The Cognitive-Behavioural Interpretative Isolationism of Autism and Asperger Syndrome – Part 1: What the “Theory of Mind” doesn’t understand about the Autistic Mind…

 

Part 1- What the “Theory of Mind” doesn’t understand about the Autistic Mind

By Romuald Feldmann© FDScMH, LTh(Hons), CertEd,

PgCert Special Psychopedagogy,

PgCert Autism & Asperger’s, QTS

On the back cover of the seminal “Neurotribes” (Silberman, 2015) the inquisitive eye should spot a hidden gem of apocalyptic proportions, basically stating that “the future of our society depends on our understanding” of what autism is. The statement is so powerful and frightening or maybe totally insane, that when I first blogged it, it attracted virtually no likes or comments. I will attempt to better understand why.

Surprisingly for a pathologized, general view of autism, Attwood (2002) mentioned research by Hans Asperger (1906-1980) in identifying “a consistent pattern of abilities and behaviour”.

The battleground becoming contention is therefore seeing and accepting the autism spectrum as a pattern of abilities or disabilities, branching itself further into seemingly endless explanatory theories and terminology wars, which I will attempt to deconstruct and re-construct from a personalised academic and philosophical perspective.

1.The Theory of Mind (ToM):

‘[…] ToM is the ability to put oneself into someone else’s shoes, to imagine their thoughts and feelings, so as to be able to make sense of and predict their behaviour. It is sometimes called mind-reading or mentalising.‘ (Baron-Cohen, 2008, 57)

Expanding further on his own statement, Baron-Cohen summarises on the same page, that ToM can be thought of as a theory which explains that a neurotypical (NT) person is normally/usually able to explain and predict other people’s behaviour, thus leaving autistics unable to use the ToM to interpret or anticipate the actions and/or intentions of individuals whom they have contact with, and therefore mind-blindly disadvantaged.

In my opinion, -and leaving aside a random personal thought about the fairly entertainment industry resembling concept of ‘mind-reading’-, Baron-Cohen and other scientists considering this theory, have attempted through ToM to understand why autistics seem unable to mentalise/mind-read, having observed NT and autistic children/adults, comparing their reactions mainly from an observable, neurotypical-behaviour perspective, without focusing on the much more important, individually specific, selectively volitional, pre-behavioural aspect. Because regardless of age, autistic individuals may possess a more functional capacity to individually and gradually select -or not-, a momentary focus of attention, leaving a NT observant genuinely mind-blind to the fact that autistic pre-decisional mental analytics are de facto behind what could be perceived as obnoxiousness or an inability of perception. However, especially at early stages of individual development, autistics are less aware of the reasons why mentally they may decide to fixate on some encountered aspects while actively ignoring any others, even if someone tries to divert their fixated attention, oftentimes provoking as a result, unexpected reactions commonly called shut- or meltdowns. Depending on an autistic individual’s level of what I propose to be identified as a Neurobiological Socio-Interconnectivity Predisposition (NSIP), unfortunately mistaken sometimes for other, valid learning disabilities (LD) such as ‘congenital abnormalities of the frontal lobes’ (Attwood, 2002), adult autistics may decide to learn (or not), to mentally re-negotiate maintaining, or shifting the focus of their fixation, identified by Murray et al (2005) as monotropism.

Because each individual is entitled to have someone else’s undivided attention, as much as the individual(s) from whom they expect such attention, decide for reasons they should not be expected or forced to disclose, to grant it or not. Autistics have the inalienable right to ignore at least as much as we are oftentimes ignored, without any obligation whatsoever to provide a reason for our choice to socially interact or prefer to remain asocial.

(to be continued…)

 

-Attwood, T., (2002). Asperger’s Syndrome – A Guide for Parents and Professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

-Baron-Cohen, S., (2008). Autism and Asperger Syndrome. London: OUP

-Murray, Dinah; Lesser, M.; Lawson, W (1 May 2005). “Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism”  Autism. 9 (2): 139–56.

-Silberman, S., (2015). Neurotribes. London: Allen & Unwin

 

 

 

 

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Per aspera ad astra…

Yes, I reverted my Twitter handle back to @Aspergreatness

I was diagnosed with ASD/Asperger’s Syndrome according to DSM5/ICD-10.

What Hans Asperger shouldn’t have done in history’s darkest hours, I can’t change.

The legacy of his research into understanding my neurobiology, saved my life.

I became an Asper 😡♿✡

Proudly 🐉

Asper Latin DefPer_aspera_ad_astra,_1894

Embrace…

Dragon soul 2

There…

Where no thoughts remain at the door to nowhere.

Where autumn crawls under each fallen dream

to carry it beyond forgiveness…

I’ve learned to count backwards from illusion,

hoping to reach the point of no return

into some stranger’s thoughts about my own defeat.

