As I said in part 1 of this series, I have noticed as I go from one Autism support group to another that there is often a lack of understanding in the terminology surrounding Autism and neurodiversity. This is very important for one reason: Fights are constantly starting over miscommunications.
Because of that, I decided to create this series of Neurodivergent terms and their explanations to the Neurodivergent Survival Guide under the Me(ntal Health) category on the main menu. So, you can safely navigate the politics of Mental Health and Autism, both online and in the world, especially when it comes to parents who are trying to provide services for their children.
As with part 1, in part 2, I will be putting some of my opinion into these definitions but I will also try to be as unbiased as possible, so that you can make your own decisions.
NOTE: While the majority of these terms are not controversial, the highlighted definitions can be highly controversial and triggering. Use with an abundance of caution and kindness.
Let’s continue, after the jump.
Holly’s LIST of neurodivergent terms
For the terms starting with “A” please look to Part 1 of this glossary series. Let’s continue, in alphabetical order:
Baker Act: I will admit that I do not know enough of the origins or idea behind this act in Florida law. BUT I do know that is has resulted in MULTIPLE ARRESTS of AUTISTIC SCHOOL CHILDREN. And when they are arrested or “detained” FROM THEIR CLASSROOMS, they are held against their will for 72 hours. Some as young as first grade. Held without their mothers in juvenile detention centers or hospital psych wards.
In my opinion, the Baker Act is being horribly misused. If its intention was to stop school shooters, lawmakers should know that it is actually being used against Autistic children for their meltdowns. This particular baby has really stuck in my mind and heart. And you might say, “She’s not a baby, she’s six years old.” And to you, I say, “Look again. She’s a baby.”
She and her mother are why the Baker Act is on my list of important need-to-know terms. Just read the article. And by the way, if you take a look at the police body cam footage in that article, this police officer was really wonderful in a horrible situation, she should be commended for trying to make it less messed up. Just to give credit where credit is due. She could see the flaw in what was happening, but she had no choice to take that baby to be sedated and traumatized. Honestly, I bet that weighs on her a lot too. The ramifications are endless.
Bipolar Disorder: Well, I don’t think that I can properly cover Bipolar Disorder in its entirety in just a little blurb. Here is a link to the technical explanation of Bipolar Disorder and how to recognize it in yourself.
I can tell you my experience in a few details. At times I had considered Bipolar to be a technical misdiagnosis for me and just a part of my ASD and ADHD, but I have come to terms with the fact that I do have Bipolar Disorder. Why? Because of something called “SSRI Induced Bipolar”. I was introduced to this concept by the psychiatrist who handles all my medications. (Apparently there is some controversy if this is a thing or not or if it’s like Bipolar Disorder™ official or just a side effect. I don’t know.) How he basically put it is that I always had Bipolar Disorder, but it was enflamed by the wrong medication. This makes sense because when I called my primary doctor and told them that I was having a lot of anger issues, they insisted on upping my SSRI anti-depressant dose, and the issue got much, much worse. That’s when I decided to see a specialist, which brought me to my psychiatrist.
One bit of advice to anyone seeking help for Bipolar Disorder. Finding the right meds is… well, it can be stressful. For me, it was a very painful scenario that lasted for more than year. But for a dear friend of mine, who is also Bipolar, she got on the right meds, learned the tools to deal and cope with everyday stressors, and has a very successful and happy life. The point is, don’t give up. It is difficult and different for every person, but help is possible.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA): This is the title of, basically, the shot caller in ABA therapy. Sometimes when you are in a clinic setting you will have Behavior Technicians (I just call them therapists in a colloquial way, or teachers more often) then you will have the BCBA that tells the technician what they should be doing. Sometimes they are called supervisors or caseworkers, but they are officially titled BCBA. This is important because this person is the one ethically responsible for the treatment of your child. I find that you have to have an innate trust and solid communication with this person to have any kind of success in a compliance based therapy like ABA (like I’ve said before, there is potential for real damage in compliance based therapies.)
If you are considering behavior therapy like ABA. Get to know this person on a nitty gritty level, ask them their opinions on neurodiversity. Talk about “Positive Behavior Intervention” and how they use it. What they think ABA is meant to do for their child? Ask them if your expectations and goals would be a problem for them. A big question is- what is a “problem behavior” to them? If it’s anything that is basically just being Autistic (like eye contact or flapping) they are probably more like traditional ABA abusive therapy and you should think really hard about not using their services. There is someone better out there to help you.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Borderline is a trauma based personality disorder. As I’ve done before I’ll give you a general link of information you can find here, “Borderline Personality Disorder” in Psychology Today.
Where some of the controversy comes in is that there is a strange gender bias when it comes to diagnosing BPD. Often women that are actually Autistic are diagnosed as BPD despite the fact that they fit the female presentation of ASD better, honestly because some old school diagnosticians believe that Autism is a boy’s disorder.
This gender bias also effects men in that some men who have BPD are usually diagnosed with PTSD, just because they are men. It’s bananas.
