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Them V Us – disparity in the autism spectrum condition ranks (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s)

Them V Us – disparity in the autism spectrum condition ranks (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s)

There’s some disparity in the autism ranks…. It has been observed that two distinct divisions could be making their mark amongst people involved in the autism community – as follows:

1)‘Them And Us: Autists Versus Aspies’

A recent discussion in a private autism social media group really got this blogger thinking – a person who has a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome mused that if they were labelled as having autism when they ‘only’ had an Asperger’s diagnosis, was [their autistic diagnosis] insulting to people ‘with autism’?

Their main view-point presumably being that Asperger’s is not really ‘proper’ autism, and the implication being that there is a ‘them and us’, in terms of low and high functioning autism.

WOW – this viewpoint is concerning!

This way of thinking perpetuates what (in the author’s opinion) can be described as a widely-held myth that there is ‘mild’ autism, which means the diagnosed person supposedly does not struggle so much as someone with ‘severe’ autism.

Obviously many documents, features and clinical documents have for years used ‘severe’ and ‘mild’ terms when discussing autism, but many people feel now that it isn’t helpful.

This autism blogger really believes that autism is autism, and the differences seen by the people surrounding the autistic person are simply differences being observed by the outside world – they are not necessarily differences from the autistic person’s point of view.

Who defines high and low functioning autism?

Let’s explore this further… maybe comparing someone who’s a so-called low functioning autistic (e.g someone who is non-or preverbal, and somehow perceived as ‘very autistic’, or more afflicted and even less able), to someone with so called high functioning autism, is futile? And insulting? In reality, surely we cannot make a judgment about an autist, based on whether they are verbal or not? Or whether they hold down a job or not? What about the so-called high functioning autist who’s very adept at ‘masking’ their autism daily, and is perceived by peers as sailing through life and being ‘only mildly autistic’; but who goes home, closes the door and retreats to bed, over-whelmed, over-stimulated and exhausted? Who are outsiders to say whether this person is high or low functioning? By whose terms are we measuring their functionality?

The so called high functioning autist may be experiencing many challenges in life, and the challenges are of course likely to be different to the so called low functioning autist’s experiences – but believing that someone is ‘a little bit autistic’ and therefore needs less support than a ‘more autistic’ person is surely skewed thinking?

Therefore, where: ‘Them And Us: Autists Versus Aspies’ is concerned, we would urge people like the individual in the aforementioned social media group to reconsider their views on autism; separating the different autism profiles like this and deeming Asperger’s-type Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) to be ‘mild’ does nothing to further autism acceptance.

NB – it’s important to note that incidences of ‘Asperger Syndrome’ as a written diagnosis by a clinician are decreasing, and Asperger’s isn’t specifically acknowledged in the new DSM-5 ASD criteria. (DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (see: DSM-5).

‘The disorder spectrum concept (autistic spectrum disorder, or ASD) has now been fully integrated into autism classification, the condition of AS (or Asperger’s disorder from DSM-IV) is no longer used.’

Here’s a fascinating article detailing some elements of this new development in the field of autism diagnosis, called “From Asperger’s Autistischen Psychopathen to DSM-5; Autism Spectrum Disorder and Beyond: A Subthreshold Autism Spectrum Model” – click the title to read it.

Now, onto the second element of perceived division within the autism community:

2) ‘#actuallyautistic versus Autism Awareness’

There seems to be some division between (1) the #actuallyautistic individuals who are autistic themselves and desire more acceptance and understanding of ASCs, and (2) the ‘autism warriors’ and autism awareness campaigners that are seemingly more likely to be neurotypical (NT) parents of autistic offspring. (You know; the ones who dress their children in a T-shirt saying ‘This is what autism looks like.’)

Writer Amy Sequenzia writes eloquently about this in her blog  ‘Autism Awareness Month Awareness’ where she states (ahead of April’s ‘Autism Awareness Month): “I am declaring March ‘The Month to Beware of Autism Awareness Month.’ Because Autism Awareness Month  is the month when Autistics who need more support than society deems ‘reasonable’, Autistics like me, are singled out as the ‘biggest epidemic ever’, and as the reason for more money thrown into research that don’t seek to improve our lives, but to find ways to make sure people like me are prevented, are never born.’