When we sit down,

my soul and thee,

it’s me...

Angst…

Embrace

In times of loneliness,

when all seems lost,

from deep within your solitude

an embrace shall reach

the tears of your anguish,

watering fragile strings of wildness,

resonating echoes of your primal self.

And as they grow,

small purple flowers

will obscure unwanted daylights…

 

© @WingsAutistic – Liberty of Thinking

The #autistic lives of pines…

Solitary autistic pine

I was born in Northern Transylvania’s Maramures, at the feet of majestic mountains, covered by ancient, noble forests, with their trees as brothers to us, and sisters. Strong beeches, venerable oaks, solitary pines, imbued with the crystalline waters of pure streams …

It’s the pines which fascinated my people for millennia, giving us our cradles, our tables, out beds, the pillars of our gold mines, and the coffins of our passing away.

Now, anyone seeing lots of pine trees may think it’s a forest, but they’re not…

Pine trees are solitary. Pines are #autistic

Always alone but never lonely, with one purpose, to reach ever higher, leaving behind as time passes by, as the crown moves upwards, dry, broken branches, like thorns awaiting for the careless passer by…

You see, the life of pines is in their roots and in their evergreen tops, the painful reason why you can’t embrace a pine tree except maybe when it’s young, a child. As it grows older, the crown moves upwards, leaving the naked, dried broken branches around, hurting anyone coming too close…

There’s a secret though…

If one is clever enough, they might find looking upwards to the green crown, a path in the dry broken branches like a ladder, leading the brave to the top. There, there are no sharp branches, just velvety fresh green fragranced new branches, allowing to be embraced and loved… Pines love only those daring to come close enough and climb to find who they truly are. And in exchange, they give something only pines can give, because they always return the careful touch and the embrace. They bleed the most beautifully perfumed resin, coloured of amber, smelling of frankincense, and the stronger the touch, the longer the embrace of the brave who wants to love them, pines bleed more resin, binding them as lovers to themselves, forever…

And when our time has come, we remain standing, calling out in stormy nights the final touch of heavens, the kiss of one last lightning, burning like torches, illuminating the paths of wandering lovers…

The Autistic Maelstrom …

The_Corryvreckan_Whirlpool_-_geograph-2404815-by-Walter-Baxter

In the new, updated edition of “The Autistic Spectrum” (2002), Lorna Wing offered on page 23 a brief history of the chaos which seems to continue to this day, surrounding risen and fallen efforts to decide the main, and sub-categories of what she identified as the Autistic Spectrum. In order to justify my statement, please allow me to quote:

“The changes in ideas about autistic disorders can be seen in the history of the two international systems of classification of psychiatric and behavioural disorders. These are the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) published by the World Health Organisation, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. The first edition of the ICD did not include autism at all. The eighth (1967) edition mentioned only infantile autism as a form of schizophrenia and the ninth (1977) edition included it under the heading of ‘childhood psychosis’.
The 10th edition of the ICD (1992) and the third (1980), third revised (1987) and fourth (1994) editions of the DSM take the modern view that there is a spectrum of autistic conditions and that they are disorders of development, not ‘psychoses’.”

On page 29 of the same book, Wing details the reasons for this nosologic maelstrom:

“When an autistic disorder is diagnosed, there is the further problem of deciding which sub-group in the spectrum the individual belongs to. Now that the term Asperger’s syndrome is being used more widely, parents and professional workers as well, want to know how it differs from other forms of autism. Since Asperger’s group, unlike Kanner’s, includes mostly those of average or high levels of ability, the main question is how to tell Asperger’s syndrome from high-functioning Kanner’s autism. There is no simple answer.” Because as she establishes further, while some individuals present all the features of either, other individuals fit neither of these symptoms precisely, having (as myself…) mixtures of features of both.

And we haven’t even touched the serious problem of symptomatic and existential gender differentials, which is becoming more and more obvious, at least for the individuals on the autistic spectrum, because for the diagnostic and assessment services (at least in the UK, in my understanding) the primary diagnostic differentials are only age related. However, the UK’s NAS (The National Autistic Society) proves a genuine awareness of the necessity for further research at http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/gender.aspx

To make things even more confusing, the DSM-5 published in May 2013, factually canceled Asperger’s as a separate diagnosis and included it as an autism spectrum disorder, with adjacent severity stages. It mentions nevertheless, that “Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.”

But if one may think that the ICD-10 is of any better clarity, a quick look at its ‘F84.5 Asperger syndrome’ entry, reveals an opening statement which I would call at least seriously problematic: “A disorder of uncertain nosological validity“, as I’m not really sure that a standard international classification should be based on anything “uncertain”.

