NO TO WORLD ASPERGER'S DAY.

Picture this. You're out doing something one day, when a sudden pain in your chest hinders progress. You go into a doctor's surgery and complain of this, and that doctor, within minutes, calls an ambulance and sends you to hospital. They at first think it's reflux or indigestion, and prepare to send you home. The antacids they give you are not effective, and a few days later, you're doing something and you develop the same pain in your chest, that moves into your shoulder. You go back to the hospital, and this time you are seen by a cardiologist, who says, "Who gave you antacids?" "A doctor in emergency," is your reply. "That'd be right." The cardiologist does an ECG (EKG in the USA) and organises a stress test. You are walking on the treadmill when your heart begins to pound and you feel the same pain in your chest. From there, the doctor decides to perform an angiogram and you have a partial blockage in a coronary artery. A stent is inserted. You are diagnosed with angina. Angina is not the same as a heart attack. Does having angina make you superior to somebody who has had a heart attack? Well, no. Angina doesn't cause the same damage to the heart as a heart attack causes, but again, does needing a stent make you superior to someone who needs a quadruple bypass graft? Again, no. You might be LUCKIER, in that your arteries weren't as badly blocked, and most likely, you'll need to take cholesterol lowing medications, as well as blood pressure medications, long-term, but that doesn't make you superior.

Diagnostic labels for heart patients are one thing (and yes, unstable or untreated angina can increase the risk of a heart attack) but should leveling labels be applied to autistic people? Well, no.

Asperger's Syndrome and Autism may be seen as different things, but Asperger's was merged with autism for a good reason.

Looking at my extended family, my aunty was talking about how my cousin could rock himself in his baby bouncer when he was little. My cousin is autistic, but one thing that has become clear to me after hearing that is how my grandparents, in comparing us, got it wrong. An independent assessor would have been able to say, "You haven't got one grandkid with autism, you've got two. And what we can see here is, one has speech delays but advanced motor skills, while the other had no speech delays but less developed motor skills." Okay, my mother told me the story of how, when I was six days old, as she was walking up the side of the house, I got up on my elbows and looked around. The reasons for that, I'd say, were twofold. One, my parents borrowed the basket from neighbours who had two little girls, and they were smaller babies than I was (I was 22 inches long, which was long for a baby in 1975 and weighed eight pounds, five and a quarter ounces when she brought me home) and my legs were probably cramped up and two, I would have noticed some difference in my surroundings, even at that age. (When my nephew was born last year, he was 3.5kgs and a little over a day old when I held him, and even I could feel him not wanting to be bunched up). I did not crawl until I was 10 months and did not walk until I was 14 and a half months, and my mother later said, when I saw an ad on TV, "When you started to walk, I thought it was about bloody time. I didn't think you'd ever do it." Okay, my brother was crawling before he was six months old and walked at around nine months, but he's neuro-typical.

Just like it can be misleading to classify MS patients, it can be just as misleading to classify autistic people. The most profoundly disabled by the disease are those most noticed, but what people forget is there are several main types of MS, there's relapsing remitting, primary progressive, secondary progressive and a rarer type that also progressive but different. Most people have the relapsing remitting form and this can turn to secondary progressive after a period of around ten to fifteen years. You may see somebody who is only mildly disabled who has a loss of sensation in their feet and loss of vision in one eye, but that does not mean that they don't need support. They may burn themselves in the shower and not be able to feel it. And likewise, when in remission, people may be okay, but when in an episode, may have difficulty getting around.

When you see an autistic person in a room that's the right temperature, with low sensory issues, they might be perfectly okay, but in a high sensory environment, be unable to cope.

I saw something about people shutting down (neuro-typical folks) and I commented that when an autistic person shuts down, it is their brain's way of protecting them.

One thing that annoys me with my mother is that she thinks that autistic people should be able to suppress their autistic traits. Well, what could be further from the truth? An autistic person, if forced to suppress their true selves, is at greater risk of burnout, which is another thing my mother is wilfully ignorant of. She scoffs at any notion of that.

Having a diagnosis of Asperger's is not something that makes you superior, rather it is something that could be reached from being observed in the right environment. Much like consumption is now referred to as tuberculosis, Asperger's is not regarded as part of the autism spectrum and the most important thing to remember is that autism is a spectrum and that people can be at different points on the spectrum at different times and in response to different stimuli.

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Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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Peter Wynn

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.