Controversies of Autism Categorization Essay

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When most people think of individuals with autism, they have a general idea that these individuals are strange and are all mentally retarded because they do not interact and behave the same way as someone who is non-autistic. Should autism be categorized as one general unit or a spectrum of different levels? The individuals diagnosed with autism should not be placed under the same general category because this disorder affects each individual at different degrees and should depend on the severity, as well as symptoms. Autistic disorder, or autism, is a severe form of psychopathology evident before the age of 3 years. It is a complex and incurable constellation of bizarre behaviors, impaired cognition, limited language and most distressingly, a lack of responsiveness to other people (Schreibman 2005). Autism is classified into different levels of spectrum which depends on the severity and what exactly affects the diagnosed patient as far as abilities and specific skills.

Temple Grandin is a professor, author and animal behavior consultant with a PH.D in animal science and works in the cattle ranch industry designing chutes and slaughterhouses to help reduce animal stress and smooth the process of animal slaughter. She also has high-functioning autism which is a form of autism without mental retardation, but with a clear delay or impairment of language acquisition at an early stage in development (Notardaeme, Wriedt, Hohne 2009). In her essay Thinking in Pictures, she discusses how her advanced visualization abilities have helped her throughout her life, especially during school and in her career. Early in her essay she says that one of the most profound mysteries of autism has been the remarkable ability of most autistic people to excel at visual spatial skills while performing so poorly at verbal skills (Grandin 648). Her idea that her video library (649), as she refers to it, helped her tremendously as a child and especially now as an adult because Grandin did not begin to talk until after the age of 6 years accompanied with two years of speech therapy.

What makes me look up to Grandin the most is that one would never guess she had autism unless she told you herself. Grandin, luckily, was not affected by all of the common symptoms of autism; only in how she assimilates information. She is still able to function in society and work in her desired career which not most autistic children get to accomplish. Grandins thought process requires a little bit more work than a non-autistic one, but that did not stop her from accomplishing her goals as an animal science engineer. She has used her visualization abilities and imagination to her advantage. My favorite idea in her essay was her symbolic use of doors and gates as a metaphor to describe the phases and transitions in her life. Every time she was about to enter a new phase of her life, such as the transition from high school to college, she would find a door that she found unique and would walk through it many times. To her, this was a method to help symbolize change.

She states she had found her symbolic key (Grandin p. 657). In contrast, a personal example of mine is my niece, Kaylin, who was diagnosed with autistic disorder at the age of three. When she was born, she was a normal healthy baby girl. By the age of one, she would blurt out random words and phrases, initiate a simple conversation with someone and also attempting to walk on her own. Her parents nicknamed her the baby Einstein of the family because of her ability to communicate so well by either saying what she wanted through the use of phrases or by just simply pointing to the object that she wanted. She was also able to pick up things extremely quick. She was like a little parrot, just wanting to absorb and repeat everything so you had to be careful of what you said around her as well. However, things with Kaylin began to change around the age of two, shortly after she was hit with a period of high fevers and temper tantrums.

Her communication skills started to regress suddenly and she did not want to walk anymore. Her responsiveness to people decreased dramatically. At times, when one would try to speak with her, it was as if the person wasnt even there. Kaylin was in her own little world. She was then taken to see the doctor after another fever scare that worsened her condition mentally. The doctor referred her to go to a child psychologist where she was observed by various people such as speech therapists and other psychologists. After a few months of observation sessions and interactions with experts, her parents received the unfortunate news that Kaylin was autistic and that her speech and communication skills were only going to get worse. Over the years, Kaylin only got worse and mentally, she deteriorated. Today, Kaylin is eight years old and is incontinent. She cannot do anything for herself and gradually lost the ability to control when she goes to the bathroom. She does not communicate verbally and often utters random sounds such as Eek and Boo. It saddens me to know that the once intelligent and talkative toddler has her whole life ahead of her and she has to live it this way.

I compare Grandin and Kaylin to each other to show the differences of each of their conditions. Grandin, whos on the opposite end of the spectrum, has very diverse symptoms when compared to my niece. She is able to function normally by communicating with others verbally, while Kaylin on the other hand, is diaper-ridden for the rest of her life and has mental retardation. Furthermore, in Lisa D. Benarons book Biographies of Disease: Autism, she discusses the controversies of the autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and gives examples of different kinds of autism and of those examples being Grandin. The four diagnostic labels described is Autistic disorder (autism), high-functioning autism (HFA), Aspergers syndrome (AS), and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). For someone learning about the autism spectrum for the first time, they would assume that these labels are all completely different disorders.

However, they are not and much more variants of the general autistic spectrum disorder just with different symptoms and long-term effects. Instead of helping to make the autistic spectrum more understandable, the division into separate diagnostic categories has obscured the interconnectedness of these related disorders, creating the appearance of solid border between conditions (Benaron 2009). This excerpt in the authors introduction helps bring forth my idea that the various levels of autism should be classified into different categories. While the author seems to disagree with the division, I think the complete opposite. Although I may not be an expert in the field of autism, I believe the division of the disorders helps give a person an understanding of the severities of each disorder and what makes each one different with its specific symptoms. However, what someone has to understand is that there is interconnectedness between these related disorders.

They are all sub-units of the general disorder which is autism, but each has their own unique set of symptoms and long-term effects. For example, at one end of the spectrum, individuals are severely affected by their deficits such as significant cognitive and speech delays, such as autistic disorder and PDD-NOS. At the other end of the spectrum are individuals with similar characteristics to classic autism but display low-average to above-average cognitive abilities and more typical language abilities, at least superficially, such as Aspergers syndrome and high-functioning autism (Palmer 2010). Classifying the unique symptoms of each disorder helps give a better understanding of the various categories of autism itself. This detailed spectrum of the disorders also helps doctors and psychologists give more specific diagnoses when evaluating a patient who possess specific symptoms.

Works Cited

Noterdaeme, Michele, Elke Wriedt, and Christian H¶hne. Aspergers Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: Language, Motor and Cognitive Profiles. European child & adolescent psychiatry 19.6 (2010): 475-81. ABI/INFORM Complete; Banking Information Source; Hoovers Company Profiles; ProQuest Central. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.

Palmer, Jackie. Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism And the General Education Classroom: Best Known Teaching Strategies. Diss. The Evergreen State College, 2010.
Benaron, Lisa D. Autism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2009. Print.
Schreibman, Laura. The Science and Fiction of Autism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. Print

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