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what is autism?

The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable […]

The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.

(Please read the complete article here – it is the best brief introduction to autism that I have ever come across.)

I want to be careful about oversharing sensitive aspects of Rondel’s life, so I’m not going to list specific examples here, but I will say that this description makes so much sense in understanding him – his reactions to stimuli, his emotional swings, his physical being and course of development. What is more, it gives me that understanding without making him seem broken or deficient: he is simply different. His differences may mean that he requires extra support and accommodations in a world designed for people whose minds don’t work quite like his, but they don’t mean that he needs to be fixed or changed. He is who he is. He is beautiful the way he is. And I love him for who he is, without changing anything.

(In case anyone was wondering, we don’t have a diagnosis for Rondel right now, but in seeking to understand and support him we have found that a lot of resources aimed at autistic individuals are quite helpful for him, and descriptions like this one in particular lead me to believe that he could most likely qualify for an official diagnosis under the (very pathologizing and depressing) terms of the DSM. So while the very long diagnostic process is underway, we’re going with “suspected autism” over here, per his pediatrician.)

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