Autism: What the books don’t tell you (1)


Over the past couple of months, I have given brief lectures to Social Care and Psychology students on the subject of autism.  Below is part one of my lecture notes. blog - curlicues

There is a vast amount of information about autism available in books and on the internet, so I have decided to talk about three areas which I feel ought to be explored.

The first is this :-

The Autism Triangle of Impairment.  Impairment in the spheres of —


Very neat.  Very catchy.   However, let’s look at it in a little more detail.

If you were to isolate the bottom two categories, Socialisation and Imagination, like this—


You might say Asperger’s.  Impairment in the spheres of socialisation and imagination, perhaps, but frequently able to communicate very effectively.

If you were to isolate another two —


You might say Down Syndrome – impairment in the spheres of communication and imagination, but often highly social.

If you isolate the last two,


Impairment in Communication and Socialisation but with unhindered imagination, you might say, what, full blown Schizophrenic episode? Locked-in syndrome?

My point is simply that according to this theory, only in autism will you get impairment in all three areas.

Let’s look at them more closely.


First off, you cannot tell me that a non-verbal child cannot communicate.  Non-verbal communication is an area of particular interest to me, and something I have spent a lot of time thinking about.  So, ‘Communication’ is the wrong word.  Obviously, we mean speech and language.  In its simplest definition, speech is the ability to form words; language is the ability to use them expressively or symbolically.

For the autistic child, the gap between speech and language can be vast.  The difficulty in leaping from the one to the other cannot be underestimated.  My son Ian has hundreds – possibly thousands – of words in his head and he can speak very effectively and very well, but he seldom uses language.  Bizarrely, if he does use language, he usually uses single words which imply questions, comments or observations, depending upon the surrounding situation. So a certain amount of guesswork might be involved.

And while we’re on the subject of speech, a lot has been said and written about the autistic person using lines from films, instead of using their own words.  As if this is a bad thing.  I don’t know, I think it’s pretty clever.  To take a single line from an entire film and use it, as a one-off – in absolutely perfect context, every time – in everyday life.  I’m not sure I could do it.

Moving on.


Yes.  I’d give this one a tick because there is impairment in socialisation. Definitely.  Autism by its very nature is unsocial.  Nothing makes the autistic child happier than being left to his own devices, in his own space, with his own things, to do as he wants.  That’s not to say he may not come looking for you for a brief moment of connection or help with something he needs, but certainly with our son, generally he’d really rather be alone.


I’m going to dispute the notion that the autistic person has no – or even impaired – imagination, because I’m not convinced.  How do we tell someone’s imaginative?  By the things they say, and the things they create.  And just because you don’t have the means to accurately test it does not mean that my child has impaired imagination.

When I look at Ian’s iPad after he’s spent a while on it, and I go through his Google searches, I might see that he’s been into Google Images, searching under things like ‘Green water splash’ where you will find a series of the most amazing photographs.  Who’s to say that my child isn’t imagining extraordinary things when he looks at these pictures?  Just because he chooses not to tell me about it, or doesn’t express it in his own art, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.


So, having spent some time with our autism triangle of impairment, it now looks like this—


Not quite the same.

My point is this:  Don’t take anything at face value.  Question.  Consider. And use your common sense.


End of part one.

blog - curlicues

2 thoughts on “Autism: What the books don’t tell you (1)

  1. Hello Fiona. I think you are absolutely right about the imagination. In my experience many autistic people have the same amount, if not more imagination than others. I have just read through your four last blog posts. What you write is so important, and I hope the students take it to heart. So much can be won from waiting for an autistic person to respond. Thank you for sharing your lecture here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s