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The Cognitive-Behavioural Interpretative Isolationism of Autism and Asperger Syndrome Part 2 – Arbitrarily Set Standards of Executive Functioning

Part 2 – Arbitrarily Set Standards of Executive Functioning

By Rom Feldmann© FdScMH, LTh(Hons), CertEd,

PgCert Special Psychopedagogy,

PgCert Autism & Asperger’s, QTS

 

– The Theory of Executive Dysfunction

            ‘Executive function is an umbrella term for functions such as planning,       working memory, impulse control, inhibition, and shifting set, as well   as for the initiation and monitoring of action.’ (Hill, 2004, 1)

Hill states that in order to guide actions, these functions need to disengage from the immediate environment, which seems to suggest that at least part of an Executive Dysfunctionality has to present as an impairment of an autistic’s ability to disengage from the object/subject of their immediate environment’s single focus and shifting their attention to possible prompts by external stimuli.

However, I would question the axiomatic assumption that an apparent non-responsiveness to external focus-shifting prompts must be seen as an ‘impairment’, since such an assumption would imply a standard, focus-shifting expectation to all incoming external stimuli, mandatory for all, as a pre-requisite of a social interaction expectation singularity, a universal norm.

Judging such a perceived non-responsiveness as some pathologically uncontrollable ‘aloofness’ is a dangerous, a priori inconsideration of an autistic’s right to wilfully accept or reject incoming stimuli, regardless of their animate or inanimate origins. Autistics, as anyone else, have the fundamental right of deciding without any obligation to justify their choice, to accept or reject anyone’s, verbal or otherwise, approach.

Given the fact that most “Intellectually Proficient Autistics©” have an upper-level thought process best to be characterised as an intense continuum, would render approaches as unsolicited intrusiveness, met with and honest and non-dissimulated  disinterest or silent/verbal rejections. Justifiably, disrespectful insistence is oftentimes perceived as aggression, which could lead to provoked shut- or meltdowns. It is unfortunate that these provoked episodes with extremely distressful consequences are not considered or classified as physical and/or emotional abuse or in many cases, assault.

The other aspect of this theory (Frith et al, 2010, p15 footnote) is an analogy with neuropsychological patients displaying impaired executive functions caused by frontal lobes damage, suggested by similar ‘frontal test’ results produced by these subjects and individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.

Again, validating such a theory ignores an autistic’s volitional selectivity, leaving us either presumably brain damaged, or without any control over some pathological compulsions.

The question however, the genuinely disturbing question is: who decided  what the ‘standards’ of executive functionality are, and why divergence from these ‘standards’ must be viewed as “impairment” or “pathology”?

A possible answer is as disturbing as the question: the decision was most probably taken by neurotypical gatekeepers, interested (consciously or not) in establishing, further maintaining easily controllable, rigidly normative societal structures, leaving most population subject to a mass Stockholm Syndrome, using arbitrarily imposed societal ‘norms’ as means of compliance control, rewarded with nothing else than randomly refrained law enforcement harassment, disguised as ‘protection under the rule of law’.

Pathologising on grounds of superficial behavioural observations and biased evaluation premises, “Intellectually Proficient Autism & Asperger’s©” (IPAA©) individuals, is nothing more than attempts to control the innate proneness to logical judgement and justice, oftentimes displayed by IPAAs deeply involved and attached to protecting the vulnerable, fact also clearly backed by Tony Atwood  (Wylie et al, 2016, pg. 12)…

Pathologising our dedication to equality is a sad and dangerous attempt to devaluate justice into a law enforced pragmatic utilitarianism, reminiscent of malthusianism…

(to be continued…)

 

-Frith, U. (Ed.), Asperger, H., Wing, L., Gillberg, C., Tantam, D., Dewey, M., Happé, F. G. E., (2010). Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

-Hill, E. L. (rev. 2004). Evaluating the theory of executive dysfunction in autism.  http://research.gold.ac.uk/2560/1/hill_devrev04_GRO.pdf accessed 10.01.2018

