Amanda Baggs released a video on YouTube showing her autistic ritual, In My Language, that made scientists re-think autism and what autistic people are capable of doing.
Wired has a fascinating story about Baggs, what living in an autistic world is like, and why scientists are re-thinking what they think they know about autism:
The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who's shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?
But then the words "A Translation" appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn't speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what's going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a "constant conversation" with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her "native language," Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people's failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.
And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point.
Link (with the famous video clip) - via Mind Hacks
Actually, with better studies, neurologists are starting to do diagnoses. There are definite structural differences in the brain and even the skull. The sooner diagnosis and treatment is removed from psychologists and psychiatrists to neurologists the better is will be for these people.
And has been noted above, ASD is a "spectrum" disorder. There is a huge range, from someone with fairly mild Asperger's, who passes fairly easily, to people like Amanda, who cannot function.
One of the main differences between "neurotypicals" and people on the spectrum is that austistics do not have as many mirror cells in the brain. Mirror cells are the cells that cause people to copy other people's behavior. This is what causes the difficulty with social skills, as austistics do not automatically copy the behavior of others, but have to learn social skills, just as they learn to read or do math. It takes them longer, and sometimes the difficulty of it is beyond the those on the far end of the spectrum. However, it also keeps them from devolving into mob behaviors common among neurotypicals, as they don't automatically start doing what everyone else is doing.
Another issue is there seem to be additional difficulties with sounds and lights, that most people are comfortable with, being too loud or bright for them, or causing reactions akin to synesthesia.
Some autistics would like to be normal. Some would not. Some enjoy the differences, and it does have its gifts. Most technical and scientific development would not have occurred without people on the spectrum. It can cause an ability to focus that allows someone to spend years on a problem. It also allows them to approach a problem from a completely different direction.
I don't know Amanda. She has met with medical doctors from different news programs who seem to accept the diagnosis. However, she is not the only non-speaking autistic who is blogging. She is the one who is appearing on these news programs. Check out YouTube. There are plenty of other videos there by other autistics.
I have seen her on TV before and thought- wow, this is very cool to be able to hear her communicate, and it also validated my beleif that people with autisim are not necisarrily low IQ.
However look into it a little more. There are a lot of people (autistic included) saying she is actually faking autisim- and since it is diagnosed behaviorally and not chemically- this is not a hard sell.
What is the evidence- her own words. She has diagnosed herself with everything from OCD, PTSD, Schizophrenia, and now autism. There are some damning comments about her choosing to become non-verbal, and basically choosing "autism".
I'm not sure what I beleive. I still like her message though.
I work with a person with Downs Syndrome and he's a great guy and we do have to accept him, but in the same way the reason he has a good job is that he knows that certain behavior he wants to do is unacceptable- like hugging. So we see him sometimes get really excited and lunge and stop himself from hugging people and straighten his tie and act more like the rest of society.
If she wants to be accepted, she must recognize that acceptance comes with communication. By the 1970s people knew that autism was not a sign of mental retardation, so throughout my entire adult life this has been public knowledge. I don't know people who think automatically than an autistic person isn't intelligent, I think the average person believes that the autistic person is incomprehensible. I'm glad she has accepted that the only way for people to understand autism is to speak our language, to become comprehensible. If she was more educated then she'd know that this battle to communicate minority interests to the vast majority is a longterm issue that everyone deals with. So since communication is the key issue, there is no one who can change but her.
Drop this chick off in an African savannah, and she'd be rocking back and forth fascinated with the sound of grass and the feel of dirt, rather than thinking about the possibility of being a lions breakfast.
She may be able to communicate with modern technology, but she's flawed in the eyes of Darwin.
Her 'language' is her interacting with her environment, yes. But thats not a language. It's really indulgence in sensation.
A language has to be able to be understood by someone other than yourself.
That being said, i do believe she's the one speaking. What is amazing to me is how complex thoughts austics can have, yet they have such a hard time expressing it. I think it's wonderful that with technology, they can now.
Also, on a completely different note.... the voice software she uses reminds me a little bit of GlaDOS form portal. I wonder where she got it! :P