The nature of the beast

Although the causes for autism are not known, it’s common to think that the condition is genetic, and therefore lifelong. For higher functioning autistics – like those with Asperger’s – the symptoms can be dealt with by learning coping strategies. This doesn’t mean we’re no longer Aspies, it just means we adapt to the impairment in the same way an amputee might learn to chop vegetables with their foot.

Today, I read an article that reported on scientific research which seemed to indicate that, in some cases, autism could diminish over time to such an extent that the diagnosis can be reversed. In other words, some people can grow out of it. Does this mean autism has nothing to do with our genes? Is it really not as fixed as we thought?

Our rich tapestry

I’ve also been reading about epigenetics – a relatively new way of looking at the interplay between genes and the environment. The previously held conviction that ‘genes are fixed’ is falling down and they have been shown to be affected by environmental factors such as diet and parenting. So, even if autism is controlled partly or primarily by our genes, it shouldn’t surprise us to find out that the outcome can change.

Equally, since autism is experienced as a spectrum ‘disorder’, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to think that there are some people who are very close to the highest end of that spectrum, and that it might be possible to make a leap into the land of the neurotypical.

For those lower down the spectrum, those who struggle more with the basics of life such as having a career and living independently, the picture seems less hopeful. But becoming neurotypical shouldn’t be a goal for anyone. Life isn’t just hard for those on the spectrum – everybody gets tested and everybody has problems to deal with.

If we all coped the same way and followed the same patterns then what would be the point?

Forget normal

I don’t care that it might be possible to one day fall out of autism and into ‘normal’. What matters to me is knowing that I can cope with what I have and that others on the spectrum can also make improvements and change their lives for the better. Not with the aim of becoming normal, but simply to live their lives in a way that makes them happy.

Further reading

You can read the news article on growing out of autism here.

For more information on epigenetics, the book I’m reading is this.

For more on what I think about ‘normal’, check out why normal can eat my shorts.

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