In the August edition of The Psychologist an article discussing autism in women quoted Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’ to encourage those diagnosed with autism to not let their challenges stand in the way of them fulfilling whatever they want to do, which I liked:
“Water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away at stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does”.
This is cited to highlight how with autism if you cannot go the neurotypjcal route, find your own route. Understand that your obsessive attention to detail is a great strength that will enable you to excel at many things. But also understand your challenges as this will help you to mitigate them, so that they don’t have to stand in the way of your future. I worked with someone diagnosed with autism who thought speaking in public would be impossible due to her difficulty with social interactions and communicating and having been told so often what she could and couldn’t do. However, she presented at a conference and captivated the audience, something that she never thought she was capable of and I certainly could not have done. Eloise Stark, the author of the article mentioned above also described how she will strive to become a clinical psychologist despite people’s beliefs about her ability for social skills and Theory of Mind and I hope this acts as motivation and inspiration to others.
Take autistic inertia, this is resistance to change in state, so starting something or stopping something. This is core to the difficulties that people with autism face, but as Fergus Murray highlights in his support for the theory of monotropism in autism, it’s also immensely valuable. Similarly, the description of ‘restricted interests’ is often used, but taking the stance of monotropism that rests on the idea of an ‘interest system’, we are all interested in things which help to direct our attention and certain interests will be more or less salient at different times. In a monotropic autistic mind, less interests are activated at one time and take more processing resources, so it is difficult to cope with things outside of where the attention is currently directed, but this can be seen as ‘focused interests’. It is true that autistic individuals are strongly pulled by their interests compared with most people, but just because one cannot fathom their failure to be interested in things that are similar to or important to one’s own interests, doesn’t mean that they should be called ‘restricted interests’. This is a huge asset in so many fields where intense focus is indispensable – maths, science, technology, philosophy, music etc and workplaces and schools should facilitate this being celebrated and meet each individual where they are at and explore, engage with and harness their passions, rather that just trying to pull the individual out of what’s important to them. It’s important not to pathologise ‘special interests’ and much of autistic behaviour is an attempt to bring back equilibrium. Needing stability is vital in autism as not feeling understood, being surprised by the actions of others’, being monotropic in a polytropic environment, and being pulled out of an attention tunnel is severely destabilising. As such, maintaining stability, enabling a sense of being in control which self-orchestrated routines often assist and minimising mental overload is key.