Essentially and to generalise, the #actuallyautistic community tends to want to raise acceptance of autism as a neurodiversity that isn’t broken and doesn’t need mending, curing and fixing. Meanwhile, the (perhaps more NT-led?) Autism Awareness advocates are pushing for awareness activities and funding that some commentators propose could potentially lead to screening for autism. As Amy puts it, “…to find ways to make sure people like me are prevented, are never born.”

This is an understandable division – and Spectra.Blog sits firmly in the first, #actuallyautistic ‘camp’, in case you are wondering! – and the division is such a shame.

With so much changing within autism research (e.g. advances in the research linking ASDs / ASCs to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; and also research into the question of whether the autistic brain’s individualities are linked to ‘predictive coding’ – e.g. a poor ability to predict patterns, probability and chance, so the autistic brain experiences ‘mild surprise’ at everything) – isn’t it time for solidarity? Acceptance? Education? The difference of opinions, while understandable, surely aren’t helping the overall cause of understanding autism spectrum conditions and moving forward with acceptance….

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

Autism shares brain signatures with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – but what does this mean for autists? (Autism spectrum condition / ASC / Asperger’s)

Autism shares brain signatures with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – but what does this mean for autists? (Autism spectrum condition / ASC / Asperger’s)

The Genetic Literacy Project, which curates info on human genetics and biotechnology, has a great interest in autism spectrum conditions (ASC), and recently published a short article by Nicholette Zeliadt, explaining that autism shares gene expression pathways with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This backs up an earlier study linking autism and schizophrenia.

The findings are based on a large study of post-mortem brain tissue and appear in the journal ‘Science’; you can find more info HERE.

For Nicholette Zeliadt’s longer article on, click HERE. (Interestingly, reported ten years ago that: “There is growing evidence that autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are likely to involve similar pathways.”)


Brain signatures

Essentially, this new study found that the ‘gene expression patterns’ – or brain signatures – in the brains of people with autism are similar to those brains of people who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

All three conditions show an activation of genes in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, and suppression of genes that function at synapses, the junctions between neurons. These cells and junctions are both important for ‘neuronal’ communication, and may have gone ‘awry’ within the individuals with these conditions. The three groups of people may share features in common, such as language problems, irritability and even aggression.

For anyone reading Steve Silberman’s tome,  ‘NeuroTribes : The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently’ – the findings aren’t necessarily a surprise, as autism was once considered a childhood form of schizophrenia, and the author writes extensively about this.

Experts agree that that autism is the result of several genetic variations, some of which can occur spontaneously, while many are passed genetically along the family line.

(Interestingly, the ‘Science’ study also found that the autism brains showed a unique increase in the expression of genes specific to immune cells called microglia, which are involved in the function of mitochondria, energy generators and metabolisers for cells. Microglia are also described as scavengers, or a ‘garbage-disposal service’ within the body’s central nervous system.)

What do we do with this news?

But what do we do with this news – and by ‘we’, I mean the general public, as opposed to geneticists! Here are some possible outcomes of this new study:

(1)The obvious links are in the field of identifying genetic risks, in order to ‘affect the outcome’; an ambiguous statement, seen in several articles, that could infer medication, and even pre-natal ‘screening’. (The study author stated that the study: ‘Gives us hope that perhaps we can use these signatures….. to screen for drugs that can reverse them [the signatures].) This conversation of course poses many questions about whether an autistic person is broken and needs fixing at all, or would, in possession of a magic wand, prefer to be neurotypical. And to what extend would they even consider medication, to alter their state?

(2)This work could (in many years from now!) lead to more biological / clinical diagnoses, instead of just observational diagnoses (of autism). With many psychiatric conditions being reportedly misdiagnosed, this could prove useful. The study author stated: “It’s possible that some of these changes might eventually show themselves in the blood, or we might be able to develop new, non-invasive techniques for measuring gene expression in living patients, down the road.”

(3)The study results relating to the immune cells called microglia could correlate with inflammatory mechanisms. Could this information link to alternative therapies which are hypothesised by some people to help individuals improve the symptoms of their neuro-psychiatric condition (e.g. autism); for example, therapeutic ozone therapy?

(4)If a therapy is found to be especially useful for one of the three conditions, could it be applied to the others, too?

We’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the study and what it may mean for individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC), schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

(Watch a video about autism genetics below).

So, you’ve had your adult autism assessment – but what now? (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s)

So, you’ve had your adult autism assessment – but what now? (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s)

So, you have had your adult autism assessment, and have been diagnosed as having autism spectrum conditIon (ASC). What now?!

