One of the consequences of Wee Girl’s diagnosis of autism is that it has made me reconsider myself in a new light. While no one really understands what causes autism, it is clear that there is a genetic factor involved. In his 1943 paper Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact, Leo Kanner made some observations about the parents of children with autism which later led to the now discredited theory of the ‘refrigerator mother’ being at the heart of the condition.
‘One other fact stands out prominently. In the whole group, there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers. For the most part, the parents, grandparents, and collaterals are persons strongly preoccupied with abstractions of a scientific, literary, or artistic nature, and limited in genuine interest in people. Even some of the happiest marriages are rather cold and formal affairs.’
From ‘Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact – Leo Kanner
So what’s going on here? It’s possible that these parents may have been part of the Broad Autism Phenotype (or BAP), a term used to describe mild autistic traits in people who do not have autism.
Recently, I have been wondering if I could be part of it. These days I care much less whether other people accept me, but even so I still find social situations hard, often at a loss when it comes to keeping a conversation going or starting one up. Social chit chat with people I hardly know just doesn’t come easy to me; I don’t have the knack.
And there are sensory issues as well. In noisy situations, I find it extremely hard to make out words. I mishear things if people talk too quietly, and I find it very difficult to make out dialogue on the TV. Of course, it could just be because I’m a bit deaf, and that’s what I always assumed, but now I wonder. I have to squint in not-all-that bright sunlight. I get anxious in crowds and places where I am likely to be jostled. And I have a terrible memory for faces.
The Autism Quotient test was designed to test whether adults with autism are just extreme outliers on a spectrum that runs through the general population.
I’ve taken the test three times recently. The first time I scored 14, which is an average score. The second time, thinking more carefully about the questions, I scored 22, which shows autistic tendencies slightly above the population average. The final time I scored 27, which is actually a borderline score for autism itself. The discrepancies lie in how I interpret the questions at any given time. I often find tests like this frustrating, because how I feel about social chitchat, for example, depends an awful lot on the mood I’m in. Still this is meant as a guideline rather than a diagnostic tool.
So what have I learned? Well, for a start to be easier on myself, particularly on those days where I don’t feel much like socialising. It’s also given me a bit of an insight into my daughter’s autism, and more of an understanding of where it has come from and where its roots lie.
Have you taken the test? What’s your autism quotient?