Autism is a spectrum disorder most prevalent in males, where social skills and abilities are diminished. Autism can range from mild to severe.

Autism is like...

As I network and work to build a grass roots community that can use aspects of NLP with autism, I find it very powerful to work with metaphors to get the creative juices flowing in myself and in the people I meet.

Through metaphors or stories, it becomes easier to recruit and enlist the imaginative faculties and resources of all kinds of people. It puts us in an interested and learning state. Working with metaphors it also helps us to stand apart from the subject of autism, and view it objectively, not as a noun, but as a set of processes within a system.

We also contrast the autism metaphor with metaphors for other mental and psychological ailments, or even poor life strategies in otherwise normal people, in order to impart clarity around which approaches would work better than others.

In Einstein-like fashion, metaphors offer us the chance to do thought experiments prior to testing in the real world. I hope that you will join us in sharing your metaphors in order to raise awareness and tap our natural powers of insight, if only around the essence of autism.

Here are some metaphors that most people I meet can relate to. Though they are not necessarily precise and are not a substitute for a diagnosis, they can help people understand more about themselves and other people that might be "different" in some ways.

A Computer Metaphor

A healthy mind is like a computer with plenty of memory, storage, and computing power. Programs are properly installed and configured, and files are organized by the user with specific goals in mind. Using such a computer is a pleasure. That computer is also protected by the latest anti-viral software, backup systems and power supplies, so that when bad things happen, the user can be back up to a productive level quickly. Using a computer like this can be a pleasant experience where the user can concentrate on the activity, and not the computer.

A retarded mind is like a computer with a smaller CPU or Memory capacity, relative to its peers. Sometimes the constraint is mild, and sometimes it is severe. Assuming that the CPU and Memory cannot be upgraded easily, that computer can still fulfill an important role during its life, if the tasks it is given to perform are sized correctly.

A healthy mind with poor life strategies or addictions is like an otherwise healthy computer sometimes can catch a virus. Often the effects of a virus are subtle and go undetected, and other times the effects are catastrophic. Sometimes viruses are caught innocently, and other times we take risks knowingly by wandering into infectious domains. Viruses affect the normal functioning of the programs by embedding themselves. The only way to get back to normal functioning is to detect the virus, quarantine it, and then repair the compromised program.

An autistic mind is like a computer with one or more missing keys. Sometimes the missing key is a single seldom-used function key that is a minor inconvenience that one can work around with alternate keyboard or mouse functions. Other times the missing key is something more like the "e" key, or a shift key, or even a number of keys. These missing keys make it painful or even impossible to communicate with the otherwise ready and able resources of the computer. Working with such a computer requires definite and specific strategies for compensating for these missing keys. Once those strategies are learned, they can become quite automatic with practice.

An Animal Metaphor

Healthy, intelligent human minds are like dolphins, living in a dangerous and socially complex world. There are threats outside the social structure, and also threats from within the pod. The pod must learn together to hunt, protect each other, and also to play. They must learn about environmental conditions, what is good and bad to eat, and the social pecking order. Play is common, but fights also break out over territories, mates, and dominance. Grudges don’t linger, though, because there are always the concerns of the next moment to be addressed. Individual personalities in the structure of a larger social order. This requires a big brain and a lot of learning throughout life.

Retarded minds are like dogs. There are all kinds of dogs, suited to all kinds of tasks; some more complex, and others less so. Some dogs work well in packs or teams, and there are leaders and followers within the pack. Some dogs are sheep herders by nature, others suited to guard duties, and others just make great companions. Dogs can’t speak, but they communicate effectively in other ways. Working with dogs is a matter of right-sizing the task to the natural abilities of the individual and patiently rewarding the dog for moving in the direction of desired behavior.

Autistic minds are like cats. Though some enjoy companionship, they are hardly social. Some cats prefer just to be alone and live their lives through their narrow band of heightened perceptions. Some sights, sounds and smells evoke an automatic response of attack or fear, while other sights, sounds, and smells get no response whatsoever. Cats are very good at ignoring what does not interest them. Working with cats requires working within their band of perception in order to tap into their interests at an instinctive level. You have to be just as cat-like yourself to understand them, and above all, you must accept them as cats.

What are your stories?

I’m certain that if we can tell the right story about autism, then it awareness and interest and resources will organize around that story, and real breakthroughs can then be had. Please contact me and let’s talk about the insights you have. I invite you to share your insights also in the forum.