I also have seen schools of thought that people can develop BPD from being undiagnosed Autistic adult. Because honestly, life is pretty traumatic if you are Autistic with no coping mechanisms and no accommodations.
Man, the B’s are really heavy. Hopefully, the C’s aren’t as bad…
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Whew! This is a much lighter term and something I am very passionate about. (Of course, I have some warnings too. Check out my Therapy Roulette post for more details.)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of talk therapy that is supposed to help you with your problems in a practical way. Like if you are having sensory issues, you can talk about the practical ways to deal with them, like getting a housekeeper for deep cleaning, or getting red lights for photophobia. That kind of thing.
Word of caution, of course. If you are going to do CBT as an autistic person, I would find someone with real experience helping autistic people. Otherwise you could have more damage as a result of trying to get help for your problems. I’ve had both wonderful and incompetent CBT therapists. So, never be afraid to get a new therapist. If they’re not helping you, they could be hurting you too.
Cognitive Empathy: There is a common misconception about Autistic people that they lack empathy. This is not true. In fact, the majority of autistic people suffer from too much empathy. It makes us shutdown and appear unfeeling, when we are actually overwhelmed with too much feeling.
What we do lack sometimes is intrinsic empathy or Affective Empathy. Which should not be confused with compassion or emotional empathy, we are very compassionate, we just often don’t understand WHY people do the things they do. At least, not naturally. We can still learn why people behave as they do, and that is called Cognitive Empathy.
A layperson might call it “having perspective.” My mother taught me perspective my whole life. At the time, I always that it was a way to tell me that my problems didn’t matter. (And you should always affirm people’s emotions while teaching cognitive empathy, to avoid this issue.) BUT as a result of her tireless efforts, and my own special interest, I have always been thoughtful of perspective.
Here’s an interesting article on Cognitive Empathy Vs. Emotional Empathy. There is also a bit on Somatic Empathy which is actually a huge problem for me. Meaning that I am so sympathetic to people that I will feel what they feel physically, if they are embarrassed, I will have the same physical reaction to embarrassment. More hippie-dippie folks will call this being an “empath.” (I use hippie-dippie with love, by the way. I’m a bit hippie-dippie myself, sometimes.)
Comorbid Conditions: This one, while maybe not controversial, is extremely important. Neurodiverse people are often susceptible to a host of other problems that will often get looped under the Autism umbrella OR they will be diagnosed with one condition that is connected to Autism and then denied an Autism diagnosis that will help them get the right help. That sounded confusing. Let me use some real life examples.
My own example is that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, before my Autism or ADHD diagnosis. Because of this diagnosis all my concerns about Autism and ADHD (specifically the medication for ADHD) kept getting referred back to the Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. But many neurodiverse people can have all three, like myself. If my therapist hadn’t finally listened to me on the ADHD symptoms, I would still be suffering without the right medication.
An example from my son is his Apraxia. People think that he cannot speak because he is Autistic. While I know that some non-verbal autistics are in fact non-verbal due to autistic traits, most I have found have a comorbid condition that is responsible for their “lack of voice.” For some it’s physical, like apraxia, for others it could be an intellectual disability.
The main problem with the lack of knowledge around comorbid conditions is the resulting demonization of Autism as a disease. People think that if they “cure” autism these issues will go away. But they won’t, they are connected to- but not caused by Autism. There is difference. Autistic people need real support for their comorbid issues, not more self loathing.
Conversion Therapy: Uhhhggg… I don’t know if I can go into this one too much without my own anxiety flare up… But I’ll give it a go…
Conversion Therapy is both a myth and a very real and dangerous thing. The idea that you can change someone through aversion therapy and misguided behavioral therapy is ludicrous. That is not “changing” someone, that is conditioning them through abuse. So when I call it a myth, I am saying that all you are converting that person to… is a big damn mess.
It’s also very real in that it is being used to destroy lives. The most obviously heinous of these is Gay Conversion Therapy. Which is again conditioning, through aversion therapy (painful stimuli when confronted with the “behavior” that they want to change) and Conditioning (being exposed to “appropriate” behavior or in the case of Gay Conversion, heterosexual pornography.) All the while being mentally reduced and rebuilt with the idea of what is “right” and what is “wrong”. This could be read as “healthy” and “unhealthy” or, for those of us on the spectrum, “Normal” and “Autistic.”
Where this is a problem for neurodiverse Autists is ABA therapy. As I’ve said many times before, I do not blanket condemn or promote ABA therapy because I do not know the behavior of all ABA therapists. I have a suspicion that a lot of ABA therapy is little more than a gentler form of Conversion Therapy. BUT ABA therapy is the most common form of support for Autistic children and often the only kind of therapy that you can get real monetary support for because of their results.
Again, what I would like to see is a complete overhaul of ABA therapy by neurodiverse people. Keep what is helpful, condemn and reject what is not. Start listening to autistic people. That’s really the first step to any solution.
Whew…I was gonna try and get through B-D but honestly, B and C just wore me out. I will continue with D in Part 3. Stay tuned, but most importantly stay informed. My experience and definitions are just a jumping off point, do your own research.
Become a real and responsible part of the conversation on neurodiversity.