An Autism Sampler

Let’s take a quick sprint through autism theory together today, shall we? In the real world, I’d be puffing and (internally) cussing at the back, but since it’s a digital run, I’ll bolt off ahead and try to look impressive.

The first causation theories were neurodevelopmental, centering on mental illness and pediatric schizophrenia. The 1950s wrought blame on emotionless mothers. Nifty! I imagine “REFRIGERATOR MOTHER” carefully and geometrically stitched out on a needlepoint sampler. But... not by a mom. Cause it's hard to needlepoint without the use of your middle finger.

To your right, gastro-intestinal theories include leaky gut, bacterial composition of the digestive tract, diet. On the cellular level, mutant mitochondria and chronic cell danger signaling. Immunology, nutrition, vitamin deficiencies, lead poisoning, infection, allergies, inflammation, cortisol, oxidative stress.

To your left, the predominant environmental theory is the combination of vaccines and/or the mercury contained therein. This is an unholy hand grenade: I’m setting it down gently, without pulling the pin, and I'm backing away slowly. We're good, right? Don't egg my house, okay?

On to the grey matter: brain theories include a lack of mirror neurons leading to mindblindness, irregular fusiform face area explaining the disinterest in facial recognition, a whole host of other brain defects, neuroinflammation, and a lack of pruning of the synapses supporting the intense world theory.

So basically it’s just the prenatal environment, the perinatal environment, and the postnatal environment. No big.

A recent hypothesis by researchers at MIT suggests that autism is a disorder of prediction. That children with autism see the world as random and “magical,” instead of logical and orderly. (Does this mean that Roman can't have a dragon for his birthday? Thanks a lot, Dr. Disappointment.)

Discovering the cause[s] of autism[s] is a profoundly important medical and bioethical issue, of course, for the unborn. But for the kiddos who are already here, determining causation colors how we fundamentally think of them and of autism, and it runs the treatment plan gamut from institutionalization to inclusion, spawning all manner of therapies.

But as a cold mom (<--seriously, we live in Maine) who adores the magical thinking of her youngest son on the spectrum, I think I have the most trouble with the disorder-ly aspect of all of these theories. Every single one marks a deficiency or defect in a child, and not a simple difference in neurology or behavior.

Seeing the beauty in autism- that's the trick. Burying the label underneath layers of quirks, routines, patterns, creativity, individuality, happiness, and humor. Reducing it's power to boil a human down to a single word. Because if normal is a social construct, then so is autistic. To quote the Rominator, “we’re just persons, ya know?”


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