Apparently, attending an adult autism assessment with coloured contacts, spangly make up and a flower in your hair marks you out as ‘Quirky’.

You may feel liberated, relieved, excited, thankful, validated and may experience any number of positive emotions; it seems that on the whole, most people gaining autism diagnosis in adulthood find it a positive experience.

But, like any life changing emotional event, a range of emotions will probably come into play at some point; an interesting one is anger; perhaps with family members, or The System – so be prepared for some emotions that you didn’t expect!

(NB – info on autism assessment in the UK can be found HERE and a personal perspective can be found HERE).


Telling people about your autism diagnosis

Perhaps one of the first things on your mind will be telling people about your autism spectrum diagnosis; those closest to you may well know about your recent investigations into autism, and may have been with you along your journey of lightbulb moments and education into the world of autism research! (Read our blog on ‘What is autism’ HERE).

Undoubtedly, there will be some extended family members and friends that you may be wondering how to explain your autism diagnosis to (if at all!); particularly, it is pertinent that some older friends and family members will not have had the same exposure to information that is available nowadays, and their experiences of autism will be very different, and possibly negative.

Although it’s unlikely to be actually written down in your report these days, the term ‘Asperger Syndrome’ may be mentioned, and you will find that lots of people still like and use the term ‘Aspie’.

You may wonder how to describe yourself – High functioning autistic person? Person with autism? Aspie? Autist?

The list goes on and the issue of ‘labelling’ is an interesting one, and will be personal to you. (Read more about autistic labelling HERE).

Non-insightful & helpful comments

You might find it difficult trying to explain your autism diagnosis to others, and it’s quite likely that along your imminent journey, people will say things to you that aren’t deemed insightful or helpful: For example: ‘But you don’t look autistic!’ Well, it must be very mild.’ ‘Don’t worry, it doesn’t change you as a person.’ (It does). ‘But you look us in the eye, how can you be autistic?’ (Read our take on the latter subject HERE).

Some people you tell will probably draw to mind some friend or family member that they believe to be on the autistic spectrum, and will regale you with ‘positive’ stories about their bravery against adversity, and how they sometimes, almost occasionally, now and then at least, appear to be something close to normal!!

In any case, when to tell people about your autism is very much down to you, now you’re going about your everyday life with a new autism diagnosis.

Your biggest milestone

This ASC diagnosis is probably one of the single most significant things that has happened to you to date; and yes, people including yourself go through illness, parenthood, tragedy and all manner of Big Life Experiences; and surely an autism diagnosis is small fry, compared to these big life milestones?

Well actually an autism diagnosis for an adult is potentially ‘bigger’ than just about everything else, for the simple reason that it is the frame or filter from which you look at all of these experiences and milestones; it is your window on the world – the thing that defines how you react to everything around you – and almost everyone will underestimate how big this milestone is for you.

Many people close to you will undoubtedly feel happy that you have your diagnosis, as it gives you some kind of closure, or clarity or affirmation; but it is unlikely that they will realise how life changing it will be for you; and that is okay. It’s your journey.

A new perspective

You may not have anticipated that for many newly diagnosed high functioning autists, the diagnosis gives them a new perspective on the people around them, e.g. their workmates, friends and family members – and there is a good chance that this new perspective allows you to see more clearly just how people feel about you.

If you are used to masking (putting on a more neurotypical ‘face’ or persona to get you through life’s daily social situations), you may find that you are less comfortable with this masking after your diagnosis; this is because you probably weren’t doing it consciously for a lot of the time. And if you are now more comfortable in yourself and with showing the ‘real you’, you may notice that some of the people in your ‘life’ circle do not have your best interests at heart; and this may result in some social or familial ‘culling’, as you become more perceptive of the people around you, and their intentions.

At the same time, you may possibly notice with a renewed clarity the people that matter the most to you; the ones that respect you, like you for who you are, understand your quirks and are interested in your life and are respectful of you; and these are the people that surely count.

Your new Aspie-dar

An important and fun element of your new ASC diagnosis is the ‘Aspie-dar’ that comes with it, as you will have been researching autism spectrum disorder (ASD) ahead of your diagnosis, and your knowledge-base is now pretty impressive. You will undoubtedly (due to the prevalence of a genetic autism link) have noticed that some people in your family (close or extended) also have autistic traits; you will apply this new aspie superpower to those around you, and may start noticing people in the media and in the spotlight, as well as people at work, children at your own children’s school, as well as friends and extended family members, who could be on the autistic spectrum. Whether or not you want to point this out to any of them is a different matter!

