I’ve written before about there being different sorts of autistic people, and relating more to some sorts than others. I’ve never been able to articulate what it is that makes up the sort of people I am more likely to relate to, because it’s always been intuitive. But I think I’ve finally figured out some of the elements. So here are my rather self-centered “wow this person is a lot like me” sort of criteria:
Autistic or autistic-type stuff
- Exceptional spatial abilities. This does not necessarily mean exceptional visual abilities, although it can. I mean the ability to map space, no matter what senses are used to do it. I’ve met a blind man with a diagnosis of “severe mental retardation” who has better spatial abilities than I do, and mine are pretty good. I don’t think he was using vision to map things, but he was mapping them.
- A sense of all languages and all symbols as being foreign languages, and as continuing to be foreign languages no matter how superficially proficient we become at them. A sense, not philosophical but gut-level and often uncomfortable, that language and other symbol is a strained abstraction that we throw together over reality without ever touching it.
- Figuring out some major aspect of language-as-communication-non-autistic-style much later than normal (if ever), and therefore having understanding of something from before that.
- Perceiving what surrounds us in ways other than most people would. Not just “hypersensitivity” but a whole different understanding. For instance perceiving my wrist brace not as a “wrist brace” but as a potentially bitable pattern of a certain texture and color and so forth. (No, not because of “weak central coherence,” because of a very different perceptual organization.)
- Having different perception of this sort be common enough (not just fleeting) in our lives that we understand the world mainly through that kind of pattern, not through intellectualizing categories. (Not that we necessarily can’t intellectualize categories but this would be as much of a “second language” as language, and viewed as a clumsy backup if anything.)
- Approaching language from this same sense of pattern, rather than the usual approaches to language.
- Having deliberate movement distant and elusive. (Automatic, cued movements might not be.)
- Having many “typical skills” appear and vanish and appear and vanish, rather than staying put.
- Having many shifts in abilities, whether seemingly “progress” or “regression,” on a regular basis.
- Going from extremely athletic and agile to closer to immobility with age (er, much younger than most people do, that is).
- At least sometimes requiring assistance moving.
- Shutdowns regularly, not just sometimes.
- Ability to read and use the same sort of body language I can read.
- Institutionalization, in nearly any form.
- Having a wide variety of ways you’ve been viewed and categorized (from “no future” to “good future” etc).
- Having most of your most important abilities viewed as non-existent, worthless, or both.
- Having at least a little background of being valued on an equal level with non-disabled people, regardless of professional decree of “severity”.
- Having experiences with both integration and segregation.
- Coming from an extended neuro-atypical family.
- Noticing at some point that the world seems to have no place for you, reacting against that, and having that response medicalized.
- Having people constantly confused about what you can and can’t do and attributing all kinds of traits and motivations that aren’t there.
- Knowing one of the unspoken “institution languages”.
- Sense of justice.
- Lack of reflex-level trust of authority.
- Belief in love (not the romantic kind) as something other than an emotion or a fuzzy feel-good stereotype
- Not exactly a personality trait, but mystics in the old-fashioned, non-fluffy, not-synonymous-with-“psychic”/”occult” sense of the word (quite often not the people you’d suspect, and not going to be parading themselves around as special). For lack of a better term.
- Either reserved or “autistic” about display of most emotions, but not unemotional. Just not throwing emotions in your face and demanding a response.
- Optimistic pragmatists. :-) (Meaning people who are very practical but don’t use being “very practical” as an excuse to never change anything or to assume that the status quo is all there’ll ever be.)
- People who will treat political problems as political rather than emotional, more likely to view political change as a solution rather than the “therapy culture”
- Understanding and happiness with the fact of being autistic, at the same time as not necessarily being the stereotypical “HFA/AS” type.
- Enjoying spending time with people without necessarily talking.
- Not trusting that something exists just because psychiatry or some other such profession says it does.
Note that this list isn’t exhaustive. It’s not meant to be diagnostic of anything. It’s not meant to say this is the best way to be autistic, or the only way to be autistic, or the differentiation between autism and Asperger’s and HFA and LFA and all that crap. Not all of it even has a thing to do with autism. These are just the things I end up identifying with in other autistic people.
It’s also important to note that some of the things I’ve listed in ways that sound like deficiencies, I’ve only listed that way because I don’t know the words for how to say what I really mean. “Lack” of certain kinds of thinking means a whole kind of patterns and perception and so forth that most people seem unable to use. I don’t know how to describe that. “Lack” of certain kinds of movement… likewise, only I have fewer words. Many things that involve “not learning” one kind of thing, are that way because there’s something else going on, “underneath”, that I can’t describe.
This isn’t even “the only people I want to be around”; I’ve had good friends who can’t navigate the world without language or conceive of anything outside of it. It’s just “who I identify with the fastest, who I often communicate with the easiest, etc”. I’m sure other people have totally different, but overlapping in some areas, lists. Also, not everyone I identify with this way is formally recognized as autistic. Many have other labels, or none at all, but there are commonalities.