Friday, October 26, 2007

What A Beard Can Teach About Autism

The fallacy of the beard (fallacy of the spectrum) is to claim that because two points exist on a continuum, that they are indistinguishable, due to the fact that at some point they both blend. The famous example is that of a man with a beard is indistinguishable from a man with a clean shave, because it can be hard to tell at some point what exactly is still a clean shave and what is a beard.

With that in mind I like the reader to consider autism. Persons meeting criteria for Autistic Disorder seem distinct from persons who are typically developing. Many of us, on different sides of the debate would go so far as to consider autism and typical development, entities in and of themselves.

However, the criteria for autism and the categories have not been static. These have changed and expanded over the years. One of the things we have learned from this is that there are many people who fit some of the criteria for autism, but are in other ways more typically developing.

It seems that while autism is distinct from typical development, it is still part of the same continuum. This of course is no deep revelation at all. Most of us recognize that autism is a spectrum. And that many behavior are in fact shared, even if they differ is frequency, topography, and function.

What I would like to argue that might be a bit unusual is that we should not place Autism and typical development on one single continuum. I would argue that these things exist as smaller distinct behaviors on hundreds or maybe even thousands of continuums. I would argue that while the general patterns of autistics or typically developing persons might be similar across these continuums that they are inevitably individualized and distinct to the person.


Blogger VAB said...

That makes perfect sense. I can picture it as the side controls on those enormous sets of sound boards that they have in recording studios, each one individually adjusted to a different setting.

The only difficulty comes in practical usage. The term "autism" is an incredibly blunt instrument but the term gets used because it gets a lot of information across quickly. We can nuance and finesse it, but our target audience (teachers, doctors, social workers, employers, etc.) are going to have a hard time keep up.

But still, I like it: a pattern of differences in a large subset of variables that inherently have a wide range of possible values.

11:55 AM  

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