A triad of impairments in social interaction, language, repetitive behavior -- except that's not what it is at all. That’s just how neurotypical “experts” recognize it. Autism -- any kind, Asperger’s, classic autism, PDD-NOS, whatever -- is a style of information processing where the world looks and feels different.
The best theory is called weak central coherence, and it’s the idea that different parts of autistic brains are less connected to each other than different parts of NT brains. The second-best theory is the much less judgmentally-named intense world theory, and it has some merit because lots of autistic people really are hypersensitive and only withdraw because they’re overstimulated. Lots of actual autistic people like that theory best.
Ooh, boy, is there ever. Let’s make a list of them, shall we?
1. The one where the autistic kid needs to be in an institution. This one’s especially horrible because people actually believe it in real life. Look, you think just because you have a kid who can’t talk or likes to escape from the school bus you need to send him away? Or do you think the people there will know how to take care of him better? Because actually, institutions are dangerous places, brain-wise. Even the good ones cause skill loss and double-digit IQ loss. (It has lots of fancy science behind it. There’s a book called Asylums by Erving Goffman that could clear some of this up for you if you really care. You don’t, unless you’re writing a mental hospital AU.) You want to make a low-functioning autistic? Take a high-functioning autistic and put him in an institution.
2. “At least he can’t feel.” Oh, yes, he can. Autistics have feelings, okay? What did you think causes meltdowns? And yep, fear is a feeling, and yep, autistics have it. Oh, and on this topic, autistics have imaginations, too. And daydream. Gasp! Amazing!
3. “I have self-diagnosed Asperger’s, so I can say whatever I want.” Yeah, I know to an NT it looks like Aspies go around saying offensive things. Hateful things, even. You know what the Aspies are actually thinking? Not that they can say whatever they want. They’re trying to figure out how to talk to people and make friends, so they say something. And then for no reason, you get angry. What did you do that for? (Because they called you fat. Because they threatened you. It seemed justified from your end.) They don’t have a clue why you’re angry. Maybe you hate them. Maybe it’s your problem. Except it happens again. And again. And again. You don’t do this to other people, it’s only them. Everyone accuses them of being rude. So they start to wonder if they are all the things you’ve called them. (Hateful. Offensive. Insensitive. A jerk. Heartless. A monster. A bigot. Cruel, taunting, spiteful. Antisocial. Willfully ignorant.) Every single person says the same thing, so it must be true. They’re a hateful, worthless monster and they still don’t know why. They don’t want to be, but it works out that way somehow. What the diagnosis does is tell them -- and you -- that they’re not evil. It’s not an excuse. Think for a second: would you want to make people hate you and then blame it on something everyone knows is just an excuse to be as rude as you want?
4. Savants. They exist, they’re cool, Rain Man was based on a real guy, that doesn’t mean he’s every autistic. Autistic people usually have really weird strengths to go with their really weird weaknesses, but they’re usually a lot more subtle than that. (Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes people like Daniel Tammet learn a new language in a week and recite pi to 20,000 digits. Then they get to be on TV and write books about themselves, so they seem way more common than they really are.) Autistics don’t have to speak twenty languages to be cool. They’re like NTs that way. Autism is not so terrible that your character needs to be hexidecimalingual and have an eidetic memory to still be worth anything. At least if you have to give your character 1337 skillz, and that’s most of the spectrum so go ahead, then give him skills like knowing everything about rabbits or writing brilliantly eloquent blog posts.
chaoticidealism.livejournal.com -- Reports from a Resident Alien
aspergersquare8.blogspot.com -- Square 8
http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/ -- Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
www.existenceiswonderful.com -- Existence is Wonderful
survivingmotherhood-mom26children.blogspot.com -- What are they thinking?
autistichedgehog.tumblr.com -- Autistic Hedgehog
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
Pretending to be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey
Ask an Autistic
Try asking on WrongPlanet. The people over there are good about answering NT questions. Some of them will even give you cookies just for treating them like human beings.
Autistic people get skills in the “wrong” order. That means you get people with skills and weaknesses you really don’t expect. People who still need help in the bathroom and are (intellectually, anyway) ready to go to college, people who can cook a meal but still have screaming crying meltdowns in public, people who can (at least sometimes) write but not read. You wouldn’t believe how many people get told that just because they can write on the internet they can’t have any trouble with some totally unrelated thing that most NTs happen to learn before they’re ready to write on the internet.