I thought this week I’d try to pass on a bit of the autism theory I have been studying recently. For me theories are just that – theories, but if they promote understanding of autism at any level then they have a contribution to make.
One of Andy’s most pronounced traits is his repetitive and rigid behaviours. Examples would be sitting in the bath under the taps examining the water splashing over a milk carton top, examining and re examining features of objects or plants in summer, cautiously tasting and smelling the same foods every time he has them or touching hot and cold things. So why does he do this?
One interesting theory is that people like Andy have the systemising function of their brain set very high. (The theory also suggests that people with autism may have their ability to empathise set lower than average)
This systemising process involves the brain attempting to make sense of the world around us. We explore a system and attempt to understand it by applying laws to it – eg I flick the switch the light comes on. If the system fails we re examine it and through repetition a law is derived. Hyper systemising as a theory could explain many of Andy’s behaviours. The theory suggests that people with low functioning autism (LFA) display the highest level of systemising and can display obsessive behaviour associated with this. This can lead to a prolonged fascination with ” systemisable ” change like sand falling through their fingers, or light reflecting off a glass surface. For Andy at the moment this would be the water in the bath and a fascination with the detail on the wrought iron part of the Victorian hand rail in our hall. The theory also attributes traits such as narrow interests, social withdrawal, need for sameness and tantrums at change with a high systemising mechanism. I believe that all of Andy’s behaviours have a function for him and trying to understand the more unusual ones is where awareness and acceptance begin.