Skip to main content

mental health mondays :: a little about autism

today is autism awareness day, something that deserves a much higher profile than it gets. autism is one of those strange conditions like fibromyalgia and lupus, that seems to manifest differently in just about everyone it affects. in fact, it's not a single condition, but a spectrum and its definition was most recently expanded to include four previously separate disorders. probably the most widely seen autistic character of all time was dustin hoffman's savant in rain man, but that's an extreme example. [about 10% of all autistics have these sort of abilities, but even then, there is a range.] a lot of the time, autism is much more difficult to understand, because the behaviours associated with it can seem peculiar without seeming disordered. a person who is constantly interrupting and talking over others will most often be taken for rude [and most often, they probably are], but not understanding the unspoken rules of communication is a common feature of autism as well.

unlike most other mental disorders [and there's room for argument whether autism should be grouped with other mental disorders at all], autism manifests early on. children exhibit symptoms as soon as they start to communicate, or when their need to communicate exceeds their capacity. there are a number of early signs, like being slow to develop speaking skills, discomfort with being touched, or a tendency to repeat sounds or motions. none of those is a confirmation, however, so as upsetting as it is, it can take months or years to receive a diagnosis.

unlike many mental disorders, autism is permanent and treatment is about managing the condition rather than curing it. studies have shown that children fare best when they start treatment early, and such interventions are often about teaching parents and others how to provide the necessary support structure for their autistic child.

unfortunately, autism is usually part of a larger set of problems; most sufferers have comorbid conditions like sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety or even epilepsy. so treating the condition often involves treating the "extras" that come with it. there is some evidence that the types of comorbid conditions tend to appear in clusters, but it's not yet clear why.

that last line is something you see repeated a great deal when it comes to autism, because it is still mostly mysterious. we don't know why people develop it, although there appear to be both genetic and external factors that play a role. that's the case with all mental disorders, though. there does appear to be an increased risk for older mothers and premature babies, but risk is different from cause. and no, no matter what you read online or heard from someone on television, or had a skeptical friend tell you, autism is not caused by vaccines.

autism remains relatively rare, occurring in about 1-1.5% of the population. that makes it rare even by the standards of conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, let alone depression and anxiety. although there was a significant increase in the number of diagnosed cases between 1996 and 2007, that doesn't necessarily mean that the number of cases went up. during that time, awareness increased, the process of identification improved and the condition came to be understood as a spectrum, rather than a series of similar but separate things. the perceived explosion in the number of cases has provided fodder for some outlandish conspiracy theories but the facts are, as ever, pretty mundane.

as a group, people with autism may suffer more than any other with cultural ideas of what is normal. our communications with each other form the basis of how we understand ourselves and feel a sense of commonality, but people who can't interpret our vast range of nonverbal cues, or linguistic devices like metaphor, where the words we say have a meaning beyond the literal, those people are going to start any social interaction as an outsider, like someone lost in a foreign country who has only a basic understanding of the language.

it's difficult for me to find a way to wrap this post up, because there is a lot more that i could say, but i'm not sure it would make things any clearer. this is just an area where far more study needs to be done. and the voices of those who try to link the condition to pharmaceutical malfeasance, government experimentation or alirn dna need to be excised from the conversation. i hope that i'll be able to post something in the not too distant future that deals with a breakthrough in our understanding, or improved prognosis, or some other happy news. until then, though, i'll stick with the awareness of autism. because while there isn't a lot we know right now, we can at least educate ourselves a little on what it is and how we can help those who have it.


as long as you're here, why not read more?

filthy lucre

donald trump has shown utter indifference to the possible torture and killing of an american-based journalist jamal khashoggi by saudi arabian security forces acting on the direction of saudi crown prince mohammed bin salman but that's hardly a surprise. he said on the campaign trail that he loved the saudis because they gave him money. he refused to consider placing saudis on his infamous "muslim travel ban" list, despite the fact that saudi arabia is the one country that has been credibly linked to the september 11 terrorist attacks. or that the saudis' particular brand of fundamentalist islam has been described as the root of the extremism espoused by groups like al-qaeda and isis.

trump likes wealthy people and the saudi royals are the blueprint of the type of wealthy people he likes. they spend and live in lavish excess. family members are like catnip for the international celebrity press, even if the news media [like khashoggi] are perceived as enemies of the …

real americans

recently in my genealogical research, i encountered something that i never anticipated: americans.

i knew that some of my grandfather's family had emigrated to pennsylvania in the early part of the twentieth century and that my father has even in recent years gone to visit some cousins in the northeast [they were big bernie sanders supporters, apparently] but that was, as far as i knew, my only connection to our southern neighbour.

but it turns out, that's far from the case. one of my british relatives who abandoned the old country in favour of life in the colonies landed in the united states and shortly after was married to a woman with an obviously dutch name. i assumed that they had met on the boat on the way over because, as far as i knew, he moved up to canada right away. but she was actually american-born, the daughter of a dutchman from boston and an established english family. when i say "established", i don't mean that they were members of the genteel cl…

making faces :: written in the stars, in lipstick [part two]

it's the middle of september already? i'm not prepared for that? i mean, i am prepared for it because the heat this summer has been murder on me and i've been begging for a reprieve for months but i'm still bowled over by the speed at which time passes. this year, i've been measuring time through the launches of bite beauty's astrology collection, which arrives like the full moon once a month. [the full moon arrives every four weeks, which is less than any month except february -ed.] earlier this year, i took a look at the first four launches of the collection and already it's time to catch up with four more.

the most important thing for you to know is that after several months of problems, bite and sephora appear to have sorted out their inventory planning. for the last several releases, information has been clear and reliable as to when and where each lipstick will be available [pre-orders taken for a couple of days on bite's own website and a general…