-Hill, E. L. (2004). Executive dysfunction in autism. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.8 No.1, January 2004, 26 http://www.ucd.ie/artspgs/langimp/autismexecdysf.pdf accessed 10.01.2018

-Wylie, P., Lawson, W. B., Beardon, L., (2016). The Nine Degrees of Autism, A Developmental Model for the Alignment and Reconciliation of Hidden Neurological Conditions. Hove and New York: Routledge

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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

 

 

 

 

Stimming vs Fidgeting…

MagnificentHummingbird flapping is living

I personally think it is unfortunate that many NDs have so easily accepted that stimming is “just” the autistic version of fidgeting, because as I see it, the difference is actually neurobiological.

The problem starts with wrongly associating stimming with anxiety relief, concentration and other similar, secondary types of human behaviour, because while fidgeting does certainly and most of the time unconsciously assist with especially concentration or stress relief, stimming, as a behaviour sequence mostly specific to autistic conditions, is actually a primary neurobiological undertaking, with a very clear role in an autistic individual’s life.

If an autistic person would observe themselves while stimming, they would notice that the stimming activity they are engaged in, requires their dedicated attention, through which the stimming routine is carried out according to a deeply ingrained routine. Stimming is as important as any other autistic routine, probably even more important, because while other routines, e.g. replacing the toothpaste tub in the same place and at the same angle after each use (as the routine’s objective), has the toothpaste tub as its object, stimming’s object & objective are identical, permeating actually the person engaged in stimming. While stimming, the autistic individuals employ all their task specific dedicated senses. Now this wouldn’t be unusual, if the respective sense(s) would be analysed, evaluated and responded to, as usually in NT cases, by specific areas of the brain. But since autistic brains are thought to analyse, evaluate and respond through the entire cerebral cortex to all/any stimuli (this being the very reason of sensory overload), an overlapping of sensory receptor(s) and stimulus happens, with the stimulus remaining nevertheless auxiliary in achieving the desired stimulation, with the brain and its response as the ultimate goal. Let me exemplify.

You sit in your car, and start drumming on your steering wheel, knee, door armrest, etc. But this is not your usual drumming on your favourite tune, or unconsciously fidgeting with your fingers while looking at the red light. No, it’s none of these, but your well known, always the same rhythmic sequence, the perfect product of your autistic brain’s systemising function, which combines not only the same audible rhythm, but the sensory impulses received by the same areas of your fingers’ skin from the soft, always the same areas of the wheel, the soft rotating movement of your wrists, dwelling always on the same areas of your legs, while your vision has switched to enhanced peripheral vision, seeing the beginning and the end of your journey, your next WP post and the irregular helix of steam arising from your next coffee, just to name a few…

Having said that, I hope I’ve answered any unasked question about “autistic fidgeting”, which yes, it is certainly possible, but in my opinion never to be mistaken for stimming.

Stimming is like the magnificent wing flapping of a hummingbird, in which all its neurobiology is implicated, which defines its entire being.

What about self-harmful, injurious repetitive actions, one may ask?

According to Lorna Wing (The Autistic Spectrum, New Updated Edition, p.45, 1996), a self-injurious repetitive action such as self-biting, head-banging, etc, “more often […] is a response to distress, anger or frustration […] but self-injury can be a repetitive habit in someone who has no other way of occupying themselves”.

In light of the above, having also witnessed this type of behaviour in non-autistic children and adults with congenital or acquired learning disabilities or limitations, also in animals confined to very small places, I would suggest that such behaviour isn’t necessarily autistic, but a physiological response to pathological stimuli, and therefore shouldn’t be necessarily considered stimming, except in cases of severe learning disabilities when according to Wing “self-injury can be[come] a repetitive habit in someone who has no other way of occupying themselves”. In such cases, protective gear and pharmacotherapy are considered as means of ensuring that the individuals themselves and their environment are protected as much as possible from harm, while maintaining the highest achievable degree of dignity and autonomy.

