DSM-5 and Autism: Development and Course part 3

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Autism and the DSM 5: Part 9: Development and Course: Part 3

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17 responses to this post.

  1. I think it’s really valuable to read how you relate your own experiences to the DSM criteria. Maybe it’s my visual brain, but I always need specific examples to be able to relate to things. I’ve actually done some really good work in that area, helping more “intellectual”, theoretically based friends explain concepts and thoughts to the larger public (or even get their bosses on board at work).

    However, my experiences do differ from yours. I was considered to be a highly imaginative child. I was always making up stories. A lot of those were based on some knowledge I gained somewhere (like that one time I told a really scary story about tarantulas hiding in banana shipments to a bunch of kids who were a lot younger than me and got told off for not being age-appropriate, I think I was 8 at the time). But I did embroider and branch out on ideas I thought were interesting. Come to think of it, I made up a lot of social stories for myself. Like how my bear was feeling protective of other smaller bears and it made him angry to see them mistreated.

    Anyway. I had imagination. Lots of it. Cynthia’s blog post outlines the differences between spontaneous and controlled imagination and I definitely fall into the spontaneous category. Although… whenever I have sudden inspiration, I can always reason it back to where it originated. I’m not aware of following the steps while I’m doing it, but it’s NEVER out of nowhere.

    I’m just not sure. I don’t want to have imagination if that makes people think I’m not autistic. I just look at my childhood and see all those things that were just me being me and I was so happy as a child and it wasn’t a problem at all. And I don’t want that to be the determining factor.

    • I marvel at spontaneous imagination and wonder what it must feel like to have a lot of it. It almost seems like it could be frightening, like being possessed in a way. Those ideas coming instantly, fully formed, out of nowhere? It is very mysterious and magical to me and sound a lot like having drug-induced hallucinations or something. It’s an alien concept to me.

      I have sometimes written fiction, but it’s always carefully constructed and takes a very long time to write. I’ve heard fiction writers talk about hitting a point in the story where the characters just “take over” and the story “writes itself.” That is a bizarre concept and something that has never happened to me. The characters in my stories never stop being made-up things I invented (which is probably why my fiction is not stellar and takes so long for me to write.)

      I don’t have much spontaneous imagination at all, but I don’t think that’s an autism thing; I think it’s more of an alexithymia thing. And while 75% of Autistics have some degree of alexithymia, it’s not universal or defining and a person can have tons of spontaneous imagination and still be quite Autistic. It’s just a less common way for autism to manifest, that’s all.

      • It might be an unrelated thing as well… because I score really high on alexithymia. I always have to guess at my feelings. Usually I just pick a random emotion word that sort of fits the main three emotion groups… well, for me it’s three: anger, sadness, happiness. I sort of know intellectually where other emotion words fit, but I don’t know how they feel inside of me.

      • With regards to feelings… this is an interesting list from the Center for Nonviolent Communication. I already have trouble distinguishing most of the main “feel” categories. The subsets? Not a chance. http://www.cnvc.org/sites/cnvc.org/files/feelings_inventory.pdf

        And yet I am highly imaginative. I can see your point about it feeling frightening in a way. Like, “Where did that come from? What does my brain do when I’m not paying attention to it? Can I make this stop?” But I also like my brain doing that. It’s like having a second person in the conversation. I think something and my brain gives me feedback. Or my brain gets a sudden idea and I think it through and tell my brain it’s being nonsensical. That sounds a bit effed up but it’s fun being weird. :D

    • I am very high on imagination too, and especially was as a child… and definitely had a lot of spontaneous imagination. Being creative and making stories was sort of my niche.

      My rich imagination is one of the reasons I initially ruled out Aspergers, because I had heard about the “impaired imagination” bit.

      My fictive creations were quite repetitive, like essentially the same daydreams over and over with little variation; and the same basic play set-up just varying the animal & facility type (e.g. riding school, zoo or dog pound but structured the same way); or the same story pattern recurring through many stories; e.g. entry through a furniture to a fictive fantasy world followed by a long journey through the fictive landscape with indexing of the made-on-the-go flora & fauna in the appendix…

      The set-up was inspired by the Narnia series and some other books … ;-)

      Anyway, so my favourite fantasy themes were recycled a lot, but they were not copies.

