The Brain: Attachment with Autism

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a first novel by Mark Haddon, is a truely absorbing piece of writing because of Mark’s thoroughly convincing character, Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher’s condition is never stated, however he appears to suffer from mild autism. The novel is an exploration of the mind of Christopher as he deals with a crisis in his life, his father has told him a lie. We accompany Christopher in first person through his journey to a resolution.

Autism is a highly misunderstood condition. Autistics are generally of normal intelligence, however the way they perceive the outside world and communicate with it are different than convention and they are often regarded as of lower intelligence than they are. One of the greatest flaws in the measurement of intelligence is that it relies too much on conventional communication.

Wired magazine has a very good article on the medical community’s rethinking of autism here. In a series of YouTube videos an autistic woman, Amanda Baggs, challenges the conventional wisdom and makes her case for autistic people’s intelligence and value to society. Some venture far enough to say that autism is not an illness at all, but just another way for the brain to develop.

Whatever comes of this reevaluation of autism, the role technology and books like this are playing in liberating people with this and any form of challenge is inspiring.


10 Responses to “The Brain: Attachment with Autism”

  1. Diana Says:

    The blessing is that more and more people–not just medical professional–but regular people are venturing to form a community of understanding around special needs people including those afflicted by autism.

  2. grant czerepak Says:

    Hello Diana,

    And yes, that is a great blessing.


  3. Qazse Says:

    Hello. Great post.

    Regarding the point of view that autism is “just another way for the brain to develop”, I think it otherwise.

    First, it is not adaptive for the organism of which the brain is part. For example, with autism there is little sense of danger. Also, it impairs the ability to communicate with others in your pack.

    Second. Why has their been a significant increase in the rate of autism? If there is no outside variable intervening then why would there be an increase in the incidence of a maladaptive brain syndrome? However, if there is an outside variable, then it is not “just another way”.


  4. grant czerepak Says:

    Hello Qazse,

    You make a good point and, personally, I am hard pressed to answer your questions. This is the opinion of some in the field and I don’t know the rationale.

    I highly recommend posing this question to Amanda Baggs herself on her blog ballastexistenz. I am sure she will be able to provide you with some interesting insights.


  5. Amanda Says:

    There’s been an increase in diagnosis, because of the fact that the criteria have changed.

    The year I was born, the diagnosis of autism entered the DSM. An autism diagnosis required a person to have zero responsiveness to other people — a level of unresponsiveness that no autistic person actually has, but only those who were mistaken for having it got officially labeled as autistic during that time.

    There were criteria for other pervasive developmental disorders, but those criteria required that a person only show the traits starting after a period in life that most autistic people already show traits by.

    Which left the vast majority of autistic people undiagnosed, and all autistic people technically undiagnosable if you took the criteria at their word, which is one reason that they changed.

    By the time I was seven, the criteria had broadened so that autistic people could actually be included in them, but Asperger’s was not yet a diagnosis.

    By the time I was thirteen or fourteen, there were now criteria for autism, Rett’s, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Asperger’s, and PDD-NOS, all of which covered various
    assortments of autistic traits.

    And there were some minor revisions to the criteria when the DSM-IV switched to the DSM-IV-TR.

    And, of course, people don’t start getting diagnosed with something the moment the criteria get into the books. There’s an enormous time lag, sometimes decades long, because not all doctors keep up with the latest diagnoses even if they’re supposed to.

    There are still doctors practicing today who believe that a person cannot be called autistic unless they meet criteria that have been outdated since 1987, criteria that require a total lack of responsiveness and communication, criteria that have been disproven by scientific research on autistic people’s actual communication and responsiveness, and criteria that have changed three times since then.

    And the latest statistics about how many autistic people exist use criteria and diagnoses that did not exist prior to about 1994 (including Asperger’s, which most people include when they want to list a “1 in 166” statistic but exclude the moment they want to make it sound like all the “1 in 166” fit a particular stereotype of autism that AS doesn’t fit). Meaning we’ve had only about 14 years to get used to it, and that’s not nearly enough time for such ideas to settle into the brains of practicing doctors as a whole.

