires more responsibility, and not being old enough to develop those adult thinking skills.

Although abstract thought and logic are easily learned a lot younger. It's just a matter of training. I have a lot of abstract thought, but I'm still only mentally developed around eight to ten by all the "ages and stages" charts LOL.

I had a point, I think, but I'm half asleep and going to bed now LOL.