The year 2000 not only ushered in the dawn of the age of information, in addition to the beginning of the Anno Domini era of the Gregorian calendar in the year that closely followed in the start of the twenty-first century, but with it, the United States also became witness to a steady influx in the number of ASD cases, or what is otherwise known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Until very recently, this also included the diagnosis of Asperger’s which was at the far end of the full gamut that is ASD, but in the last year or so, this label has been removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM by psychiatrists for various insurance related purposes; essentially due to the politics of the specific industry. Notwithstanding, the number in instances of personages with the condition has continued to climb, to the point in which it was a topic of concern in the 2016 election, and also striking panic in the heart of some American’s as to whether or not it is an epidemic; that is some sort of malady caused by the likes of vaccinations, even though various organizations of the likes of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention or CDC strongly advocate that this is not in fact the case.
Why the Sudden Increase?
As a lifelong neurological disorder, it is difficult for experts to identify what biological factors contribute to the likelihood of individuals being born with ASD and this undeniable surge seen in the ASD demographic; variables such as whether or not a child was born to a much older father, or if they were born prematurely. Although, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation to account in what we are witnessing here in the U.S. Professor of population health science Maureen Durkin of University of Wisconsin – Madison essentially attributes the pervasiveness of ASD occurrences to the increase of awareness surrounding the issue, at the very least it accounts for the bulk of what is being observed.
Similarly, another aspect that must also be considered in what has otherwise been viewed as an epidemic is that, accordingly, with the sudden discoveries related to ASD, one cannot overlook the fact that there have been many instances where, individuals with ASD have been mistakenly diagnosed with some other ailment, such as a type of intellectual disability, especially on the lower ends of the spectrum, or other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia in extreme occasion’s, with individuals on the spectrum often times being misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD in early childhood. Thus, the more accepted perspective that there has been such a monumental augmentation in ASD numbers might be a sort of faulty picture, so to speak, and rather, that what we are in fact observing is nothing more than that of a heightened recognition of this rather interesting ailment.
What is Autism or ASD?
In short, ASD falls under a large umbrella of neurological disorders that include the likes of Alzheimer’s or AD, epilepsy, with seizures often being asymptomatic concern in ASD, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and a list of some 600 diseases that affect the brain, as well as both the central and automatic nervous systems.
Currently, there is not a standard methodology for testing individuals for ASD, such as a type of blood test, or MRI, but certain test such as the CEST which can be administered during childhood can be held to see if patients have this neurological disorder. While there are many criteria that the DSM used to measure a possible diagnosis of ASD, the main premise is essentially that of a noticeable deficiency in social interaction and communication, paired with select rigid or limited interest in things, as well as that of what could be characterized as obsessive, or otherwise repetitive behaviors that directly impact their daily lives, and all of which are present at the early onslaught of childhood development.
At the same time are a variety of other problematic symptoms that are included in an Autistic diagnosis. It is not atypical as a result of the previously mentioned criteria for individuals to have difficulties making eye contact, or to pick up on the plethora of different social cues such as sarcasm, and other variations, largely in part due taking them at extremely literal face value.
In addition, people on the Autistic Spectrum also have other symptomatic issues such as what is referred to as echolalia, which can further be divided into two subcategories known as functional and non-interactive echolalia. On a rudimentary level, this curious speech development common in autism is best categorized as a sort of nonsensical repetition of words, which the autistic mind utilizes in an attempt to process the auditory data that is being conveyed to them. In early childhood development, this comes across as a kind of mirroring act by the child, in which they might repeat what is being said or mimicking the characters in a movie, a video game, or something of the likes.
Other large indicators of ASD include what is known as stimming, a repetitive behavior utilized for self-stimulatory purposes, that includes such behaviors as rocking, pacing, fidgeting of various parts of the body, and a plethora of other body movements, which it is believed that is used by individuals with Autism as a means of coping. Moreover, it is very common to see a heightened or sensitive sense of sensory perception which in most cases than not greatly overwhelms the Autistic mind.
