Menu Close

What is Autism & Asperger’s

To a person on the spectrum, autism can represent the extremes of human experience. Many different ‘mixtures’ of manifestations make up the autism spectrum, and no two people will have the same mix. 

The easiest metaphor to use to contrast the AS (neurodiverse) mind and the non-AS (neurotypical) mind is that of the computer. The majority of society (neurotypicals) are comparable to computers built for and running PC software. Those on the spectrum represent computers running Apple Macintosh® software. Both are very capable computers, but within their architecture and wiring, they are built to run different software. A PC can not run Mac® software and a Mac® can’t run PC software.

The issue arises when we understand that emotional, social, and scholastic education are all presented as PC programs. They lack the parameters and code to run on a Mac®. If you try this in real life, the computer attempting to run the software not designed for it’s structure and function will inevitably crash. (The source of the infamous AS melt-down.)

Likewise, if you place an autistic person in a situation where they are asked to perform a function without understanding its necessity or context, they overload with contradictory data and possibilities, and crash. The resultant melt-down is the way an AS mind hits the reset button.

This is also why trying to reason with someone in a melt-down is like fighting fire with gunpowder; they’re being asked to maintain the broken loops and process more information while their processing capability is already past maximum. 

At this point, contrasting the difference between a tantrum and a melt-down is crucial. A tantrum is over something, and can generally be halted if the objective of the tantrum is achieved; an intentional manipulation for gain or avoidance. A melt-down does not have an objective; it’s a result of a mind overloaded and needing to reset. A melt-down can not be halted until it has run its course in the way a tantrum can be stopped by the satisfaction of a condition. Those in melt-down find the experience highly unpleasant [too] and embarrassing, but especially in younger AS, are powerless to halt them until the mind has cleared and rebooted.

When someone is on the spectrum, they are learning by Braille in a sighted world. This leads to different manifestations and characteristics based on gender, upbringing, and any early intervention. The overachieving, teacher’s-pet, rule-following bookworm, and the day-dreaming artist who has difficulty with basic mathematics and can’t catch a ball to save themself; both are probably on the spectrum.

Less obvious are the many who have learned to mask themselves and their issues; maintaining a façade of ‘normalcy’ while falling into increasing social and emotional isolation. These are the happy kids who stop coming to school. These are the kids who get picked on and teased, but will often be the first to offer a tissue or kindness to someone else in a similar situation. They may also learn to be bullies and find a veneer of acceptance through fear and intimidation. They are trying out different social masks and roles until they find one that seems to work, and then are loathe to change it. AS kids will often gravitate towards or actively avoid team sports. For those inclined to sport, team sports offer social interaction with rules, hierarchy, and umpires; a far easier world to comprehend than purely social interactions.


These were my words, now allow me to present the words of a few others.

Autism Speaks answers the question, ‘what is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.

We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

Indicators of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

Amaze goes on on their page

Current evidence reports that around 50–70% of autistic people also experience mental health conditions. There is also emerging evidence to suggest that autistic women and girls experience higher rates of mental illness than autistic men and boys.

The most common mental health conditions experienced by autistic people are depression, anxiety disorders and/or obsessive compulsive disorder.

These facts highlight the urgent need for mental health services and resources that are designed for and with autistic people.

Barriers to treatment

There are many barriers that make it harder for autistic people to get the right mental health care.

These can include low autism awareness and understanding by mental health practitioners, communication difficulties (particularly when a person is non-verbal), sensory sensitivities and a lack of coordination and collaboration between mental health, mainstream health, disability services and other sectors, including education, employment, justice and housing.

Poor autism understanding can lead to healthcare professionals assessing an autistic person’s mental health concerns as simply part of their autism. When this happens, the individual’s mental health issues are often not properly diagnosed or treated, resulting in poor outcomes for their health and wellbeing. 

Autistic individuals, like any other Australian, have the right to access mental health services and feel safe doing so.

Please visit the Resources section of this site for videos and links to resources.