Defining autism vs. AS


Someone asked about the differences between AS (Asperger's Syndrome) and HFA (high-functioning autism), initiating a discussion of the difficulties inherent in trying to define these categories.

I wrote:

I think the problem is that the actual experience of individuals will never fit neatly into any scheme of categorization. No matter how many of your friends fit into your understanding of a difference between AS and HFA, someone else always will come along who does not fit. Plus, it's all too easy, once we've bought into a particular categorization plan, to "trim" descriptions of people (unconsciously) in an effort to make them fit, so that we can preserve our intellectual structures.

It makes much more sense to say it's all autism. The differences are all individual, although obviously some people have more in common. For example, some autistics do not start to speak when their parents have been told it is the normal age for kids to start speaking, while other autistics do start speaking at a "normal" age (but may have atypical "prosody" or tone of voice). In the past, the non-early-speakers would be labeled HFA and the others AS. But I see no reason (based on the people I've "met" online) to believe that early-non-speaking is a sufficient predictor of a person's future. Some non-early-speakers go on to function in a way that parodies "normality" well enough that they will be given the "AS" (i.e., "mild autism") label, while some who did speak on a "normal" schedule will never "grow up" to fulfill the expectations held for them by parents/doctors who believe they aren't "really" autistic ("merely AS") because if they were "really autistic" they wouldn't have been speaking at the age of two.

Autistic individuals are individuals. Our lives cannot be reduced to neat categories. The challenge is to provide the support each person needs (from earliest childhood), not to craft categories of support and withhold support from anyone who can't prove his/her life looks like the list in the textbook.



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