Better late than never.
April is Autism Awareness Month in the US, and as someone who knows at least one person on the spectrum, it is my responsibility to inform everyone on Tribalbeat about my experiences with the condition. I won’t mention any names, but Jason and Tyler know who they are. Keep in mind that this is not a research article and works will not be cited, nor should anyone responsibly cite this blog post.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD (not to be confused with Allowable Strength Design, which for someone with ASD will be extremely low as they are not steel beams), is a neurological condition that impairs socialization and sensory issues. This blog post will go over the core features and my personal experiences with each. As I said before, names will be kept private, but will be referred to as Subject J and Subject T (Other letters substituted as necessary).
Socialization is the core of communication. A neurotypical (or NT) will implicitly learn the rules of socializing from an early age. Eye contact is established as early as six months when an infant is sucking on its mother’s teat. Other rules are learned implicitly as well, such as staying on topic, not dragging the same topic for too long, personal space, touching in conversation, romantic interaction, and so on.
In a person on the spectrum, these skills are impaired. Let’s say that Subject J, a boy on the spectrum, wants to talk to Subject N, a neuotypical. Subject J is an aficionado of digital cameras. I’d say bodybuilders but honestly any topic will do. Now, Subject J is able to say hello to Subject N, and begins to have a conversation with him. Within three sentences of dialogue, Subject N is getting bored. Subject J has yakked over single lens reflex cameras for all three of his long-winded phrases, refusing to let Subject N get a word in to reciprocate Subject J’s comments regarding the additional differences between aperture and depth of field. In other words, the conversation is not a discussion of ideas but rather an opportunity for Subject J to lecture about his favorite topic until he feels like shutting up.
Subject J’s interest in digital cameras marks another core feature of ASD, that being obsessive interests. These aren’t all bad. Everyone has their passions and are free to pursue them as they please as long as others are not harmed or put in danger. There is nothing innately wrong with most interests. In fact, almost any obsession can be retooled to become a useful career for the person on the spectrum. Taking Subject J, he was able to use his obsession with photography and turn it into a successful business. He still needs help with financial planning but is learning to be self-sufficient.
People on the spectrum do not naturally exercise eye contact with others, opting to stare at something in the distance or to look at a person’s body part other than the eyes. In our hypothetical situation, Subject J and Subject R finish playing a friendly game of catch using a soccer ball. While the properties of the soccer ball are irrelevant, Subject J would prefer to stare at it rather than focus on Subject R. Given the nature of Subject J, if Subject R happened to be shirtless, then eye contact would be easier to fake than if the shirt was on. Granted if Subject N attended this game, then there would be a Triangular War of the Soccer Fields.
The vast majority of communication is non-verbal, and eye contact is key to understanding all of the non-verbal signals given by both parties. In addition, this includes body language, manner of dress, personal hygiene, and posture, among others. People on the spectrum can lack social grace in any of these aspects, and our favorite subject is no exception.
Many of these traits have been addressed in previous sections so I will be brief. If Subject J were to appear in something bright, such as a purple shirt and bleached hair, that will convey a different message than someone wearing a black skater outfit and an emo hairstyle. The subject would normally be laughed at and ridiculed by others, but only because of the message being expressed. I not saying Subject N’s outfit is superior to Subject J’s, only different.
Sensory issues will be discussed in a separate article. I've picked on Jas- I mean, Subject J, long enough.