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Autism Awareness Month…Or Aren’t We All the Odd Couple?

April 12, 2010

April is Autism Awareness Month. In my clinical practice of individual, couples and family therapy, I see teens on the spectrum, as well as couples where one partner was never  diagnosed as a kid, but routinely misses important social cues. There’s a lot of concern about what defines an individual “on the spectrum.”  There are common misperceptions. Let me list a few:

  1. They don’t have feelings.
  2. They look “wooden.”
  3. They’re so honest they don’t lie (like the rest of us who are more routinely fudge with white lies to avoid hurting feelings, etc.)

The most often-quoted corrective saying about autism is this: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. It’s not a one-size fits all diagnosis. What’s more true are these generalizations:

  1. Kids who are “Aspie” (short for Asperger’s) are often of above-average to way above average IQ
  2. They have narrow & deep interests (aka the geek squad)
  3. They often have either a speech delay or a speech dysfluency (such as stuttering), sometimes developing after a normal initial pattern of speech. Occasionally this is marked by unusual word choice–“the little professor.”
  4. They are quite empathic and sensitive, once they know what to be empathic about.
  5. They tend to have trouble with transitions and are inflexible.
  6. Some are highly in need of social interaction (friends), others aren’t particularly interested.
  7. Most are easily over-stimulated (whether to light, noise, even to a change in routine), due to an overly active amygdala (fight or flight response).
  8. They do miss social cues, and need a “guide” regarding what to expect and how to interpret experiences.
  9. At its best, being on the spectrum is a developmental delay.  After all–who among us hasn’t had one of these symptoms?  As Temple Grandin is fond of saying about herself…”I became less autistic the older I got.”

People on the spectrum call the rest of us, “neurotypicals.” I don’t know about that. Just about everyone I meet is one half of an odd couple–me included–I just thought everyone else (especially my husband) thought like I did until I’d been married long enough. I’ve learned…we’re all wired differently. As Hugh Laurie (of the TV series, House)promotes with his NAMI t-Shirt, “Normal’s overrated.”  So here’s to all of us odd couples, married or parent and child…or grandchild on the spectrum, living side by side..practice kindness, and remember, “Normal’s overrated.”

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