Another #autistic use for the DSM-V

old bookI’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how we define autism and whether that is even accurate. I’ve talked before about how mainstream society seems to think that the symptoms of our autistic distress actually constitute autism. That’s just plain wrong, as far as I’m concerned.

I consider autism itself to be a distinct neurotype, which has been very well-concealed over the aeons, because societies in the past provided ways for all members of a community to contribute according to pre-set guidelines. As we have seen those “exoskeletons” of social conventions dissolve, our “endoskeletons” of individual identity – our strengths and weaknesses, our diagnosed conditions and disorders – have become increasingly pronounced, to replace the social exoskeletons of customs and conventions which used to define where our relative strengths and weaknesses lay.

Of course, within the context of considering autism a distinct and commonly occurring neurotype (rather than anomalous disorder), the question comes up about what purposes the DSM-V actually serves. That manual of diagnostic conventions, so useful when it comes to insurance billing and so revered when it comes to identifying issues that need to be addressed, effectively pathologizes autism as a disorder, rather than identifying it as a specific aspect of the human condition.

Of course, getting rid of the DSM and or removing autism from its listing, has a slim-to-none chance of happening. But if we’re stuck with it (for the time being – after all, homosexuality was eventually stricken from that record) might there not be another practical use for that manual? Might it not actually come in handy in certain ways?

From where I’m sitting, on this bright snowy morning, 40 miles west of Boston, Massachusetts, it seems to me that the DSM and the degree to which artistic people “meet the criteria” can actually help to determine where society itself is breaking down in regards to its treatment of its autistic members.

If we consider that problematic behavior is actually a symptom of individual distress in the face of essentially mutable conditions, rather than a sign of permanent personal dysfunction, we can measure the degree of the different criteria and how they occur in an individual to identify where the community at large is failing them.

If extreme sensitivities are noted, that could indicate a heightened degree of environmental stress, whether from noxious scents, chemical excess, or extreme social pressure that is completely inappropriate for that individual’s personality and innate tendencies.

If repetitive or stereotypical behavior is noted, it could also indicate heightened degrees of stress, which require some sort of adaptive or relief-oriented behavior (stimming), to offset the impact.

If lack of eye contact is noted, that can actually indicate hyperfunctionality in terms of processing information, where the individual is actually focusing intently on the subject at hand, rather than engaging in the social back-and-forth of eye contact, expressly so that they can reply effectively and appropriately. The more eye contact is noted as a deficit, the more it’s an indicator of needed training by the person who’s complaining about that behavior. They need to be educated about what goes on when we are not looking them in the eye, and their anxiety around that behavior (which keeps them from dealing effectively with us) needs to be dealt with.

That is to say, they need to deal with it, not put the onus of that effort on us.

All in all, I think that autism shows up much less as a disorder, when you’re in the company of like-minded people with  comparable neurotypes. Within the company of your autism spectrum peers, you’re not going to be considered dysfunctional or disordered – unless your behavior wanders into the fringes and disrupts community interactions and cohesiveness.

All in all, I think that including autism in the DSM-V is problematic, but since it’s already there, and since there is almost no chance of it actually being removed in the near future, we might as well make use of that.

It may be grasping at proverbial straws… but until things change for the better, and autistic people are relieved of the stigma and drama around the official definitions of “autism”, we might just be able to wring some benefit from that sodden rag of medically induced hubris, after all.

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12 thoughts on “Another #autistic use for the DSM-V

  1. Funny how much the communication styles change between the generations.
    Older people seem to like talking on the phone more than the younger ones.
    The younger ones are generally more comfortable with keyboard and computers than in face to face weird social interactions. And even then, the amount and type and style of socially expected eye contact depends on culture. in USA a lot of eye contact is expected, not a fun place to be an aspie. But as the internet natives grow up hopefully there will be some change.
    On the same time as social fabrics of how people are supposed to behave have loosened, we also got all those super HD TVs and people are just so visual… I’m afraid it also means that while some “computer user” aspieness is more tolerated, on the same time people watch TV and movies and then start to express themselves similarly, and stigmatize those who don’t. When I discovered audio described movies. I was really surprised that people’s facial expressions and body language were described. I had missed quite a lot of detail apparently (and can only guess all the missed visual cues and tones of voice I miss in face to face communication).
    Can’t wait for the day when communication style differences aren’t pathologized. When autism is no longer tried to be cured at all cost but just an OK variability of being a human. I keep thinking of how things like being homosexual was listed as a mental illness in DSM (until as recently as 1973, and there is still still gender dysphoria listed). And before that, left-handedness was seen as a problem. Sigh…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks very much. Yeah, the endo/exoskeleton analogy really fits well for me — the difference between the external supports for our lives, versus the internal characteristics. We need to get our identity from somewhere, so when the classic institutions fall down, we have to define ourselves in some way, by some measures. Nowadays, those come from within.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. VisualVox

      Ah, misophonia… Nothing like a little rage to go with the sensitivities. I sometimes get overwrought at certain sounds, but I’ve learned how to keep stoic around them. It goes over better with the folks around me, than flipping out. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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    Reblogged this on the silent wave and commented:

    This is such a fantastic post that it’s not even funny. (Except that it’s so much even-cooler than, that I’m grinning again.) 😉

    I agree with every. Single. Word.

    I, too, would like to see autism be stricken from the DSM, as autism is not in itself a mental disorder. As the lovely Aspie Under Your Radar says, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, although “homosexuality” was indeed stricken, after it, too, was recognized not to be a mental illness. (Thank god(dess)!)

    Anyway, I love how this post advocates the reframing of pathological language into proactive positives and down-to-earth matter-of-factness. The whole post is awesome, and if you’re not following this blog already, I definitely recommend doing so! Lots of good information on here, regular posts, all well-written 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Ah, thanks very much! High praise 🙂

      Seriously, I think we should issue an updated version for the DSM-VI — do their work for them, so they can spend their time otherwise. Leave us autistic folks alone. We’ve got this.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Another #autistic use for the DSM-V – The Ramblings of Bob Christian,

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