  2. LoL, I took those two tests and scored high in every area on the alexythemia and scored the lowest score possible on the imagination scale.

    I have no idea about my early childhood either, at least before preschool. I have very little memory before 7 at all, and my mother doesn’t seem to remember anything at all either, every time I ask questions I get an “I don’t know” from her. It’s very frustrating.

    • I totally remember my childhood, crystal clear, back at least to age 2, maybe earlier. But I have no way of knowing if my behavior was strange or not because there was just me and my brother, not tons of other kids around to compare us to.

  3. Like you, I inserted myself into existing stories or repeated the same play experiences over and over like acting out a prewritten scene. I didn’t realize how unusual this was until my husband described some of his childhood play fantasies and I discovered that he’d created entire worlds in his head that played out like everchanging movies.

    I think I fall somewhere in the middle as an adult when it comes to imagination. I love writing fiction but it’s very much grounded in realism and the main or POV character is always autistic in nature.

    • I wonder if this is one reason why so many Autistics end up in acting? Besides the life-long practice in trying to “pass as normal” that leads us to study human behavior very carefully, this sort of re-enactment childhood play really lends itself to professional acting as an adult.

  4. I’m not very imaginative. I do have some imagination, but not a lot of it.

    Case in point: I had a couple stuffed animals I liked as a kid. One was a dog. It’s “name”? Puppy. I had a stuffed tiger, too. I called it Tiger.

    When my parents got a real dog, I wanted to call it Dog. XD

    • When I was a kid, I had a stuffed koala named “Koala” and a stuffed moneky named “Cherry Pie”. I guess I’m a little bit country and a little rock n’ roll.

  5. I don’t recall my childhood as being strange. Like you it was mostly me and my (younger) brother. Other kids around were friends of my brother; sometimes I tagged along, more often I would play on my own. I carried the “shy” label from very early on, and, besides not knowing how to approach them, I was never much interested in being a part of groups of kids with whom I had little or nothing in common. I had an obsession with Lego, later it was programming. My few friends in my teens were all fellow computer nerds and we just used to talk about computers and programming.

    I had no language delays as far as I know: I was hyperlexic, and my writing has always been well regarded. As for speech, I do know that I had unusual vocal modulation: unusual rhythm and very soft-spoken. (I still get told I’m very quiet!) Most of the time I say very little unless the subject is one I’m interested in when I monologue.

    I have a strong interest in reading fiction but almost no ability to create it except by synthesizing it from elements I have encountered elsewhere. I cannot recall ever imagining myself in these scenarios: it was more like replaying stories from memory. However, writing non-fiction, especially when it’s autobiographical, does feel like it “writes itself”.

    I scored very low (24) on the TFIS which indicates strongly that my imagination is controlled, not spontaneous. I also score high on the alexithymia test in all categories (total score 175).

    • “However, writing non-fiction, especially when it’s autobiographical, does feel like it “writes itself”.”

      I’m the same way! I really shine at writing non-fiction, especially things that loosely fit in the how-to genre and anything autobiographical. It really does just flow out of my fingers like water. I feel very lucky to hate that ability, even though I would really like to also be able to write fiction quickly and well.

  6. For me, this subject of types of imagination immediately brought to mind a Philosophy of Art course that I took while studying Art History at Penn State back in the mid 80s. I can’t find my old text book (it was written by the professor) and I can’t even recall the prof’s name, but the course had an impact on me in that it sparked a lifelong love of all things philosophical in general.

    Anyway, from what I recall of the course, the conclusion was kind of like: Art is man’s attempt to control elements of nature. Again, I wish I could recall the textbook and/or the prof’s words, but the gist of was that any attempts by any human to take basic elements – in all kinds of various dimensions and media (2D, 3D, sound, visual, etc etc) and combine them in ways that creates something new, something that has ability to communicate in self-expression or to others (the more impact and influence on others, the commerically successful the “art” is.