Third of Asperger’s Ten Traits – Escape Artist, from the World into my Box…

Boxtroll

“3) We are escape artists. We know how to escape. It’s the way we survive this place. We escape through our fixations, obsessions, over-interest in a subject, our imaginings, and even made up reality. We escape and make sense of our world through mental processing, in spoken or written form. We escape in the rhythm of words. We escape in our philosophizing.  As children, we had pretend friends or animals, maybe witches or spirit friends, even extraterrestrial buddies. We escaped in our play, imitating what we’d seen on television or in walking life, taking on the role of a teacher, actress in a play, movie star. If we had friends, we were either their instructor or boss, telling them what to do, where to stand, and how to talk, or we were the “baby,” blindly following our friends wherever they went. We saw friends as “pawn” like; similar to a chess game, we moved them into the best position for us. We escaped our own identity by taking on one friend’s identity. We dressed like her, spoke like her(/him), adapted our own self to her (or his) likes and dislikes. We became masters at imitation, without recognizing what we were doing. We escaped through music. Through the repeated lyrics or rhythm of a song–through everything that song stirred in us. We escaped into fantasies, what could be, projections, dreams, and fairy-tale-endings. We obsessed over collecting objects, maybe stickers, mystical unicorns, or books. We may have escaped through a relationship with a lover. We delve into an alternate state of mind, so we could breathe, maybe momentarily taking on another dialect, personality, or view of the world. Numbers brought ease. Counting, categorizing, organizing, rearranging. At parties, if we went, we might have escaped into a closet, the outskirts, outdoors, or at the side of our best friend. We may have escaped through substance abuse, including food, or through hiding in our homes. What did it mean to relax? To rest? To play without structure or goal? Nothing was for fun, everything had to have purpose. When we resurfaced, we became confused. What had we missed? What had we left behind? What would we cling to next?”

Used with permission from @everydayaspergers. Originally published in Samantha Croft‘s -now former- blog, Everyday Asperger’s, as The Ten Traits.

When I first watched “Boxtrolls” I had no idea what to do with it…

It was one of those instances of a disturbing deja-vu, a pervasive sense of not exactly having seen, not even having been, but rather being still there, here…

And I realised it is the story of me, the great escape artist, escaping not from some box into the welcoming wide open, but from an unfriendly and oppressive “wide open”, into a world where everyone is entitled to the box of their own choice, size, colour, smell…

A world where everyone has a similar, nevertheless unique “box”, where no one criticises the other box tenant for their choice, where the “world above” is of less importance…

As I see it, our individually unique boxes are exactly what makes us fit together. We may not like physical contact and closeness, but in our perfect boxes we are closer than one could imagine, we communicate, we hear, we “feel” each other in inexplicable ways, respectful and sensitive to the openness or unopenness of someone else’s box.

In my box-world it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you love your box, my box, our boxes; because regardless of how similar the boxes are, inside is comfortably “hiding” a perfect universe’s uniquely autistic inhabitant.

You don’t need to shout, you don’t need to knock, you don’t even need to “understand”. Just respectfully wait by the box you want to better know, until its inhabitant who knows you’re there, comes out, hoping that by that time, you may have hopefully decided to accept and respect whosoever you’ll see…

“autism: […] the future of our society depends on our understanding it.”

WIN_20170401_21_52_45_Pro

Over a lifetime spent with mostly futile attempts to drift with the flow, I’ve discovered a mostly disturbing quality of my mind, namely the “finding the needle before seeing the haystack” capability, which made me a persona non-grata at meetings where those having an interest in hiding matters, oftentimes forbade me of taking notes, or even a notebook and pencil, because even though I am unable to see any “bigger (especially false) picture”, I can identify key words/concepts which my mind uses to profile the real picture with its oftentimes dreadful consequences.

