I share here my learning from experiences dealing with Autism; more accurately called ASD – a spectrum. Intertwined closely with my investigative work, Autism is a tricky one to deal with because while many disorders are easily identifiable (Downs Syndrome, schizophrenia, blindness & deafness for example are pretty easily understood), ASD seems to me to be a broader thing. This means that it requires specifics in relation to how it affects an individual, rather than being able to know from a label what this actually means, practically. Enjoy this layman’s take on ASD.
In the last couple of decades, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with people suffering from ASD/Asperger’s. My early identification of psychiatric issues with the founder of Ormita came from personal experience and has flowed into the alternative currency space naturally. It seems that those wired differently ‘up top’ can handle creative business better. Commercial barter therefore is a natural breeding ground for those with ASD.
Add in the best part of a decade in Samoa, where everybody there it seems has some degree of Autism, and you’ve got a guy here who while not a trained psychologist has a good layman’s understanding of what ASD means. Correct me please, any shrink, if I get something wrong.
The Primary Issue
Hands down the biggest thing that needs to be understood by those trying to deal with Autism, is that (unlike physical abnormalities such as hearing loss or blindness, which are simply a matter of handicap degree) ASD is a spectrum. It means little to say, “Oh he’s got Autism” – you have to know what aspect of Autism someone is affected by, to properly understand then. It’s akin to saying, “Oh they’re from Asia, or it was a man!” These are labels of broad identification that can indicate certain tendencies but one needs to drill down a lot deeper to understand a specific situation.
Asians come in all shapes and sizes, as do men! Same thing with ASD. When someone says, “Oh I understand him; I know what Autism is!” you can be very sure that they don’t! You have to go deeper, and from my experience it takes a lot of skill and experience to assess any psychiatric condition, and for those without training, it takes a lot of time with an individual to understand the significance.
The other thing is that people are not robots – even those with limited capacity in some areas of human relationships. It is perfectly possible that on some days or in some circumstances the coping mechanisms that those with ASD use, actually get it right, and good things happen as a result! Thus understanding an individual case is much more valuable than knowing that someone has ASD.
There are websites and resources galore on the symptoms that manifest when trying to identify Autism related disorders, but the first clue I use is unusual social interactions. While pride can be the basis for self-centered conduct (one talks excessively about oneself for example), when it is driven by psychiatric conditions on the ASD spectrum you see the mix of genuine humility with self-centeredness. Whenever I see people think about, talk about and look after their own interests excessively, I always try to dig down to find the root cause. Is it pride-based or not? Excessive ego-driven conduct indicates a natural cause [pride] – in the context of humility though it indicates a psychiatric cause.*
Strong indicators of ASD are seeing challenges in relation to engaging with others, particularly conflict manifested somehow in a repeating manner – excessive kiss-and-makeups common. Because victims of ASD are not able to read human emotions well, misunderstandings, miscommunications and cross-talk are easy indicators to identify the condition, or certainly as early indicators.
Those with ASD will challenge those around them – spouse, friends, business colleagues/partners and employers, often deeply.
Depending on the relationship – be it marital, a wider social one or in some form of business, the consequences can range from a simple sideways look (‘he’s a little bit different’ sort of thing) to full-on conflict and what I call a ‘trail of trauma’.
A recent case I’ve been dealing with where Autism played a factor involved a top-performing businessman who had what an associated party called an “Alphabet Account” – from A-Z, hero to zero and back again for decades. The dramas repeated – this was normal conduct. It could be seen from both perspectives – a bad boy constantly pushing the limits; or from the other perspective – a hugely successful long-term operational relationship where both parties always wanted to kiss and make up, for mutual benefit.
In a marital situation too, such ups and downs can be hugely frustrating, indeed quite hurtful. Betrayal can be perceived as one thing by one party and quite the opposite by the other, which requires a large dollop of cognitive flexibility to accept.
Understanding (or often misunderstanding) cause and effect can be normal. This is the reason why I talk about Samoans all having Autism, a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but with a bit of truth to it. The Samoans have a well-developed kiss-and-make-up process (called ifoga) which is a cultural tool for dispute resolution. A large part of this dispute creation is the lack of what we call ‘common sense’ in the West, but when boiled down is actually a difficulty with understanding ’cause & effect’. When someone is insulted, the boys will often escalate the situation with fists (and more). Later, when the systems of justice in Samoan society kick in, there is often great regret and head scratching as the ‘he was a good boy [but just got bad that time]’ phrase is used. And the pattern repeats. The ifoga deals with this well after the event (as everyone MUST comply), but it doesn’t change the underlying cause, that we see as a simple lack of common sense. If you use your fist, bad things result. Duh!
