Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where Does Quirkiness End and the Spectrum Begin?

Asperger's, autism, obsessions, school, sensory integration disorder, sensory issues, special needs, quirks, ADHD, stimming, difference

Last summer I read a book called Kids, Parents and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. While I don't typically read a lot of parenting books, this one stuck with me. Kurcinka talks a bit about temperament and personality types, and what I found most interesting was that some of the extreme manifestations of different types of behavior came very close to mild manifestations of behavior that you might see in a child on the minor end of the autism spectrum. For example, some traits that she discusses in her book are persistence, sensitivity and activity. There's a scale to measure if your child exhibits these traits at a high level or a low level. I remember reading and thinking that there seemed to be a pretty thin line between a highly persistent child and one on the spectrum who might be mildly obsessive. From her description of the sensitivity trait, I wondered where the separation was between a highly sensitive child and a child with mild Sensory Integration Disorder. It occurs to me that these distinctions are purely subjective. I have to wonder if this subjectivity, coupled with a culture that strikes me as obsessed with conformity and sameness, might be a factor in what often appears to be a sudden rise in autism diagnoses.

Years ago when I was in elementary school, I got straight A's, but I rarely paid attention, I often daydreamed, I sometimes got out of my seat for no good reason (one spring I used to sit on top of my desk trying to sun-bleach my hair), and I was often disruptive but not overly active. If I were the same student today, I might be diagnosed with ADD, but back then no one felt the need to classify me as anything. I was just a really smart kid who was probably bored and talked a lot. When Gus was about 18 months old, I noticed that he always seemed to isolate himself from the other kids in his daycare class, but being that I had a deep appreciation for solitude and little experience with 'typical' behavior for a child his age, I wasn't inclined to think of his behavior as problematic. My bigger issue was with his teachers who never seemed to be aware that he was at the opposite end of the play yard all alone.

The more I learn about the autism spectrum, the more similarities I notice between my son and myself, the more I question the validity of some of the things that have been labeled as 'dysfunctional.' I rock side-to-side; if Gus did that he'd be stimming. My friend had a lot to say and a doctor asked her if she had ADHD. Why couldn't it just be a simple case of her having a lot to get off her chest? When did every little difference become such a big issue?

I'm not suggesting that individuals on the autism spectrum don't need extra support because often they do. What they don't need is the stigma of being damaged in some way because of their differences. Maybe instead of trying to force these individuals to perform in a way that is unnatural for them, perhaps the world needs to do a little adapting to the fact that we are not all carbon copies of each other, nor should we be.

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Welcome - thanks for sharing your insights!