It is worth noting that in considering the statistics regarding ASD, that there is a far greater prevalence of the neurological disorder in males than in the female populace, and it is for this reason that the color for Autism Awareness Month is blue. With the rate of autism rising from 1 in every 88 people to 1 in every 66 people, a shift of nearly thirty percent, it is curious to observe the fact that ratio for gender rates yield a result that there are five males to every one female that has autism.
There is no questioning that mental illness is, for the most part, a very misunderstood aspect in our society for a variety of reasons; an issue that generally speaking has created for great stigmatization for those individuals with these specific conditions. This is best exemplified in the way that the topic always turns to the issue of mental illness in such horrible instances as the horrible school shootings that spread like wildfire ever since Columbine. As a result, individuals within this community have a hard time coming forward out of fear of ostracization or marginalization, which is only intensified by the fact that there are numerous stereotypical norms in today’s culture that seemingly shame reaching out for help; a sad fact when considering that one and two people will encounter an experience with some form of mental illness during their lifetime, and ASD is no exception.
The difficulty in accurately perceiving ASD and the difficulties that it poses is closely related to the fact that ASD, like the wavelength of energy that comprises the full gamut of colors, lies on a spectrum. When the average person thinks of autism, they are mostly considering the more extreme far left side of this span; generally speaking, the mental image that is formed is one of the stereotypical non-verbal autistic with a minimal IQ range at about 60, and of the likes that will most likely need Alta Regional or IHSS services over the course of their lifetimes in order to accommodate for their disability. However, likened to the way that we only aware of about ten percent of the information about the brain, or hypothetically speaking that we only use ten percent of its potential, and similarly, that it is approximated that we only know about ten percent of the known universe or multiverse, depending on the theory one reads, or like the very slight portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that we can readily perceive which prevents us from seeing various different parts of the spectrum, in the case of autism the general populace is basically only looking at it through the lens of a very minute section of ASD, and the truth of the matter is that it is far more complex.
Professor Temple Grandin is arguably one of the best exemplifications to illustrate this point. Arizona State University graduated and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Grandin herself has become one of the biggest advocates for individuals on the spectrum as a direct consequence of her sharing her own experience on living somewhere along the spectrum, which inspired the blockbuster hit about her life titled after her own name, and which was latter made into a book, Seeing in Pictures, to describe the way in which she views the world. In her many TedTalks, she strongly asserts that it is mind of the autistic individual that creates for genius and are the type of people that end up in Silicon Valley working on developing the latest computers due to the way in which they think, and she might not be too far off from the truth of the matter, and the list of the people that have it, or that are speculated to have it might come as a bit of a surprise.
Along with Temple Grandin, there is a long list of notorious names that either has been confirmed to have the disorder, or that are speculated to have had ASD throughout history. That list includes such names as Dan Aykroyd, Susan Boyle, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Tim Burton, and Anthony Hopkins just to name a few. Even more interesting is the speculation that has surrounded such names as Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Mozart, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Henry David through, all of which is believed may have possibly had Asperger’s.
On the far opposite side of the spectrum near what was formerly known as Asperger’s until very recently, popular culture has left us with many instances of trying to capture the extreme other side of a much larger picture. Most noticeable are characters of the like of Doctor Reid, who not only has a comorbid condition of Asperger’s with schizophrenia, but that is also blessed with his IQ level well deserving of placement in Mensa, the organization for people with genius level IQ. Similarly, there are the cases such as Sheldon Cooper to whom it is believed that the fictional character was based on someone with ASD, and more specifically Asperger’s, just as there has been some guesswork as to whether or not our favorite detective Sherlock Holmes was also somewhere on this vast wavelength that we now know as ASD.
While both of these examples only typify two ends of a far-reaching span, hopefully as we come to better understand ASD, we can collectively come together in an attempt to bridge the gap between them, and better assess and treat those that have it.