Autism in the workplace

Telling your work colleagues or even stating your autism status on a job application is a very tricky subject, and one that is always going to come down to individual circumstances. There is hopefully a good possibility that if you are employed, telling your work superiors about the fact you’re on the autistic spectrum could work in your favour, in terms of organising some strategies that would help you be more productive at work, if you’re in the workplace of course. For example, arranging a more private workstation, less involvement in open table meetings and brainstorming sessions, negotiating a reduction in the sociable aspects of the job, making a reduction in sensory overload (in terms of lights and noises and sensory stimulation) – or whatever elements would work, in your own professional circumstances. In terms of declaring your autism spectrum condition on a job application, that is a very personal matter, and you should probably take advice based around your individual circumstances.

I’m Aspie. What now?

One of the big questions is; where do I go now? In terms of, how can I use the new diagnostic information to help make the rest of my life better? If you have only just received a diagnosis of autism and you are an adult, you have undoubtedly faced some instability in life both physically and mentally – this will have impacted your life, and there are many mental health issues associated with autism spectrum conditions that are exacerbated by a lack of self care – e.g. taking time to de-stress and recover from ‘social hangovers’, have some non-social time enjoying your own interests, and catch up on sleep and down time.

So now it’s time to work out your self-care plan, moving forward, and establish contentment. E.g. maybe you need to cut down on things that use up your emotional bandwidth and energy – for example, excessive social engagements that you never really enjoyed anyway; mingling with people that don’t enhance your life, within your social scene (perhaps linked to the workplace or your partner, e.g. not of your choosing); or any situation that is not really benefiting you!

Life culls

It’s time to cut them down; especially if you’re working too many hours and if you have too many family responsibilities and life challenges generally. In light of your autism diagnosis, if something’s not suiting you and benefiting you, now is a great time to make some changes; this is after all the first day of the rest of your life – and you deserve to live in an optimal way, getting the very best out of it!

So in summary, your autism diagnosis has hopefully allowed you to find out more about yourself, understand what makes you tick, and realise that you’re not a failing neurotypical, but an outstanding Aspie (or whichever label you prefer, or fits!!) who has every right to thrive in whatever situation you choose. So if life was holding you back, now is the time to stick two fingers up to the world, leave the past’s challenges where they belong (in the past), forge your own way, and let your Aspie star shine.

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 

Aspie-superpower days – why autists may be on an ‘autistic spectrum within a spectrum’? We look at the different ‘autistic’ days…

Aspie-superpower days – why autists may be on an ‘autistic spectrum within a spectrum’? We look at the different ‘autistic’ days…

When you are diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition, it takes a while to process everything, if you were not aware previously that you had autism; in my case, Asperger Syndrome. What I’ve come to believe is that, just as all autists are on an autism spectrum, we autists are also all on a ‘spectrum within a spectrum’.

Oh, to feel this NT (neurotypical)! Confidently wearing white, casually drinking in a happy, 90’s-inspired group, and enjoying some garish lighting…

What I have discovered in my case is that there are three main facets or divisions of my autism, which I liken to the red, amber and green colours of a traffic light; my ‘green’ days are my ‘neutral’ days, and the closest I get to being neurotypical. (For me, I am ‘green’ most days, thanks to good self-care, and management of my social and sensory challenges.) My ‘red’ days are what I would call my ‘slow brain’ days, when everything is a little more challenging, and sensory overload is abundant. And my ‘amber’ days are my ‘fast brain’ days; not necessarily a cause for concern as they’re soooo productive, but something of a red flag that I need to take care of myself; but let me explain further!

On my green days I feel fairly normal and as neurotypical as I get; I’m not too tired, I don’t feel especially antisocial, I am reasonably happy to see people and hold conversations and engage socially, and I get quite a lot of pleasure out of life. (There’s a sub-type of the green days that I would call ‘neutral-slow’ when I am feeling pretty good but with a slight edge of irritation from shrieky noises, excess stimulation, etc.)

Aspie-superpower days

On my amber days, which happen once or twice a week, e.g. my fast brain days, in some ways I am at my most autistic – these are my aspie-superpower days. In actual fact, I quite like them; it feels like my brain is supercharged; I’m multitasking on a massive level! I will write an article in my head (to be typed out later) whilst I am doing other things, for example getting my son ready for school, and it feels as if I have lots of metaphorical PC browser windows open in my head, all busily working; conversations, lists, plans, music etc.

