Interesting conversation. I’m one of those supposedly “high functioning” people; I have a decent career, I live in a nice house, I’m married, I have pets…
But under all that I deal and have dealt with every single one of the problems people discuss here, from social isolation, to obsession and paranoia, to depression, to chronic anxiety. And I still do.
I have, however, learned something in my 45-years — the first 38 of which were undiagnosed and, at times, brutally difficult — and that is that within our obsessive focus, and our sense of emotional distance, there are massive, massive advantages.
If you can survive the doubt, social separation and mental illness that comes from anxiously feeling disconnected from the protective “strength of numbers” of society, you come out the other side with defined interests, things you can focus on and learn at a far greater rate than neurotypical people. Since beginning anxiety medication at age 28, I’ve learned guitar, started a blues band, became the house band for a famous club, cut a CD that made the top 50 blues chart, quit the blues to focus on novels, written eighteen novels and a couple of best sellers.
Why? Because the version of “savant” that I’ve been afforded by my condition has allowed me to understand why the human brain behaves the way it does, why we’re different in general, what the consequences are, and how to come to terms with it.
I’m not saying this is possible for everyone. But the very fact that it is means that talking about it as a ‘Disability’ is, in many cases, disingenuous at worst and whiny at best. Yes, the chronic elements of it — in my case, social anxiety, sexual dysfunction and occasional paranoia — are difficult. But the advantages are intensely beyond what most people ever get to experince, as well.
I’ve also come to understand just how massively biased by their subconscious need for group security neurotypical people can be, and how their empathy for perceived affiliations can be terribly misplaced. These biases, driven by the amygdala, probably made a lot of sense when we were a nascent species and required an objective reason to group together; but these days, they’re as much a hindrance to objective rationalization as they are a means of enforcing tribal strength to emotional benefit.
In fact, neuroplasticity combined with instant information transfer has already to led a wholesale increase in rationalization over passionate response among the general populace, which is why interest in religion is declining. Like all group biases, the hocus pocus and cultural mythos required to enforce its calming benefits to the human mind are overcome by contrary logic in the internet age.
As such, society is becoming more like us over time. Yes, there are autistic people whose advantage is, in their earliest days, much more of a disadvantage. The same neurological development differences that bless us with focus and dispassionate consideration can also contribute pretty severely to mental illness and PTSD/chronic anxiety; when you combine that with some autistic kids being raised by non-intellectually inclined parents, and therefore missing the biological development advantages during the brain’s peak growth period from zero to seven, you end up with kids who are neither smart enough to carve out their place nor emotionally able to handle the pressure of neurotypical emotional unpredictability.
So both sides are correct. It can contribute to limiting disabilities and mental illnesses; but autism itself is NOT the limitation, it is the catalyst. That catalyst can also serve to push us each to achieve great things, to follow our own passions and obsessions and, occasionally in doing so, carve out new knowledge, understanding and social growth for the rest of society.
That’s something to be celebrated, not categorized as a disability.