Visualizing "amount" of autism
I had so much fun visualizing the amount of autism in Parenthood's Braverman family, that I decided to create a couple of pictures to show some of my thinking about degree of autism in the general population.
In the picture above, you see two figures with diagnosed autism. They are the "most blue."
Two additional figures are also recognizably blue, but are not labeled. They represent people with enough autistic traits that they are disabled in some ways, but who do not have a diagnosis, either because of the circumstances of their lives or because their problems are not significant enough that one is necessary.
There are also a few green and white figures. These represent people who have significant traits of autism, but who are not disabled by them.
Lighter yellow figures show people who are basically neurotypical, but with some autistic traits.
Yellow figures are neurotypical.
For those of us who have autism in our family, the world probably looks very much the picture above: certainly some people have significantly more autism than others, but most people have some degree of autism.
But that's because we look at the world from our corner of it.
If we consider the population as a whole, the distribution of significant autistic traits would look more like this:
Visualizing amount of autism in the general population.
There are a hundred figures in the image above. The small figures do not represent children-- they represent a fraction of the population.
Less than one percent of the population is diagnosed with autism. Less than three percent could be.
Yes, there is also a large group of people who have a significant number of autistic traits, but even that group is less than ten percent of the general population.
Because we look at the world from our corner of it, we imagine that being a little autistic is much more "normal" than it actually is.
One of the problems with the way that autism is portrayed in the media is that we usually see one visibly autistic person in the midst of a completely neurotypical family:
One visibly autistic person in a neurotypical family.
And sometimes that really is the way it happens. Genetics are only one part of what makes autism. But genetics do typically play a role, and I think an autism family usually looks more like this:
A family in which several members display some traits of autism.
I liked last night's episode of Parenthood very much, mostly because it demonstrated that the Braverman family is like the picture above.
The obvious, and diagnosed, aspie is Max. Max's parents both have traits of autism-- excessive anxiety for both, rigidity and social awkwardness for Kristina. In fact, either Kristina or Julia, Max's hyper-competitive aunt, might realistically seek evaluation for Aspergers herself.
In this episode, we saw the sort of conflict that often arises when autistic kids succeed in making friends, as Max had done previously with his cousin Jabbar. Max wants to have lunch with his cousin every day. Jabbar wants to eat with his other friends sometimes, and he doesn't always want to spend his time with Max drilling the older boy on math facts. Jabbar's parents disagree about how to handle the situation, and it escalates in a believable way.
Last night, we also saw grandfather Zeek become wrapped up in his acting in a way that was hurtful to his wife Camille. That single-minded pursuit of an obsession is related to autism. So is Camille's response, which is to be hurt that he has a good thing in his life that she is not a part of. And her inability to bring her own projects to fulfillment (she's been painting for thirty years and never had a show).
And Max's cousin Drew tried to break out of his own social awkwardness by going on a date that ended badly when the girl connected with his sister over their special interests in music.
This is what most of the autism families I know are like-- a trait here, a trait there. One person who needs a diagnosis, a couple for whom it might be appropriate. Most members having a little harder time with communication than the norm. A tendency to avoid conflict until it becomes unmanageable. A family not unlike most others, but not exactly similar either.
Another Aspergian take on Muse's "Uprising."
Declan Sykes is fifteen years old, he has Asperger's syndrome, and he's become a star on X Factor Australia. He's also been bullied by another contestant, 25-year-old Mitchell Callaway:
The young singers clashed two weeks ago after Sykes, 15, took offence at being pricked with a pin by the 25-year-old, it is claimed.
Callaway, a member of the over-25s team, was "stirring up" a few contestants by "pricking them with a pin", a Seven source said.
Insiders say the alleged clash became such an issue that nice-guy judge Guy Sebastian -- Sykes' mentor -- felt obliged to admonish the country crooner on live TV.
"You've got to have the right attitude to this competition, you've got to be focused and to be honest, not be rude to people," Sebastian said to Callaway after his Choirboys classic Run to Paradise on Monday's live X Factor show.
We are also part of the Circle of Life.
Sunday, October 2, the Theater Develop Fund sponsored Broadway's first autism-friendly performance. thAutcast friend Beth Arky has written a piece about that matinee of The Lion King that goes into beautiful and enlightening depth about one autistic child's experience. Beth wrote in first person, after interviewing a friend who attended with her 8-year-old son, who has PDD-NOS. The focus on a child with that type of autism is unusual, and it's one of the reasons this is so special.
But mostly it's the willingness of the boy's mother to enter his emotional life, without focusing on her own frustration. He is excited to see the show, but he just can't get through the door:
I spend a good 10 minutes talking. I tell him, "This is especially for kids like you who don't like things too dark or too loud. You know you can trust me. I know you want to leave, but you don't want you to miss the characters coming down aisles—you were so looking forward to seeing the giraffes." I remind him of the time we went to the Thomas the Train live show: "I told you to squeeze my hand and you got through it and loved it. You're going to get this just like that."
Now he's calming down. He's at the wall in the vestibule and he sees his dad and sister in the seats. I make him stay there so he can get the visual. I tell him, "Stand here, take deep breaths." But he's crying real tears and it's breaking my heart.
Jonah is a high school junior with Asperger's syndrome who is interested in airplanes. The last time I shared a video from him, he was upset because he had a very hard time with a job interview. Now's he's gotten a job and is feeling better about himself. He's able to see that he has a lot of good qualities, and that he has benefited from the hard work he and others have done.
I hope that others teenagers with Aspergers will watch this video and take it heart, because what Jonah says is very true. It can be incredibly hard for people with autism to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And to keep pushing long enough to get results, other than frustration and pain. It can be hard to see the progress we make, because the temptation is always to compare ourselves to people without our challenges.
Jonah is doing two things that every aspie needs to do in order to succeed: taking on things that are hard for him, and giving himself the credit he deserves for that.
Try to do a little of both today.