What is #autistic “Essence”?

New Triad for Alternative Autism Aspergers profile
What we are (Essence)… What we Experience in the privacy of our own minds/bodies… How we are in the world (Expression)

For the ASD profile builder I’m working on, I need super-categories to group the categories and sub-categories into meaningful groups. There are over 650 distinct rows in my spreadsheet that I’ve pulled from a number of different Autism/Aspie quizzes and self-assessments. I’m sure there are others out there, but for Phase I, I’m maxed out at the 600+ number. And that will surely change, as I de-dupe, etc.

To make them easier to work with and aid understanding, I’ve decided to divide all these traits and qualities three ways:

  • How we are, in and of ourselves,
  • How we experience our lives, and
  • How we interact with the world around us.

To me, these seem to be the three main components of ASD life.

First, there’s our “wiring”, our individual makeup, our “essence“, if you will. Each and every one of us has our own essence, our own unique constellation of attributes and traits, propensities, abilities, and deficits. No two autistic individuals are alike, and someone did raise the issue about my choice of words. “Essence” may seem a bit too much like a blanket term — as though I’m saying ALL people on the autistic spectrum have these qualities in common.

My good friend Google tells me Essence is

the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.

Some synonyms are: quintessence, soul, spirit, nature; core, heart, crux, nucleus, substance; principle, fundamental quality, sum and substance, warp and woof, reality, actuality

In philosophy, Essence is “a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is.

I think it’s fair to say that without my inherent “properties”, my Aspergian nature would not in fact exist… or be what it is. So, while the word does feel… a little clunky, I think I’ll stick with it for the time being.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we are each of us unique and individual, and our personalities will likely vary over time, as well. We can change, from situation to situation, from age to age. Time has a way of changing us, and circumstances will shape us, as well.

At the same time, I believe there are principles that hold true for our autistic experience. We are wired differently from the neurotypical population. Regardless of how you think that happens, it’s clear that we do indeed stand out by our very natures. And while some would seek to “cure” us or train us to conform to the standards of the NT world, even they cannot dispute the fact of our difference. Our essential difference.

Within our Essence, I’ve identified the following categories that apply to the set of attributes I consider essential to autism:

  1. Cognitive / Intellectual Variability
  2. Executive Functioning & Motor Skills
  3. Hyperactive
  4. Innocent
  5. Innocent
  6. Literal thinking
  7. Patterns Orientation
  8. Personality
  9. Physical Appearance
  10. Physiology / Neurology
  11. Sixth Sense, Intuition, Psychic Abilities
  12. Spatial Sense
  13. Thinking Styles
  14. Unique Abilities And Strengths

I’m no Ph.D-packing academic, but I do know data – and just looking through all the classifications that have already been laid out, and finding cross-sections, this is what’s emerged. Each of these categories has subcategories, as well. I’ll be blogging about them as I go on — and it’s probably going to take me a good long while to work my way through it, but it will happen, I’m sure.

These qualities, these traits, I consider hallmarks of autism — within the conceptual container of each of them, we can find hints and clues and guidance about perhaps the most important and elusive (and controversially fraught) aspect of autism: What makes us what we are?

When we come to understand that, it can open the door to incredible revelation that’s soul-soothing and feels like coming home. At last.

It can shed needed light on our situation for those who seek to better understand and help us live our lives more effectively and more happily.

Or it can pave the way for researchers and healthcare providers who seek to change us and find some pharmaceutical or genomic “solution” to the problems we pose to society.

It can really do anything we want it to. That’s the potential and the problem of powerful insights — In the wrong hands, it can be used to do some real damage that lasts for years… even generations… while in the right hands, when used for good, it can help create moments of heaven on earth.

For me, the question of Autistic Essence is an important one. It’s the parts of me that are non-negotiable in the world. It’s the parts of me that I have to accept and deal with, as me-being-me, as the proverbial hand of cards that life has dealt me. It’s the subtext for my life, the contextual background against which I live my life.

This is important information to factor in. It’s as important as an advance weather report as you’re planning your week of vacation. Acknowledging my weaknesses is not “giving in” to them. It’s factoring them in, just as I would do with a forecast that calls for cold temperatures and rain showers along the coast, but sunny skies inland. And as much as I’d love to say, “But I can make my life any way I please!” if I don’t factor in the elements of my individual essential nature, I’m just asking for trouble. I might as well pack the family into the minivan and drive to the beach during hurrican season?

Who does that? Nobody in their right mind —  not if they know about things in advance.

And where many self-help and self-development people portray our lives as a sort of cinematic green screen against which we can live any dreams we desire, given the right combination of determination, vision, and perseverance, autism takes away the green screen and puts a certain background in place. Each of us on the spectrum has our own background — some of us have “The Princess Bride”. Some of us have LotR. Some of us have “Star Trek” (the original series), while others have “Deep Space Nine” or “Next Generation”. Some of us have a flowering garden as a backdrop, and others have a jungle filled with species just waiting to be discovered and categorized. Others of us switch in and out of backgrounds, as our energy and external demands impose their limits.

But whatever the context, whatever the background, the fact is, we all have one. And the dream of the blank-slate “green screen” where we can project our version of reality any way we choose, is simply not a reality for so many of us.

By calling out “Essence” as a key component of the autistic experience, I hope to explore more deeply those things which make us who and how we are… not simply look at the resultant effects, which seem to be the main focus of so much autism work and research.

There’s a reason we are the way we are. There are a million different little reasons, varying widely all across the spectrum, as well as within ourselves from time to time, from situation to situation. There is no set formula for us. There is no stationary target to aim for.

In Essence, that is both our greatest confounding factor. And it’s also our greatest strength.


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