Autism is a broad term, describing individuals who function across a vast spectrum. Because of the scope of autism, it is not reasonable to expect that any one person can be the ultimate expert on autism. The expertise of autism comes from the corporate body of all the folks interested in the well-being of individuals with autism – family members, medical professionals, therapists, educators, and researchers as well as people with autism.
AUTISM IS COMPLEX. Each individual with autism has a unique profile of strengths and deficits in four unrelated categories: (1) language and communication, (2) social interaction, (3) ritualistic behaviors and obsessive interests, and (4) sensory sensitivities. Because if the breadth and width of these characteristics, there are innumerable possible combinations. A person who unable to speak may have excellent social skills, and a person who speaks fluently may lead a secluded life, detached from other people because of an aversion to people. That same non-verbal person may have excellent receptive language, but their radical obsession with biting their fingernails may keep them from focusing at school or work. A college graduate with autism may not be able to get a job because of extreme sensory sensitivities that prevent her being able to bathe or because of issues related to toileting. The myriad of factors involved in autism makes it difficult – if not impossible – to classify people with autism in certain levels of functioning.
WE ALL LOOK AT AUTISM FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. Many thousands of professionals specialize in some aspect of autism. Many housands of parents and family members have insights about autism based on their day-to-day observations over the years. A growing number of individuals diagnosed with autism provide valuable wisdom from the insider’s perspective in blogs, books, interviews, and media.
Because of our diverse experiences and perspectives, we have different opinions about causes, treatments, approaches, methods, and prognoses. For example, a parent who understands autism from the perspective of her adult daughter whose violent outbursts, tendencies to escape, and self-injurous behaviors requiring constant monitoring may not see eye-to-eye with the parent of an adult with autism who lives independently, drives a car, and works in a public library.
LEARN FROM OTHERS. Rather than engaging in heated debates and pointed arguments, maybe the community as a whole and each individual would do better to recognize the diversity of autism. One size does not fit all. Rather than striving to locate a singular autism expert or to reach a consensus, maybe we can spend our time and energy learning from one another. Read, listen, and observe. Write, talk, and record. Recognize your own expertise. Share your thoughts and experiences. Listen to ideas and wisdom of others.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com