Updated: Feb 11
I want to to change the way we think and talk about Autism. And it starts with a lemon.
Lemons add flavor to our food, water, and tea. Autism adds flavor to humanity. Too much lemon can be a little bitter. And not enough won’t get the job done.
I use lemons to help people better understand Autism. Using the lemon analogy, I want to clear up how we talk about the spectrum so that even little kids can understand.
Most people talk about Autism as a disorder. And for those unfamiliar with Autism or Asperger’s or are just confused by these terms, let me give you a little heads up.
People who are on the spectrum are typical of average to high average intelligence, struggle with social skills and struggle with reading nonverbal communication. They can also have a specific or obsessive interest.
“WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD AUTISM, THINK LEMONS!”
These interests can include weather, dinosaurs, geology, history and hundreds of other topics. But their interest in these subjects is hyper-focused in that they can concentrate and focus on something longer than most people are able.
Those on the spectrum are male and female and everything in between. Most of the people I will be talking about in this article are male.
For context, if you are a female, you are typically born with some pretty good social skills. And no offense to guys, men are not born especially socially skilled. So if you’re a girl hit by the Asperger’s or Autism dart, she has truckloads of social skills to give up.
However, a male has fewer social skills often stands out more. So while I will be biased toward males, females and the spectrum are prominent. These women include Daryl Hannah, Temple Grandin, and Heather Kuzmitch who came in 4th on America’s next top model.
So back to Autism and lemons. In order to understand why I want to change the way we speak about Autism, I need to give you a brief history lesson to understand the stigma associated with Autism.
In the 1930’s a man named Dr. Hans Asperger in Austria started a school for kids who were rather eccentric. They were focused on train schedules and could hyper-focus on patterns and routines, but they struggled socially and sometimes behaviorally.
Dr. Asperger built a school for these kids and celebrated their style of learning. He gave them an education while also studying their unique minds.
At the same time across the Atlantic in the United States, Dr. Leo Kanner studied a similar group of kids but considered them incredibly rare and called them Autistic. This word was derived from the Greek word “Autos” which means self as he felt they were lost in their own worlds.
Dr. Kanner considered the children he observed as disordered and disabled often suggesting institutionalization. For the next 40 years, many were. But the true stigma of the word Autism came from what Dr. Kanner said was the cause. He blamed “Cold Mothers.”
He would describe the moms of Autistic kids as aloof, often reading books, involved in obscure hobbies or topics, and showing little warmth. This is likely because some of these moms were on the spectrum as well, and he misinterpreted their way of socializing.
And for the next 40 odd years, children who were “on the spectrum” were often institutionalized or hidden out of embarrassment and shame. Interestingly, Dr. Kanner knew of Asperger’s work but buried it in order to protect his own work and ego.
40 years later, this nice little word called Asperger’s came along thanks to a British Pediatrician named Lorna Wing. She described these kids as being socially awkward and having a special obsessive interest. They often struggled to make friends. And she noted that they were much more common than Dr. Kanner suggested.
And thus, Asperger’s became a more acceptable word while Autism was left as a significant disorder for which there was no cure. All of these words, Autism, Asperger’s, high functioning and low-functioning make understanding the spectrum confusing and difficult.
To reduce the confusion I want to change how we talk about it. And so let’s get back to that Lemon.
I want you to imagine a glass of water, lemon flavored water, lemonade, a lemon, and a lemon farm. This Lemon Continuum allows us to describe how much of the spectrum you are. Note that I say are and not have. The spectrum is not a thing you have but is your identity.
This Lemon Continuum is less and more and not good or bad. I would also argue that most of the people reading this article are helping to put more and more lemon in the water of humanity. If you have Facebook, Apple products, or Microsoft products, your money is supporting lemon flavored minds.
Bill Gates the creator of Microsoft, Wozniak the guy who built the Apple computer, and Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook are just three people who seem to have lemon in the water. And you can place people all along this Lemon Continuum. I use the lemon flavor to describe famous people who have a little or a lot.
This Lemon Continuum is actually our future and a new version of humanity is coming which I call Human 2.0.
Imagine you are a highly intelligent but socially awkward man with lemon in the water living in the middle ages.
Where would you live?
A monastery, a university?
And what would you do?
Build a telescope? Discover gravity? Translate a Bible?
And how many parties would you be invited to? None. And if you did, it would just be a bunch of dudes. You don’t meet the ladies and you don’t have babies. Your DNA is lost.
Let’s go to the industrial revolution. Where would this socially awkward and intelligent man live? New York? Philadelphia?
What would you do?
You would be Ben Franklin and discover electricity and your friend would be the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson who wrote the declaration of independence in basically one take and founded UVA. He was an economist who went bankrupt and an architect who never finished his house. He walked around town with a bird on his shoulder, wore bedroom slippers everywhere, and mumbled his speeches.
Do you think they got invited to parties? Yep! And they met women and had babies. Their DNA continued.
Now let’s go to 2000s. Your name is Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, or Mark Zuckerberg. Where do you live? Anywhere you want. Do you get invited to parties?
Yep, and you hold counsel with the President of the United States. And if you are Wozniak, the man who built the first Apple computer, you even go on dancing with the stars! You meet women and your DNA continues.
But who does this highly intelligent but awkward man connect with? Often it is a highly social woman who is incredibly intelligent. She falls in love with this man’s mind.
He knows so much about interesting things like dinosaurs, computers, and politics. He tends to be rule-governed. But, his tie isn’t straight and his hair is a little messed up. She gets to fix his tie and remind him the names of people.
She is a caring person who is typically a teacher, nurse, social worker, or psychologist. Now imagine coupling these two people for 20 generations? What might that look like?
I call it Human 2.0 and this person has the best of both worlds. And thanks to most all of you and your wallets, this LEMON-flavored mind is taking over the world.
So when you hear Autism. Think about lemons. Sometimes it can be a little bitter but water wouldn’t be nearly as good without it.
There’s this joke that people who are Autistic or Asperger’s are going to take over the world. The real joke is that they already have but haven’t told you yet!