A couple of hours ago, I’ve been delivered via St. Amazon a copy of Silberman’s “Neurotribes”. As my “religious” routine is to read first the title, copyrights, ISBN, etc page followed by the back cover, I have found the following, most distressing statement:

“What is autism: a devastating developmental condition, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more – and the future of our society depends on our understanding it.

Now, one of the advantages of a(n oftentimes identified as mainly) male Asperger’s binary thinking (yes/no, black/white), is an eerie capability of identifying absolutes, ultimate type of words or statements, axiomatic effects of a perceived completion of premises necessary in order to postulate them. And while these could be frightening for example to the clearly disadvantaged counterpart of a debate, from a purely contemplative perspective of judging deductive reasoning, its pure perfection becomes compelling.

Nevertheless, as undesirable as it would be contemplating a nuclear explosion from within, the same must be said about the above highlighted statement. Why? Because from here and now, the future looks and resonates nothing less than an Armageddon riding the Apocalypse for a socio-globality which still considers autism a “historical anomaly”, clarifying on a quod erat demonstrandum level, that there’s virtually no reasonable understanding of autism. Should there be any, searching for illusory “cures” in order “to stop the autism epidemic” would have become long ago shamefully obsolete.

Why have I written this post? Because I have become genuinely frightened at the idea of a future dominated by a neurotypical majority which is about to unleash through its deliberate ignorance, a chain reaction of wrong decisions about me, without having at least spoken in a meaningful way with me first. But even worse, the same majority seems even further ignorant that its wrong decisions shall have an effect not only on me and those alike, but as the quote’s author suggests, on society and ultimately the world as we know it.

Has the author of the quote gone mad writing such belligerent statements disturbing our state of -the art- denial?

I’ll leave it to your further inquiries, reminding you only that Silberman’s book has won “The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2015”, with someone writing the aforementioned quote in bold, on the back cover.

And the Prize’s motto seems to be “All the best stories are true”…

First of Asperger’s Ten Traits – Extreme Intelligence

o-AUTISM-brain

Driven, probably by the systemising neuro-biology of my brain, I’m constantly looking for an organised understanding of facts, where “the three…”, “the seven…” or “the ten…” somethings, constantly attract my semantic mind. On such a fortunate occasion, I have found Samantha Croft‘s -now former- blog, Everyday Asperger’s.
In her new website‘s own words, “Samantha Croft, autistic writer and artist, […] a former schoolteacher, with a Master’s Degree in Education (special emphasis on adult education and curriculum development), […] has been published in peer reviewed journals, been featured in autistic literature, and has completed several graduate-level courses in the field of counselling. Some of her works, especially The Ten Traits, have been translated into multiple languages.”
Now it is exactly The Ten Traits, the subject of a ten-post series, through which I am hoping to better understand the “Ten Commandments” by which my mind attempts to understand and process an oftentimes avalanche of stimuli. Even though the blog’s main title is “Asperger’s Traits (Women, Females, Girls)/February 10, 2012” I have found its applicability in my -male- case, around the more than satisfactory 99% which provides the necessary reassurance for a general applicability.
Samantha has kindly agreed to my humble enterprise, for which I am forever grateful.

“1) We are deep philosophical thinkers and writers; gifted in the sense of our level of thinking. Perhaps poets, professors, authors, or avid readers of nonfictional genre. I don’t believe you can have Asperger’s without being highly-intelligent by mainstream standards. Perhaps that is part of the issue at hand, the extreme intelligence leading to an over-active mind and high anxiety. We see things at multiple levels, including our own place in the world and our own thinking processes. We analyse our existence, the meaning of life, the meaning of everything continually. We are serious and matter-of-fact. Nothing is taken for granted, simplified, or easy. Everything is complex.”