On amber/fast brain days, I am super-efficient, planning things, thinking of things, coming up with business ideas, and remembering things (which I need to write down or add to the ‘to do’ list!); and there is always a song on loop, or more usually, part of the song like the chorus, going round and round and round… I’m only now seeing this ‘stuck record’ as a little bit of a warning sign, a sign that stress is building. Invariably I have to find the song and listen to it later, to ‘let it out’.


On my aspie-superpower days, other people (of any neurological persuasion!) very often seem to be going so s-l-o-w-l-y. Their brain-to-speech processing speed is often agonisingly and irritatingly slow. It annoys me when they want to focus or pontificate on something that my head processed and filed moments ago! This undoubtedly leads to me appearing bossy and maybe short-fused! It’s like telling someone you’re taking the M25 to somewhere, and your friend wants to s-l-o-w-l-y talk about every possible junction number and A-road, en route. “MOVE ON! My brain has covered that…” I fume, internally.

I hadn’t realised that these superpower days often precede my slow (red) brain days; it seems you can’t have one without the other – when my brain is quite worn out. These are the days I find it harder to communicate, and forget every-day words, mid-conversation; I am tired and often crave solitude; too much sensory input is massively annoying and even painful, to a degree. Touch can be super-charged. Some sounds, e.g. the rustling of a packet, seem to be deafening.

Some self-care is needed…

And why are these slow brain days categorised red? Because this is a big warning that some self-care is needed. Now’s not the time to book a series of intensive work meetings, or socialise in large groups. This is a time when some quietitude, some favourite music on the headphones, and plenty of sleep are in order. Generally these slow brain days only last a day (or maybe two, if I wasn’t able to look after myself and reduce sensory/social input on the first day).

And what’s next, if a person on the autistic spectrum on a ‘slow brain day’ can’t administer self-care – or if you continue to push yourself (or have to push yourself because of work) over the course of a few of these ‘slow brain’ days? It’s the dreaded shutdown.

An average week

Having noted how I feel for the purpose of this article, an average week for me may look like this –

Day 1 – Fast brain (amber).

Day 2 – Slow brain (red).

Day 3 – Neutral/slow (green).

Day 4 – Neutral (green).

Day 5 – Neutral (green).

Day 6 – Neutral/slow (green).

Day 7 – Neutral (green).

Thereafter, I am pretty sure a fast brain day is due!

I’d love to hear from other Aspies/Auties about whether they’ve noticed any patterns like this! (Find out about the author HERE).

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 

Autistic people supposedly dream differently (e.g. fewer social interactions) – but do they dream as autistic people; aware of their ‘autisticness’; or as a neurotypical person? (ASD/ASC/PDA/Autism)

Autistic people supposedly dream differently (e.g. fewer social interactions) – but do they dream as autistic people; aware of their ‘autisticness’; or as a neurotypical person? (ASD/ASC/PDA/Autism)

I had a strange dream last night. The actor Al Pacino was at an event I was attending, and was acting as a financial advisor for a friend. It was a fun dream. I don’t remember the ‘ins and outs’ of the dream now. BUT, I awoke with a question blazing: do autists – people on the autistic spectrum – ‘dream autistic’? Are we aware of our ‘autisticness’ in our dreams?

Autistic people are thought to dream DIFFERENTLY from neurotypicals (e.g. supposedly with fewer characters and social interactions in their dreams – see details further down this article). But, do they dream as autistic people? Or do they dream as neurotypicals; e.g. projecting their belief of what life would be/feel like, as a neurotypical person?

A spectrum within a spectrum

Autists are obviously on a spectrum across the autistic population, if that’s the right description – e.g. different autists falling into different places on the autism spectrum, with no two autistic people presenting with exactly the same traits, behaviours and challenges – however, the author of this piece also thinks that autists are also on a spectrum IN OUR OWN MINDS. By that I mean that we can feel more or less autistic on different days, depending on the challenges facing us, and our ability to function, in the face of these challenges. (This is what the ‘’ scales logo represents).

High functioning, my ar$e…”

Let me explain. Some days, many autists can feel pretty functional. We can hold eye contact, get through the day in our jobs, hold conversations that would be deemed ‘normal’ and feel quite good about ourselves. On other days, our senses are overloaded, we’re peopled out, and our executive functioning is questionable at best. (“High functioning, my ar$e,” as my husband grumpily observed to himself, in response to a faux pas of mine recently.)