The reason for the rather thought-twisting title of this post, can be found in a well hidden -in plain sight- introductory statement, on an oddly placed (right after the front cover page, without obvious authorship or number) page of Uta Frith’s “Autism and Asperger syndrome” (2010) edited book, which opens its last phrase with the statement “Current opinion on Asperger syndrome and its relationship to autism is fraught with disagreement and hampered with ignorance”, followed nevertheless by the reassurance that the book “gives the first coherent account of Asperger syndrome as a distinct variant of autism …” I have insofar found the attempts to systematize Autism maelstrom-like, because as their aquatic correspondents, they absorb all concepts and definitions in their way, just to scatter them on devastated, more or less scientific ocean-floors, without seemingly ever considering that behind words and terminologies, are real-life human beings, suffering the oftentimes indifferent detachment of those we trust(ed) for a better life…

And this very statement would be exactly the conclusion-prelude to a series of open enquiries attempting to discover the adult, gender specific understanding of first of all, the most commonly and widely used autism screening tool, the Autism Quotient 50 (AQ-50). As an incentive for the reader’s personal consideration and most welcome comments, I am providing a link to a short scientific paper from the “Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2001” at http://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/2001_BCetal_AQ.pdf

In my next post, I will attempt to offer for an even more personalized analysis and comments, the first ten (1 ÷ 10) questions of the AQ-50 autism screening questionnaire, in the hope of initiating a “real-life” and “Actually Autistic” blog-forum, where especially adults on the autistic spectrum can evaluate in a safe, anonymously confidential environment their gender specific, unique understanding of the relevance of these questions for their own screening and diagnostic assessments, in an atmosphere of non-belligerent acceptance, mutual respect, civilised ‘agreement to disagree’ attitude and constructive tolerance.

Most sincere apology to my readers and followers, and Word of Caution:

Having painfully learnt my lessons elsewhere, and in order to protect the emotional wellbeing and dignity of all well-meaning viewers and participants, all comments and replies henceforth, will be monitored and subject to approval. Therefore, if your comment and/or reply doesn’t show immediately, please be patient. But if your comment and/or reply doesn’t show at all, please rephrase!

Because no one shall be bullied or harassed in my own blogyard! 👾🤓

 

Photo credit: By Walter Baxter, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33579199

The importance of Asperger’s Syndrome as a unique clinical diagnostic category…

Aspergers and Ignorance (2)

On page 1 of his fundamental summary of (Classic) “Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome”, S. Baron-Cohen (2008) lists as “Key Points” the two, overlappingly different subgroups of what has come to be known as the “Autistic Spectrum”.

“Classic autism and Asperger syndrome share two key features:
         -Social communication difficulties
         -Narrow interests and repetitive actions.
 But they differ in two key ways:
         -In Asperger syndrome, IQ is at least average and there was no language delay
         -In classic autism, IQ can be anywhere on the scale, and there was language delay.”

However, these key, common and differentiated features make only for a minimal area of understanding, assessing and living with either condition.

In my opinion, DSM-5 has managed with its promotion of an Autistic Spectrum “umbrella”, to both simplify, but also confusingly complicate the clear understanding of exactly those specifics which could make the lives of neurodivergents, less miserable. Luckily (I hope) for the neurodivergents living in the UK, while the clinical diagnosis implicitly reflects the DSM-5 when mentions “Autistic Spectrum Disorder”, still retains (at least in my case) the ICD-10’s “Asperger’s Syndrome” definition, making easier setting up a post diagnostic assistance and support program. Because regardless of how emotionally stabilising may be to have adult, male and female, HF Autistics and Asperger’s individuals considered together for our rights to exist as we are, the uniqueness of each of us is so important, that this arbitrary “one umbrella fits all” approach becomes discriminatory in itself.

Why?

Simply because from my perspective, the developmental aftermath of a language delay (and oftentimes subsequent learning disabilities) is absolutely different from that of a no language delay (and the oftentimes present special learning difficulties), further “complicated” by the bio-psychological specifics of males and females.

It’s probably much “easier” for some professionals, but certainly for the health business to bother less with tailoring both the pre- and post-diagnosis services by favouring the “uni” part of our individual uniqueness, instead of developing better, more updated assessment/diagnostic tools, which could offer findings vitally important for identifying the exact life needs of each of us, neurodivergents.

Looking forward therefore to my upcoming post-grad training, I have decided to challenge especially the over-generalised screening/assessment establishment, calling primarily for Asperger’s individuals, preferably diagnosed as adults, both females and males, to share their own understanding of some major Asperger’s screening/assessment tools, which will form in a staged form, the core of my upcoming posts.  The posts, comments and replies are planned to become anonymous points of reference for my future academic endeavour(s).

All comments and replies are absolutely welcome, with a respectful and special call to any qualified, clinical colleagues (yes, Laina that would include you 😊) whose “life touched” professional knowledge could be especially useful.

Because I still believe that any plural which is not established in clear singulars, becomes automatically void of its function.