The Spectrum: Fursuiting with Autism (Part 1) – Guest post by Enjy

by Dogpatch Press Staff

Inspired by the above Twitter thread, I proposed doing a whole article. Guest author Enjy took it on and delivered far more than expected from a one-line topic. A lot of the content comes from interview subjects, as Enjy said: “I wanted to stray away from brevity and let them speak naturally to help neurotypicals understand how autistic people formulate their thoughts, that they might consider it when interacting with them.”

Thanks to Enjy for hard work (and thank-you tips are now being paid for article submissions too. A site sponsorship is coming soon to make it even easier with a PBS-like model.) Thanks to Patreon patrons for helping to fund this and to @Deotasdevil for supporting Enjy.

Parts 2-3 will post later this week. Enjy continues. – (Patch)

Thanks to Doc Fox, Heathen (fursona Manik), and Pluma for doing interviews.


== A (Very) Brief History of Autism ==



It is a word that is scary for some, misunderstood by most, and impossible to pin under a single definition. Due to it’s prevalence today, with new technologies allowing easier and more thorough evaluations of a child’s health, you may be under the impression that autism is a fairly new disorder. However, this could not be further from the truth.

One of the first, if not the first, recorded instances of Autism dates back to 1797, when French physician Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard described the symptoms of the famous “Wild Boy of Aveyron,” known only as Victor, discovered living in the woods at age 12. He showed several signs of what we would call Non Verbal Learning Disorder today. Itard, a pioneer in diagnosing and understanding mental health that is also credited for discovering Tourette’s Syndrome, treated Victor with a method akin to the “speech classes” used in schools to this very day.

Feral children like Victor were a source for “raised by wolves” stories, myths, and romanticized characters like Mowgli in Kipling’s Jungle Book — although evidence may show that many such stories are hoaxes with no wolves involved.

Most of the unfairly negative connotations of the word Autism comes from the unfortunate hubris of Paul Eugen Bleuler, the Swiss psychologist who discovered Schizophrenia. He invented the word himself, which comes from the Greek term “Autos” for “Self”. He chose the term to describe the isolation that Autism commonly manifests as, resulting in the word’s definition being “the isolated self”. He coined it for the purpose of diagnosing Schizophrenic adults, Autism being one of four “A’s” that made up the wider definiton of Dementia Praecox or Schizophrenia: Affectivity, Associations, Autism, and Ambivalence. This is detailed in his landmark paper published in 1908 titled “Dementia Praecox Oder Gruppe der Schizophrenien”, or in English, “Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias”.

For decades, thanks to his broad terminology, Autistic people were lumped in with schizophrenics, psychopaths, and other much more severe mental health issues, treated with the same methods which had a very low rate of success. This led to their shunning from society and casting them out of communities.

However, this all would change with the arrival of one Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician who published the first definition of what would come to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the most common types of Autism found today, in 1944. Despite using Bleuler’s language of “autistic psychopathy” to define the condition, Asperger brought a more positive light to the children he studied, calling them “little professors” due to their penchant for being able to talk at length about their favorite subjects even at such young ages.

It is even posited that Hans Asperger published his positive views on Autism to save the children in his care from the Nazi menace, resisting their warped views on disability and genocide. At least, that was the accepted story until new research brought troubling controversy — did benefits come at the expense of Asperger’s collaboration with the Nazis in killing children to advance his career?

Whatever the intentions, highlighting capabilities as scientists and great thinkers pulled the discourse away from the broad “psychopathic” strokes that Bleuler painted them with. This was threatened by Asperger’s once-colleague Leo Kanner, who introduced such ridiculous ideas as “infantile schizophrenia” and the absurd notion that Autism was born of maternal deprivation, introducing familial blame and stigmas that still exist to this day.

In the mid 1970s, a genius woman researcher from Britain named Lorna Wing crushed Kanner’s misconceptions and turned the understanding of Autism on its head. Using Asperger’s positive research as a basis, she is credited with introducing the idea of the Autistic Spectrum, the now widely accepted definition of Autism. She introduced many concepts still used today, like Autistic children having sensory issues, disinterest in pretend play, and the fact that Autism affects many people from many walks of life. She famously stated, “Nature has never drawn a line without smudging it”. Wing even formed one of the first epidemiological views on Autism, making the then-bold claim that it affected as many as 1 in 1,000 children; far more than Kanner’s assumption of 1 in 10,000.

In the decades since Wing’s research has been published, her model has been confirmed and proven correct by tens of thousands of scientists in all corners of the world, being used to fine-tune Autism diagnosis in a way that has shown us the shocking truth that now, 1 in 100 children have Autism. In her 1981 paper titled “Asperger Syndrome: a Clinical Account”, she wrote the first recorded instance of the term “Asperger’s Syndrome,” using Asperger’s studies combined with her own findings to define what she deemed “high-functioning Autism”. (In some places, Asperger’s is now being less favored as a separate diagnosis to bring it under the umbrella of one spectrum.)

Wing also, along with fellow researcher Judith Gould, formed the Centre for Social and Communication Disorders, the very first diagnostic and treatment center for Autism in the United Kingdom. Her research is arguably the most important and prevalent in our understanding of Autism today, and it is directly because of her that Europe and the rest of the world is able to help its Autistic residents in the best ways they can.

== Autism in the Furry Fandom ==


Now that we have learned a little about the origins of Autism, or how we have come to understand the many disorders under that umbrella, we can look at how it fits into our fandom at large. In its groundbreaking study at 2018’s Anthrocon, FurScience published the following on their findings:

“In the present study, we asked whether participants had ever been formally diagnosed by a professional as being on the autism spectrum: 11.7% of furries indicated that they have. This is a number considerably higher than that of the general population, though it carries with it some important caveats. First, males are more likely than females to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and given that the fandom is predominantly male, this may account for at least some of this difference. As a second point, we believe that this finding is not unique to the furry fandom, but rather is a characteristic of any fan group. Given that one of the diagnostic criteria of autism is a strong interest / fascination with a specific subject, we think that fandoms – as places full of people with passionate interests in a topic – may be particularly appealing to people on the autism spectrum.”

According to the most in depth study on furry psychology published to date, there is more than a 1 in 10 chance that a furry you know is somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. This makes it very important for those of us who are neurotypical to try and understand how our Autistic friends operate in our communities and conventions.

Autism does not come with any visual indicators. You may see someone “stimming” or having “tics”, involuntary body movements, but many times, an Autistic person will try their best to act what they perceive as “normally” in a process that Lorna Wing titled “social deficiency”. This means that, being experts at emulation, Autistic people try their best to fit in around us by copying our behavior. This makes it especially difficult to know who you will and won’t trigger, because by and large, Autistic people can fit in perfectly with massive, vague groups much like the ones at furry conventions.

To this end, with the gracious help of DeoTasDevil (@DeoTasDevil), I had the chance to speak with a few Autistic fursuiters to help us understand ways that we can treat everyone at a convention to be more welcoming, understanding, and inclusive to the Autistic people around us.

If you are on the Autistic Spectrum, there are also a few tips on how fursuiting can help make socializing easier and what to be careful for when suiting. I have purposely used the same basic set of questions for all the participants to highlight how their specific disorders change their perception on the same issues, to give neurotypicals a broader understanding of the many angles we need to think about, and to show that Autism is never the same between two people.

Coming next — in Part 2: Doc Fox (Asperger’s Syndrome) and Heathen (Non Verbal learning Disorder) — In Part 3: Pluma (ADHD).