The number of people diagnosed with some form of autism has taken a huge upturn in recent years. As the numbers have increased, so has the data, allowing checklists of characteristics (social skills, linguistics, emotions and behaviour) to be more accurately compiled.

The Rocky Point Academy at Calgary in Canada has compiled a long list of traits associated with autism. For social skills alone, they include the following:

  • Very little or no eye contact.
  • Resistance to being held or touched.
  • Responds to social interactions, but does not initiate them.
  • Does not generally share observations or experiences with others.
  • Aversion to answering questions about themselves.
  • Seems unable to understand another’s feelings.
  • Prefers to be alone, aloof or overly-friendly.
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships.
  • Unaware of/disinterested in what is going on around them.
  • Overly trusting or unable to read the motives behinds peoples’ actions.
  • Minimal acknowledgement of others.

Rather than looking at these traits in detail, let’s ask an overarching question: Why are the characteristics of the autism spectrum the characteristics of the autism spectrum? Why THOSE characteristics and not other characteristics? (Okay, that’s two questions—well, two versions of the same question.)

Autistic characteristics are not random. They are highly specific. They represent defence mechanisms to cope with social fears.

This question is significant because the characteristics of autism often revolve around fears of presenting oneself to the world and a lack of emotional fluidity. Autistic characteristics are not random. They are highly specific. They represent defence mechanisms to cope with social fears. As a result, autistic people minimise social contact and try to structure their world along pre-determined, rigid patterns to ward off the need to cope with fluctuating emotions and unexpectedly changing situations.

Shame-based issues

In other blogs I have examined how various social issues currently reaching epidemic levels—such as anxiety, panic attacks and self-harm—are all based on a fundamental shame that leads to emotional disconnection. I call these shame-based issues. The traits listed above are functionally identical to these shame-based behaviours. This begs another question: Are the autism spectrum disorders simply the most extreme example of shame-based behaviour?

Sexuality is rarely mentioned in relation to autism (understandably, much of the writing on the subject concerns autistic children). But it’s pretty obvious that sex—which involves presenting the naked self to another and requires high empathy and other social skills—is very challenging terrain for adults on the autistic spectrum.

It’s just another element that links autism to shame. Other shame-based issues are treatable with personal emotional development that accepts and alleviates the core shame. Is it possible that this same approach would work with autism?