Claudia Mazzucco is a journalist and author from Argentina. She is acknowledged as having made a decisive contribution to the History of Golf in Argentina by her researching on its historical origins and the life of Argentina’s golf champion, Roberto De Vicenzo. Since 1989, she teaches History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina. She was born in La Banda, Santiago del Estero. Her diagnosis of autism was confirmed twice: in London (2001) and the United States (2017). She lives in Hartford, Connecticut. (This blog is published today for a special reason: congratulations to Claudia as today is her birthday!)
Classical Autism as a neurological disorder exists independently of human consciousness and human beliefs. A person who has been diagnosed at age 3 cannot convince herself that autism is not real. During the first half of the twentieth century, physicians thought that people suffering from classical autism lacked of imagination, emotions, empathy, theory of mind, neuron mirror, verbal and non-verbal language, introspection and retrospection. “The autistic mind, it was supposed at that time, was incapable of self-understanding and understanding others,” said Oliver Sacks, “and therefore of authentic introspection and retrospection.” That an autistic person could write an autobiography was “a contradiction of terms.” Each autistic person was an island in a sea of nothingness. An island, cut off from the main. “In classical autism, which is manifest, and often total, by the third year of life,” Sacks added, “the cutting off is so early there may be no memory of the main.” Particularly problematic was that children with classical autism were not engaged with the world. They were tuned out. Their social skills and social bonds remained underdeveloped. Though there is not universal agreement, classical autism is treatable. Many children have lost the diagnosis with early intensive intervention and treatment.
Asperger’s is something that exists depending on the consciousness and beliefs of a single individual. This belief can limit their perspective and, consequently, the relationships with other people, creating subjective categories that reflect their rich imagination rather than clinical or neurological realities. People with Asperger’s claim to have the most trouble of adaptation to the social environment. Many are misfits determined to hide from the world. They actually could be very charming and communicative. But they harbor lots of turmoil underneath their talk in social media. They usually feel their most basic sense of self is under assault when someone questions the existence of Asperger’s. Society makes them feel awkward. Anyone who has read their Blogs knows how the encounter with another person could ignite a hopeless terror. Many have been conditioned to constantly strive to be perfect, and feel as though they live in a world where they are constantly failing. Many come from families with triads of alcoholism, mental illness and depression. They might have been casualties of war in their parents’ nasty divorce. There had been so much chaos in their childhood: divorces, violence, sudden uprooting and moves. They deserve no blame, but calling themselves “autistic” won’t help.
Diagnoses are made out of our presumptions about the mind. Diagnoses can be wrong just as easily as opinions. Yes, social isolation is a great difficulty. If a person feels he “does not belong,” he could quickly develop symptoms and find a doctor that will label him as “autistic.” But this is not a disorder. Such feeling is an inseparable part of every human nature. In fact, he could find a religion, a book club, a sport or game where he will increase his ability to be in relationship with others and learn to understand their thoughts and feelings. A place to belong, a place to interact. When we are involved in community, we will discover who we are. French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre would say, “I need the other in order to realize fully the structures of my being.” The interpersonal relation between “I” and “You” is constitutive of selfhood. A human being is conscious of his fellows, depends on them, and finds the meaning of life in knowing them. “Only he who is capable of a genuine encounter with the other is capable of an authentic encounter with himself, “and the converse is equally true,” French philosopher Pierre Hadot said. “Whoever wishes to make progress strives, by means of dialogue with himself or with others, as well as by writing to carry on his reflections in due order. To wit, people must belong to a tribe, they yearn to have a purpose larger than themselves. We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust, and we have a story to tell about where we come from, and why we are here. Perhaps, science is a continuation on new and better tested ground to attain the same end; if so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.
It is the community then that will lead us to discover who we are. Even if somebody was not born with a fascination for other people, and developed a particular inability for social interaction, that limitation does not have to be fostered or exercised. Whether or not they have the chance to overcome it will usually depend on the environment. Lionel Messi, the Argentine football (soccer) player who is one of the biggest athletic stars in the world, is a good example. I have been told that Messi was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was in the critical transition between childhood and adolescence. This was a child diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. He was very shy and introverted. At age 13 Messi and his family relocated to Barcelona, Spain, and he began playing for FC Barcelona’s under–14 team. By learning to handle and kick the ball either directly into the goal or to another player, he could coordinate his moves with other team’s members. As men compete against the other team for the opportunity to kick the ball, the ability to understand what goes through the minds of the rival team (theory of mind), is usually the key to scoring. If there were any, Messi has learned how to manage his “autistic” tendencies, until they eventually disappeared. An athletic competition that can tear down the walls that exist between us in much the same way as music, literature and art, could also change the way humans think and view the world.
Letting a teen develop autistic symptoms is, in my view, like allowing a sick person to writhe in pain without intervention.
Lorna Wing was a mother. She might never have known about autism, had it not been for her daughter Susie. Susie was three when she was diagnosed with autism and moderate learning difficulties. Lorna battled her daughter’s autism in an era when people didn’t understand autism at all. She spoke passionately and efficiently.
Directing subsequently her professional interest towards autism, she was the first to identify Asperger Syndrome as a subcategory of the condition. Wing gave Dr. Gary Greenberg, the author of The Book of Woe, a summary of her views. She thought the term was helpful for the child who talks endlessly about the interstate high system and nothing else. This child is striving to attract people but he or she drives them away. Everything that is human interaction has fallen from them. There are a lot of such children, Wings said. This is not someone who should be overlooked or simply dismissed as a little bit eccentric.
And in order to push her opinions through, Wing stated that the diagnosis of Asperger’s “can be used with parents and teachers and bosses who often cannot believe in a diagnosis of autism, which they equate with muteness and total social withdrawal. It can help to convince the people concerned that there is a real problem.” A problem needing careful management and education. “Even if Asperger’s was only a high-functioning variant of autism,” Wing suggested, “and even if it was, strictly speaking, not a separate disorder, still it deserved its own label.”
Wing was scathing on the dangers of allowing a young child to become centered on a single subject of interest. A 12 years old who is in the spectrum because he has developed an obsession with, say, cemeteries, Santa Claus, Harry Porter or death birds – the Little Professor Syndrome – was allowed to develop such an obsession. The same boy or girl will miss a series of milestones and social skills they need to acquire during adolescence, including forming meaningful friendships that could last forever. This has to do with many changes that his body and brain and emotions go through. He will miss things like having
- The first kiss.
- The first date.
- The first love.
- The first glass of wine or beer with his friends.
- The first driving in dad’s car with his friends.
In the end, at age of 20, they will be a misfit living in isolation. They won’t have sense enough to find their place in society. Their ability to instinctively empathize with others will be weaker than other people’s. It didn’t happen because of a “neuro-divergence” in the brain. A good rule of thumb is: “Diversity enables a very wide spectrum of possibilities.” Diversity of interests is of supreme importance for a teenager. Parents could prevent their children from developing the Syndrome. It is not autism and it should not be treated as such. If his obsession makes him socially dysfunctional, he will be diagnosed with a mental disorder but this disorder was easy to prevent.
Allowing more people into our lives allows us to free ourselves from the mass of barriers our minds have created for us, we may see that a diagnosis in the ASD is a mental construct that could contribute to negative self-image, which can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and other problems. In reality, it is the diagnosis of autism that is making them autistics.
Autism causes avoidance of social situations that then causes more autistic behaviors. Flexible thinking and nonjudgmental attitude can reverse that cycle. Having realistic sensibilities can lead to remarkable recoveries.