    I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 14 years old. My brother, while he was diagnosed with a lot of other things as a child, wasn’t recognized as actually autistic (specifically, Asperger’s) until adulthood. Because he was born in 1966, and autism wasn’t in the DSM until 1980, and Asperger’s wasn’t in the DSM until 1994 or so.

    (Please note that Kanner’s original paper did in fact deal with autistic people all but one of whom spoke, and the other was responsive enough to score 94 — average — on an IQ test. Another scored in the gifted range, which also takes some degree of responsiveness.)

    And my father, born in 1941? Forget it, Kanner had only just barely published his paper, the details weren’t even being hashed out yet.

    Some of my great-uncles on my mom’s side, born even before that? Autism was barely a word when some of them were born. And my great-grandfather, a highly eccentric man who got overloaded easily enought hat he lived outside of the house in a shack in the backyard with a shortwave radio and a gun he shot flies off the ceiling with… he was born before autism was a word.

    It goes back in my family for generations on both sides. Nobody was officially labeled with anything until my generation. Now it’s the generation after mine and kids just like I was are getting diagnosed at the ages of 2, 3, and 4, instead of in their teens.

    And people wonder why there’s been a change in apparent number of us? Seems obvious to me, watching the changes in many aspects of society through my lifetime and the lifetimes of relatives I’ve talked to.

    During the time of this so-called “autism increase”, there have been increases in another diagnosis, one with a known cause.

    Fetal alcohol syndrome has skyrocketed as a diagnosis since the label began in 1973.

    There are now more labels related to it: Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, Alcohol-Related Birth Defects, and Fetal Alcohol Effect. None of them are as severe as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but they’re all variants on alcohol exposure in the womb.

    Collectively, along with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, those constitute what are now known as “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders”, and the diagnoses of [i]those[/i] is on the increase too.

    For the same reason the diagnosis of autism is: We have more knowledge, more conditions (some of them far less conspicuous than the original, some more conspicuous) being lumped under the same category, and more interest in separating children into categories for good or bad. Not because there’s become some kind of epidemic of autism, or epidemic of mothers drinking while pregnant.

    I also of course take issue with the notion that something is only a “variation” if it’s a slight variation from the established norms, if it’s convenient to everyone, and if the positive aspects of it are immediately apparent to people who already believe that there’s only one set of people who have positive aspects to the way they are configured.

    (I would strongly recommend Michelle Dawson’s blog and her scientific work as well, if you are interested in what skills autistic people might have — not what you might expect if you’re unfamiliar with her work — although I should also make it clear that neither she nor I believe a group of people earn our right to exist as we are by having a set of skills that save the day in Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer style. But I do find it interesting that if we have disadvantages other people don’t tend to have, then people assume there are no advantages and use the “no advantages” line as a reason to say that our existence is some kind of tragedy that must be accounted for and dealt with.)

  6. grant czerepak Says:

    Thank you, Amanda, for your contribution to this post. Your attention is really an honor.

    I agree with your observation that the increase in diagnoses is due to criteria change.

    There has also been an explosion in the number of new Bipolar Affective Disorder diagnoses since the criteria has changed to include a category called Bipolar Affective Disorder Type II.

    Your closing paragraph regarding the “RRNR” societal dilemma we face with all disadvantages really hits home.


  7. Attachment with Autism | The Autism Retort 2008 Says:

    […] discusses Mark Haddon’s novel, “The Curious Incident of a Dog in the more | digg […]

  8. Peter Says:

    Lorenz discovered the attachment system and also showed that attachment-system is a fundamental instinctive feedback system. He and others showed that attachment can be to everything. Biased to parents and same species individuals, but in fact to everything, living or not living. I like to call the latter matter-attachment and Bowlby states that 100% attachment to non living objects is possible. So the healthy human attachment system allows for a whole spectrum of healthy attachment beyond just people. I think what many call mild cases of autism and many of fancy similar or related types of diagnoses could well be readjusted to special cases of simple healthy attachment.

  9. Old About Page « Ballastexistenz Says:

    […] Attachment with Autism « relationary says: April 21, 2008 at 11:14 am  (Edit) […]

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