How did a world expert in autism miss a diagnosis right under his nose?
That’s the question that Professor Tony Attwood still mulls over and deeply regrets.
The clinical psychologist is recognised as a leading authority in the diagnosis and management of Asperger’s syndrome.
But all his skills and research couldn’t help his son Will.
It was only when the 35-year-old ended up with an overwhelming drug addiction and in jail for burglary that Professor Attwood had a sudden insight.
While watching family videos of himself and Will as a four-year-old, Professor Attwood noticed an inability to connect with him.
“I was trying to interact with him, but even at the age of four, there was a barrier,” Professor Attwood said.
“[My daughter] Rosie is a teacher of kids with autism and we just turned to each other and said, ‘He’s Asperger’s’!”
Many have since wondered how a world expert on Asperger’s could overlook a diagnosis so close to home.
But as Professor Attwood points out, the condition hadn’t even been given a name back in Will’s childhood.
He fell into the same trap that has plagued parents for years.
“We just thought he was a naughty, ADHD, difficult, emotional kid.”
To be fair, it’s normal for mental health workers to be, like, heroic for other people’s children and neglect their own.
Having grown up with a stepfather who was on the spectrum, Professor Attwood said he learnt to speak the language of those with Asperger’s syndrome — or “Aspies” as they call themselves.
“I describe myself as a translator between two different cultures — to explain the neurotypical world to the Aspie and the Aspie world to neurotypical,” he said.
The University of Queensland adjunct professor is credited with revolutionising the approach to Asperger’s syndrome.
Clinical colleague, Dr Michelle Garnett, says he was the first psychologist in the world to see Asperger’s syndrome as a gift and not as something to be “fixed”.
Isn’t interesting that, as a clinical psychologist, Attwood even uses a phrase like “naughty, ADHD, difficult, emotional kid.” “ADHD” is being used as something obviously negative. A few paragraphs later, it’s like he invented the neurodiversity movement. Right…
It’s with deep sadness that Professor Attwood reflects on his inability to help Will find that special talent when he was a child.
“In hindsight, there are things that I’d have liked to have focussed more on in terms of helping him cope with his intense emotions, but sometimes, as a parent, it’s hard to be objective in that situation,” he said.
Will’s mother, Sarah Attwood, believes the sort of early intervention programs that her husband now recommends for his patients would have helped Will.
“Nowadays, we would have taught him how to manage his frustration … to sort of self-soothe and stay calm,” Ms Attwood said.
“He may even have avoided the drug path, who knows, we’ll never know.”
Yes, addiction is what happens when love is broken.
In another article about this at The Guardian, we get the silver lining.
His son has just finished serving a two-year sentence, and said having a diagnosis made his time in prison easier.
“Previously he was lost in the social world not knowing where he was going, but suddenly he had a road map guiding him about why he felt certain ways and this helped him to understand what he needed to do to cope,” Attwood said.
“Will is now writing a book to help people with Asperger’s cope with prison, as a very high proportion of those in alcohol and drug dependency services have Asperger’s and often end up in prison because of that. So really, I see him as a hero.”
The first article then talks about how great Attwood is with one of his patients, a 10-year old girl who’s interested in chickens. She says:
I like chickens because they’re non-judgmental, and they make me feel loved, needed and special.
In other words, humans are not a good source of those things. It’s that bad..
Then he tries to make it sound like we’re X-Men:
With at least one in every 100 children being diagnosed on the spectrum, Professor Attwood wonders if Asperger’s may be the next stage of evolution.
He believes the human race needs out-of-the box thinkers to solve the world’s big problems.
“I think in the future some of our major problems, whether it be pollution, electricity or whatever, will be solved by people with Asperger’s,” he said.
“I think we need to embrace and encourage their particular abilities because our future is based on such individuals. And in a way, is Asperger’s syndrome the next stage of human evolution?”
LMAO. I’m autistic and pretty smart and have out-of-the-box ideas about fixing important social problems. The way things are going, it’s only a matter of time until those ideas are made formally illegal. Am I a “black identity extremist?”
Worse for his credibility is the fact that he talks like evolution is teleological and progressive. It’s not. Biologists don’t talk that way. Eugenicists do. He can’t actually just leave it be and look at autism as a neutral difference with trade-offs. There has to be judgment and hierarchy, because it’s the neurotypical way. I like being autistic and everything, but it doesn’t make me the ubermensch.
It doesn’t make sense that people care what Tony Attwood says when there are autistic people who can talk and explain themselves.
A final observation is that Attwood is on record against psychoanalytic therapy for autistic people. If I may venture an interpretation, could it be that his unconscious hostility towards autistic people comes from the fact that the autistic person in his life was his stepfather?