Autism is often the same with the faulty thinking that a sufferer should recognise the common sense that we all have (or should have) – if you do this then other people will see it ‘this’ way – may be logical for us. Not so for someone who doesn’t get it, because they can’t! Again though it is difficult to generalise when each individual has different issues to deal with.
Dealing with Autism
Most people would agree that it is incumbent upon the seeing among us to assist those without sight. We do not expect a blind man to know of a pothole ahead when he’s walking towards it. We can see it – they can’t. We therefore accept the moral responsibility to alert him before he falls into it. Likewise with deafness, for example if our friend we’ve taken to a cricket match is deaf and announcement that the game is delayed for half an hour because of the weather is given audibly, we feel responsible for sharing the detail he will not have heard.
Likewise with those suffering from ASD. The idiosyncrasies that manifest due to psychiatric issues have to be understood and ‘carried’ by the able bodied. Just as you cannot reasonably expect a blind person to see things, or a deaf person to hear, it is unrealistic to expect someone with ASD to suddenly understand the emotional intricacies of a tricky situation.
This can be hugely problematic as a trail of trauma inevitably follows those with ASD – resentment, broken hearts, ill-will are common as people with ASD rarely understand the human consequences of their conduct. In a marital situation this can be dynamite. In a business situation, while this can often create opportunity (such as advanced performance in design, productivity or sales) this can also be dangerous commercially. Those involved need to take a different approach to matters related to ASD, the same as they would install procedures or assistance for the physical, hearing and seeing impaired, so too the even more difficult psychiatric challenges.
I’ve found that pride [yes, again!], OUR pride is a huge barrier to handling difficult situations like this. When we get over ourselves, we can become a lot more capable of understanding and giving the support that the ASD sufferer needs. If we expect (as of right) to be understood or appreciated by our spouse or partner, for example, when they simply cannot and may never be able to give this, then we are deluded and will suffer. Likewise in a business or other human-relationship situation – if we expect something that can never be given, we will be forever frustrated and conflict will continue. Far better to humble ourselves; get over the missed expectations and work day-by-day for what CAN be achieved with a person wired differently ‘up top’.
I witnessed a most incredible event a while back. One of our boarders had Autism, and quite severely too. She was under heavy care from the authorities as a consequence, but she walked up to one of our neighbours, an elderly lady doing her gardening. “Hello!” she announced a little stiffly and perhaps a little more loudly than normal. “My name is Claire. I have Autism – which means that sometimes I don’t understand things. What’s your name? How are you?”
Obviously taught to say this by her carers, it was an extraordinary engagement as she initiated social interaction; identified herself; explained her difference and what it meant to others; and then chatted away merrily for ages with her new friend. My neighbour understood exactly what the score was as a result of this clean and clear intro. When the wheels did start to fall off later on, I explained to her that this was likely only temporary setback and that very soon, things would be back to normal as if the trouble had never happened, and that’s exactly what occurred.
Autism (or anything on the Autism/Asperger’s scale) can be a real b*stard to deal with, mainly because the sufferer is usually oblivious to their plight and the consequences of their actions. It’s not so much that we, on the outside, don’t want to pay the price to carry the sufferer. In many cases we are happy to do this, it is that it is an ongoing trauma – it never ends, and it’s thankless work because the one we are carrying just doesn’t understand, and will never!
When we do ‘come down’ though and humble ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to get into the mind of the ASD sufferer, and that gives us the opportunity to work with what we do have, and that’s often an increased opportunity. My advice when alerted to the possibility that someone we are involved with has ASD (and for me that is often those I investigate) is to seek to understand HOW that ASD affects the victim as soon as possible. While ASD is a broad label, one needs to know specifically in what area this affects people labelled with ASD.
Thanks for swinging by today and also for understanding.
In case you were wondering, no, I do not have Autism nor any other psychiatric condition. According to a shrink with expertise in these subjects, I’m just a pain in the a* to live with because I’m an excessively black and white guy! Now you know, if you hadn’t worked it out before!
* The exception to this is the conduct of conmen, who know intuitively how to manipulate others consciously.