If you look for a better compacted definition of the Asperger’s mind, rest assured there isn’t… I mean, one might attempt reverse engineering the above paragraph, perhaps writing a whole chapter of a book based on each statement, but the true genius of it is the elaborate conciseness, encompassing the cause-effect functionality of a neuro-divergent mind, with all the blessings and non-blessings of a misunderstood genius.
And if you may be asking yourself, what or where is my geniality, let me share with you something I’ve learned somewhere I can’t remember anymore, which helped me better understand myself, something which would makes sense mainly to the Asperger’s mind. That “someone” said, that the true genius of the neuro-divergent mind, is not simply finding the needle in a haystack, but to notice the needle before seeing the haystack.
Have you arrived at the conclusion that most philosophies should be re-written as you noticed flaws leaving you wondering why aren’t they studying your works? Was it easier for you to write a metric rhyme poem instead of a nonfictional story? Were you having a panic attack way before your boss finished outlining next year’s strategy for success, because you already saw the imminent collapse, should the team follow their uselessly high-paid stupidities? Were you listening to some prestigious piece of music from a highly-acclaimed orchestra, just to nearly have a heart attack caused by a false sound or faulty rhythm?
The problem isn’t with your “appliance”, but with a world unprepared for our next-gen perception and understanding of it.
Welcome to your(true)self, and start valuing yourself. Trust me, there’s no better judge of yourself than your(true)self

(to be continued…)

The Asperger Individualism

quote-Ayn-Rand-the-smallest-minority-on-earth-is-the-88961

Throughout my life and modest literary endeavours, I firmly acknowledged the supreme primacy of detail before the whole, for reasons too obvious to state…

Nevertheless, since discovering that I live with Asperger’s on the neuro-divergent side of existence, I realised that the term autism was coined from the Greek autos which means self, as an essentially correct identification of Autism’s core individualism.

Even though I believe that Autism and Asperger’s share common traits (the Autistic Spectrum), I share the position of the ICD-10 as being different conditions, regardless of DSM-5’s arbitrary otherwise statements, which will be discussed in a future post, finding myself somewhere along Uta Frith’s lines which state that “The terms autism and Asperger’s syndrome are therefore not treated as mutually exclusive. We propose that the Asperger individual suffers from a particular form of autism”1 and also in line with Simon Baron-Cohen’s position of the “six major subgroups on the autistic spectrum”2.

Considering therefore what has been said, I would dare to venture onto a hopefully interesting proposal, namely the valuation of Asperger Syndrome as a neuro-biological orientation towards an individual’s self, from the individualistic perspective of reason and objectivism, which all represent core life values for individuals with Asperger’s.

As seen, I have used a valuable quote from philosopher Ayn Rand, about the ultimate value of the individual, without which’s understanding, any attempt to generalize or even categorize, will have lost its whole meaning, because contrary to popular (mis)understanding, the value ascribed to a category is given by the value of its components.

Therefore, the attempt of DSM-5 to “sacrificially” de-identify the Asperger Syndrome on the “umbrella-spectrum” altar, without maintaining its well-established DSM-4-TR and ICD-10 uniqueness, has thrown everything, from individual identities to research enthusiasm, into a futureless fog. Why? Because research is particular, a narrowing down of scientific interest, from penetrating layer after layer of external data, aiming to the core of anything’s functionality. It is a quest from major onto minor, from the majority of what’s obvious, to the minority of what’s hidden. Who are we, after all? Only “another brick in the wall” of someone else’s understanding of who we really are, or like Michelangelo’s unique sculptures waiting to be freed from their marble confinements, intrinsic values to be discovered with respectful touches?

Yes, I absolutely agree, that an individual is the “smallest minority on earth”, with us, individuals on the Autistic Spectrum as an even smaller and even more self-oriented minority, deserving therefore an inalienable right to be listened and maybe understood.

Because unlike Michelangelo’s marble wonders, we have each of us a heart, and a speaking mind attached to it, and if the majority wants to be whole, let it be reminded that it is made of coexisting minorities…

 

  1. Frith, Uta (ed), 1991, Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Cambridge University Press
  2. Baron-Cohen, Simon, 2008, Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Oxford University Press

­(to be continued…)