    So where I’m going with all that is regarding those daydreams (where you put yourself on Gilligan’s Island and I put myself in a Little House On The Prairie situation). I think this is still creativity and art here (and yes, imagination!) We just borrowed heavily from existing art. True, we’d run into all kinds of copyright infringements if we tried to market those stories… I guess the fanfic crowd adds just enough new elements or dimensions to the original narratives that they can get away with it. In my daydreams hanging out with Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson, I gave myself some snappy new dialogue that I hadn’t heard on the show and I would add plot twists that allowed me to include characters for my best friends and maybe Sean Cassidy could replace Almanzo because I thought he was cuter etc. I look back on that, and I really don’t see how it was any less creative or imaginative than anything my peers were doing at the time. But then, we didn’t compare notes on our daydreams all the time. I didn’t notice any of them doing anything particularly significant as far as being mindblowingly creative or original that ever made me feel like I was lacking in my own originality. There were a few kids who lead the way with creative fashion trends maybe… I was a little jealous of that talent.

    I guess I never really thought to try and quantify creativity or imagination – it just doesn’t lend itself well to measurement or standards to me — which is why education accountability freaks me out these days. Standards are squashing a lot of creativity and imagination in our children.

    There’s also a whole issue over defining “craftsmanship” vs. “art” as well. I guess this could be where one has to legally draw the line between the originality and the well-crafted copycat. Didn’t J.K.Rowling run into a few folks claiming her Harry Potter stories borrowed too heavily from their work? Even if it were proven that the plots were very similar, who would deny the finely crafted story and elaborate characer development she created as not being something original and imaginative? Her work made that breakthrough to capturing the masses attention and communicating with others better than the predecessors… just like our modified TV show daydreams connected better with the audience that was just ourselves. (Okay, didn’t Woody Allen explore this a little though with his film, Purple Rose of Cairo?)

    You said: “Although… whenever I have sudden inspiration, I can always reason it back to where it originated. I’m not aware of following the steps while I’m doing it, but it’s NEVER out of nowhere.”

    So by “out of nowhere” do you mean some folks are better at working with the more basic elements in nature? and maybe some are better at building on existing ideas and concepts? I think you may deserve more credit than you give yourself for just bringing up that question alone! Good juicy topic! thanks for bringing it up!

  7. ^^^ oops, I mixed up who said what – Austicook was talking about the “out of nowhere” part, not UnstrangeMind. Man, I gotta get with the program. Please excuse me!

    • Yeah I’m the out of nowhere gal. :P

      One really interesting autistic genderqueer perspective I’ve read on the concept of creation lately has been on http://plantingrainbows.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/breishit-the-divine-act-of-self-creation/.

      “I, a trans woman, certainly existed before I chose to transition. When I chose to transition, it certainly involved physical and medical changes to my body. This is yetzirah creation: formation out of existing material, changing its shape, changing its essence. But that kind of creation was incomplete, and the person that I am now—the “I” that I really mean when I say “I”—was brought into existence because I declared her to exist. I created my name by declaring it; I created my gender through speech and sign. In order to exist, I had to create myself.

      And that creation is an ongoing act. It is a holy act, a Godly act. It is the act of b’riyah, creation by a Divine force, requiring nothing more than the act of declaring it so. Both of these creations are what it takes to make a self. Both kinds of creation are necessary in the world.”

      Your comments about art made me think of that. It’s very much rooted in the romantic ideal. Creation is of God, of nature. Man can only recreate through art.

      • “Man can only recreate through art.”

        I like that!

        and I guess Descartes sort of put his twist on “declaring” one’s self into existence by reducing it back to just “thinking” into existence: cogito ergo sum “I think therefore I am.”
        and Popeye says “I yam what I yam…”
        and Ke$ha declares “We R Who We R”

        it’s a popular theme that keeps recurring.

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