Perhaps one of the greatest challenges currently confronting the Autism community is the diversity of Autism itself and the associated challenges this presents Autistic individuals, parents, professionals, schools and service providers in having a shared understanding of Autism – what it is, and what it is not.
The diversity of Autism is often further complicated, for many, by:
• Different (and often inaccurate) perceptions of what Autism is, and what it is not.
• ‘Lumping’ the challenges of co-concurring conditions under the Autism umbrella and / or confusing co-concurring conditions an Autistic individual may have, with Autism.
• Absence of differentiating strengths and challenges of Autistic neurology from the strengths and challenges of an Autistic person’s innate personality.
Autism – the Brain’s ‘Operating System’
Autism is a life-long neurodevelopmental disability resulting from different brain development – primarily in the areas of communication, language development, emotional / social development; and, how a person inputs, interprets and processes information and stimuli from their environment and the world around them.
• Autism is not an illness or a disease.
• Autism is a spectrum condition – meaning how the communication, language, social, emotional and processing differences ‘play out’ in an individuals day to day life, is different in each individual; along with the subsequent level of support an individual may need to interact in, and navigate, the world.
• Autism is not ‘traits of behaviour’. Autism is not behaviour at all – behaviour and individual traits are the ‘observable’ responses to not only how an individual’s Autistic neurology interprets and processes stimuli and information, but also consequent of the Autistic persons individual personality, environment, cognitive ability and self awareness, and coping skills.
• Autism is not an intellectual disability. Intelligence forms no part of the diagnostic criteria of Autism.
• Autistic neurology is not limited to brain differences in a specific location on the brain, but evidenced as differences in multiple, spatially distributed neuron systems (across the whole brain).
• While many of the Spectrum also experience anxiety, Autism is not anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition.
• Autism is not hyperactivity, inattention, aggression or violence.
• Autism is complex.
• Autism is not caused by parenting, environment or personality, but just as is the case for all children, an Autistic child’s development and outcomes can be meaningfully, and significantly, influenced by these factors.
• Autism is permanent; autistic children become Autistic adults.
Personality – the Brain’s ‘Coordinator’
If Autism is the brain’s ‘operating system’, personality is the brain’s ‘coordinator’. Our personality is what propels us on life’s path. It represents our character, our temperament, disposition and our attitude (beliefs and values) unique to us. It is the distinctive pattern of psychological function that underpins our coping mechanisms and predicts our behaviour.
It is not uncommon that:
- Autistic children are responded to in a way that acknowledges their Autistic neurology, but disregards their individual personality and related personal preferences.
- Personal characteristics are confused as being ‘part of’ the child’s Autism, particularly when those personality characteristics are perceived as ‘negative’.
While there can be overlap between Autism and personality, and Autism and personality disorders, the two are distinctly different. Autistic neurology can influences our experiences, which can impact on our personality – but Autism does not determine or define personality.
Personality is both genetically influenced and consequent to life experiences, particularly in early childhood, which in turn mould’s our attitudes and our personal beliefs and values. Elements of our personality can and do change as we mature, and some elements of our personality is a part of our neurology that can be influenced (changed) if we choose to do so.
Personality is the difference between one Autistic child being innately adventurous, extraverted and persistent, and another Autistic child being introverted, novelty seeking and reward dependant. It is the key factor that underpins an Autistic child being ‘socially orientated’ and an Autistic child preferring isolation. It is the driving force between weather the child innately responds aggressively when dissatisfied, or if a child innately responds introspectively when dissatisfied. Elements of personality change over a persons life span.
Autistic neurology – that is, how our brain is hard-wired to process stimuli, cannot be changed or altered. Autistic individuals can, and do, learn coping mechanisms to better navigate both their brain’s operating system and the world around them, but their underlying wiring remains Autistic throughout their life span.
In a Nutshell …
- Autism is the brains ‘operating system’. It’s how the brain inputs, interprets and processes information and stimuli significantly differently from non-Autistic individuals – particularly in the areas of language, communication, social and emotional development and thinking patterns.
- Personality is the brain’s ‘coordinator’. It is the distinctive character, temperament, disposition and attitude unique to us as an individual. It largely predicts our behaviour and influences our coping mechanisms.