By Peter Szatmari MD
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Additional info for A Mind Apart: Understanding Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
The friend leaves and goes into the school somewhat confused. The mother’s sense of foreboding and dread rises, and she starts to run along the fence that separates her from her daughter. She must get to the entrance and reach her little girl before she gets in trouble again. The fence seems too long, and she runs along the edge shouting “Heather! ” But those shouts, which are now the only sound on the schoolyard that just a moment ago was so noisy, echo off into the gray emptiness of the sky. Finally she reaches the opening in the fence and rushes across the yard to her daughter’s side.
And we can see examples of stereotypic behavior being used to soothe anxiety and lower arousal levels every day when we see mothers rocking fussy babies. So it makes sense that people with autism might be using their repetitive behaviors and rituals to cope with their anxiety and calm themselves down. Likewise, we see adults with Alzheimer’s disease use Justin 39 “insistence on sameness” as a coping mechanism for the anxiety that accompanies their dementia. But, while it’s true that some people with autism and AS are anxious in social situations, many people with true anxiety disorders do not show the preference for repetitive stereotypic interests and activities that people with autism show.
Social interactions are either meaningless or else unclear and ambiguous to children with ASD, which may lead to confusion and stress. This may be particularly true for children with AS or milder autism, because they are likely to be integrated into the social world, where they are constantly faced with their inability to understand communication and social discourse. According to this theory, people with autism turn to the perceptual and concrete as a refuge, a place where predictability is possible, where meaning does not depend on social context.