“It stands to reason that our sleeping brain is adaptable…”

So if we’re like this in everyday life, e.g. the autistic elements of our brain taking the forefront on some days, and the more neurotypical aspects driving our neurological train on other days, it stands to reason that our sleeping brain is adaptable.

I don’t think that I ‘dream autistic’. I believe that in my dreams, I am presenting as a neurotypical person. Is this: (a) because I am fairly newly diagnosed, and my subconscious hasn’t yet got the memo? Or is it (b) because the part of my brain that creates my dreams is ‘less autistic’ than other areas, for want of a more scientific description?!

Who knows? But science doesn’t back up my theory that I don’t ‘dream autistic’. It seems that the ‘dreaming brain’ and the ‘waking brain’ are similar, because they recruit the same areas of the brain for the same type of experiences. So, if we lack social skills in real life, we will probably lack them when dreaming, it is proposed.

‘Old’ theories were that our dreams predominantly occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, controlled by the ‘reticular activating system’, whose circuits run from the brain stem through the thalamus to the cortex. Science Focus described the various systems affecting dreams in a 2014 report as follows: “The limbic system in the mid-brain deals with emotions in both waking and dreaming, and includes the amygdala, which is mostly associated with fear, and is especially active during dreams,” the website reports. “The cortex is responsible for the content of dreams, including the monsters we flee from, the people we meet, or the experience of flying. Since we are highly visual animals the visual cortex, right at the back of the brain, is especially active, but so are many other parts of the cortex.”

Dreams ALSO occur during non-REM sleep

However, more research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that dreams ALSO occur during non-REM sleep. Francesca Siclari, co-author of the research, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that: “The puzzle has been solved.” She noted that the team found that dreaming about faces was linked to increased high-frequency activity in the region of the brain involved in face recognition. (The article ‘The Social Brain is a Complex Super-Network’, published on Science Direct, reports that brain regions dedicated to human face processing include the amygdala.) “Maybe the dreaming brain and the waking brain are much more similar than one imagined, because they partially recruit the same areas for the same type of experiences,” Ms. Siclari stated.

Analysis of this study’s volunteers’ EEG recordings revealed that dreaming was linked to a drop in low-frequency activity in a region at the back of the brain, dubbed by the researchers the “posterior cortical hot zone” – a region that includes visual areas, as well as those involved in integrating the senses. The results held true, regardless of whether the dream occurred during REM or non-REM sleep.

Autists and dreaming

There have been studies relating to autists and dreaming – a 2008 study, “Dream content analysis in persons with an autism spectrum disorder”, published in the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, found that participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), had fewer recollections of dreaming, fewer bad dreams and fewer emotions. Dream content narratives were shorter in ASD participants than in controls, while ASD participants also reported fewer settings, objects, characters, social interactions, activities, and emotions.

There are many studies and articles pertaining to WHICH areas of the autistic brain are affected by the condition – the 2015 studyCharacteristics of Brains in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Structure, Function and Connectivity across the Lifespan”, published in the journal ‘Experimental Neurobiology’, explores this subject in great depth, stating for example that the brain areas associated with social communication and interaction challenges (e.g. experienced by an autistic person) are referred to as the ‘social brain area’, and include the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and its adjoining areas, which include the amygdala.

So, we know that autistic people are thought to dream DIFFERENTLY (e.g. supposedly fewer characters and social interactions in their dreams). But do they dream as autistic people – are they AWARE of their real-life ‘autisticness’, in their dreams – e.g. self aware? or do they dream as neurotypicals? They can’t know what it feels like to be neurotypical (autism being present from birth), but maybe autists dream in a subconscious, wish-fulfilment way that projects what life would be like as a neurotypical person?

There’s no way of ascertaining answers here, but we’d love to know other people’s thoughts and opinions on the matter!

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 

Click HERE to read more of our ‘foundation posts’ on key areas of autism spectrum disorders.

Autism and music: Do autistic brains have DIFFERENT auditory fibres? Can autists FEEL music differently? (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s/PDA)

Autism and music: Do autistic brains have DIFFERENT auditory fibres? Can autists FEEL music differently? (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s/PDA)

Do some autistic people FEEL music differently?

