Autism in different eras

These are a few random musings. I’ve no historical evidence for any of these statements; they are just my thoughts and hypotheses.

I’ve been wondering for a while about whether the present time is a good or bad time to be living with high-functioning autism. (I’m only talking about high-functioning autism here because a) it’s the type I have and b) I am not sure any era would be particularly good for someone with a different type of autism.)

I’m still undecided.

In previous eras, the condition would never have been diagnosed; the term itself wasn’t in use at all until 1911 and then not for the condition that we’d recognise as autism today. But there would have been some options for someone with autism to be accepted.

Someone with autism could potentially have gone into the church. There, there would have been set rules to follow. A strict routine. And the possibility for solitude if needed. And, looking at the, er, more interesting ideas coming from some of those of an ecclesiastical bent, the minor strangeness of those with high-functioning autism may not even have been noticed… (I do wonder whether the religious life was used almost as an early mental health institution in some cases.)

And through most of history there seem to have been strict social rules to follow. The Regency and Victorian period took these to extremes, but at least it would have been possible to know where you were and how you should act. Well, if you were well-to-do, anyway. If you weren’t, then I suppose it was just a matter of doing what you were told. Maybe not such a good time to be autistic and logical, particularly if you’re female.

Men with high-functioning autism probably would have fared rather better in history than women (hmm… sounds familiar!). Eccentricity would have been a lot more tolerated in men, particularly if they had scientific minds. That, in many periods of history, would not have been accepted in women. Nothing much has changed there, then, although thankfully women seen as ‘odd’ are no longer in danger of being accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake.

In today’s world, differences are more understood – which can only be a good thing.

However, society generally seems to be rather more fragmented now than it was in the past and it’s difficult to keep up and understand when things change. Cultural norms seem to change more quickly and the pace of technological change is huge. (I find it incredible that people reaching adulthood this year have never known a world without Google; where information had to be gathered and collected rather than just typing words into a search engine and having information at your fingertips.)

And, although differences may be more understood, I am not sure they are any more tolerated or accepted. Technology makes it easier to find communities of the like-minded, but I wonder whether it’s at the expense of having to live with people different to oneself. And although diversity is talked about a lot, I don’t know whether in practice it actually exists. I’ve certainly noticed changes in the way some people treat me since my diagnosis.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a perfect time to live with autism. I definitely wish there was some way to go back in time and live a simpler and less confusing life – but, on the other hand, I’d struggle to give up the technology which has become a lifeline.

So I remain conflicted.

But I live in the time I live in, and so have to try and make the best of things if I can.

And I still hope that one day I’ll be accepted.

Maybe the best time to live with autism is actually the future.


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