Psychology studies the individual, and sociology studies the group. Social psychology studies the relation between the individual and the group, and for me that’s where all the action is. I study perception and the subjective organization of meaning ...

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Is it possible for someone to be slightly autistic? When we consider autistic perception the consensus today is that we are talking about Autism Spectrum Disorder. That is the mainstream psychiatry/psychology viewpoint. Yet, the question remains. If there is a continuum of autistic perception reaching from the lowest functioning to the highest functioning, is it possible to be kind of on the spectrum? Is it possible to be a little bit on that spectrum, somewhere?

 It is an interesting question for two immediate and obvious reasons. The first reason it is interesting is because most people would probably answer yes, and agree that a person could be slightly autistic. Each of us knows several people who would qualify. It is also interesting because in psychiatry and psychology proper, there is no way to account for that. So, in the simplest way humanly possible, I suggest we consider briefly why the psych professionals cannot do it, and then I suggest we consider why it might be eminently possible to conceive of such a thing as being slightly autistic.

 It comes down to the difference between mainstream and alternative viewpoints, because the means for understanding the reality of slight autism has been a part of social psychology for over 20 years, it simply has not been assimilated into the mainstream yet. Rest assured, one day the white coats will carefully explain the logic of slight autism to curious patients, but these things take time, and the wheels move slowly. In any case, knowing how the world works, it should come as no surprise that some of the best social psychology has yet to see the light of day.

 The reason psychiatry/psychology professionals cannot fully embrace the phenomena of autistic perception is that psychology started out with a view of perception as one thing. For psychologists, it is human perception that looks at the world, and then on the basis of those perceptions, humans decide how to behave. Humans engage the act of perception on a high level of awareness that includes social awareness and awareness of self. Yet, psychology, and psychiatry, always assumed perception was one act of one phenomenon of one experience called the one act of human perception.

 They did what scientists do. They measured and measured. They established the norm. And then they declared that everyone not falling into the zone of normal perception was, of course, abnormal. Now we have abnormal psychology. The real clue here is that psychology has been obsessed with normalcy – almost freakishly so. It is as if psychology has obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to normalcy.

 Next they assembled all the descriptions available for as many kinds of abnormal perception and behavior as they could chronicle, and they proceeded to publish it in a diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders and in so doing framed the official science of psychiatry and abnormal psychology that we have now. By the way, I just scrunched the last 70 years of psychiatry and psychology into one long sentence – so please don’t hang on every word, and don’t take me too literally, I am moving fast here.

 Most recently, regarding autism, the new official category has changed to Autism Spectrum Disorder because they are now recognizing that there is some kind of continuum of autistic perception and it is difficult to always force people into boxes as they did before. There used to be a box for autism, and another box for high functioning autism, and another box for Asperger’s Syndrome, the most highly functioning type of autism. When I began studying autistic perception some 25 years ago, they had just created a box called Pervasive Developmental Disorder … but that deserves a post all by itself.

 Anyhow, now they recognize that you can be low-functioning autistic and live perhaps virtually institutionalized. But, you can also be mid-functioning, high-functioning, and then you can be Asperger’s, which is very high-functioning. But, you can also be kind of in between high-functioning and Asperger’s. There are kids who start out high-functioning and develop into Asperger’s naturally of their own accord – though unscrupulous professionals have lurched to claim credit for cures that were really just feats of such natural development … but that deserves a post all by itself.

 We still have not been able to answer the question about the possibility of being slightly autistic. Even though they widened the strict box-like categories for autism into a spectrum of autistic disorders, they can now account for being in between two boxes, so to speak, but they cannot even begin to account for the idea that someone might be kind of on the spectrum but not diagnosably on it. Yet, almost intuitively, we all know there are plenty of seemingly normal people out there who experience significant challenges with social life. We also know there have been people who were not exactly developmentally disabled or mentally disordered, the hermit or the Gandhi, who had gifts for living apart from normal social life.

~End part 1 - part 2 Thursday~