This blog post is quite a personal one, and it is about music. Like the vast majority of the population, including those who are neurotypical (NT), as well as people on the autistic spectrum, I really enjoy music. I’d like to discuss here how music makes us feel; I can only speak as a person with autism, as I only know how music feels to me; and I don’t know if what I feel is the same for other neurodiverse or autistic people, or indeed for NT people across the population. As rather than just listening to and enjoying music, I feel it.

Before delving further into this blog, I will highlight an interesting article I read, called ‘If Music Gives You Goosebumps, You May Have A Very Special Brain’. It reports that: ‘People who get a reaction from music make an emotional and physical connection to the sounds they’re hearing… [and] actually have a different brain structure to people who don’t. The fibres that connect the auditory cortex (the part that processes everything you hear) and the areas that process emotion have a denser volume [in people that feel and ‘react’ to music, as opposed to …] people who feel nothing at all.’

This article leads me to believe that (a) NOT everyone feels or interprets music in the way that myself and many other people do, and (b) there could be a very real chance that some autistic brains have DIFFERENT auditory fibres, giving the autist a very different experience of listening to music.

So… for me, as a person with autism (ASD / ASC / Asperger’s), most of all, I think I like to feel the baseline – you simply can’t beat a good base drum or a good base guitar (and preferably both); a nice way to experience this is at a live gig, and often the louder the better – this is quite a physical feeling, in terms of the beat going through your body. It is also great to feel and interpret music when listening to it at home, ideally via good-quality headphones. As an autist, e.g. with the autistic trait of challenges in processing emotions (they are usually deemed too fast or too slow, too obsessive or too far removed, at the appropriate moment!), music changes the way I am feeling in an extremely fast way – with a mechanism that can over-ride usual emotional proccessing speeds. For me, it isn’t necessarily about the lyrics; these may count of course, but it is more the key of the music, the timbre of the voice, and the emotional tone of the piece. One of the best ways to illustrate this is with a song: “I Believe (When I fall in love with you it will be forever)” by Stevie Wonder. It is in my opinion one of the best pop songs ever written. (Art Garfunkel’s version is my favourite – see below). The key changes at: “The many sounds that meet our ears, the sights our eyes behold… will open up our merging hearts and feed our empty souls,” and a stringy, uber-emotional pre-chorus bridge lifts you up into the chorus. It’s unrivalled in my mind. Just that sixteen-second piece of music (the bridge!) brings me to tears sometimes, not because of sadness, but because it is so moving.


This is a lovey-dovey song of course, so it makes sense that it’s been created in order to ‘move’ us. But more upbeat (and / or non-loved-up themes) can have a similar effect. If I’m feeling particularly sensitive then good ‘bassy’ music works well. Robert Plant, in some of his more recent works, has used African drum rhythms and a type of drum called a ‘bendir’, and literally hearing one or two of these drum beats on a song of his that I enjoy can fill me with uplifting emotion.

The timbre of someone’s voice can give me goosebumps, and again this is not necessarily about the words they are singing – a good example of a voice conveying emotion is George Michael.‘The first time ever I saw her face’, originally sung by Peggy Seeger and made famous by Roberta Flack, is sung beautifully on George’s Symphonica album. Although the words are beautiful, it is the sound of his voice and the intent of his words, e.g. his emotional delivery, that makes this version especially spine tingling.

Another thing I enjoy doing is picking apart a song – for example, on one hearing, listening to vocalist A’s voice, and then re-playing and focussing on vocalist B’s voice. (Lady Antebellum are great for this, due to their perfect harmonies and clever production). And I like identifying the different instruments on a song, and perhaps who is playing them!

The point of discussion here on I suppose is: are these feelings and interpretations of mine linked to being autistic, and if so, how amazing! Many musicians, singers and songwriters seemingly have traits of autism, even if the artist themselves is unaware that they may be on the autistic spectrum, or at the very least has not come out as being autistic! This is probably because autism can bring great creativity, and a fascination with word play, particularly rhyming, and also a dedication to learning, possibly linked to repetitive thought processes; this surely lends itself to learning a musical instrument, or honing one’s voice with hours of practice.

NB – there are studies linked to autism and music – this one titled ‘Neural systems for speech and song in autism’ and published in the journal ‘Brain’ concludes that: ‘In autism, functional systems that process speech and song were more effectively engaged for song than for speech.’(Click HERE for info).

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. Click HERE for info on the author of this piece.

(You may also like to read this POST on functioning labels for autists).

I’d love to know from readers (autist and NT alike!) their opinions and experiences, regarding HOW they enjoy music.