The Spectrum of Distraction: Autism, OCD, Aspergers, ADD

The Autism Spectrum: the Four Ways We Feel Compelled to Master Our World

When I wrote this article in 2004, I was just finishing my personality theory. So when I read this article today, I, like many writers, feel compelled to go back and update it. The thing is, while I voice my ideas somewhat differently today, the ideas themselves remain the same—especially the idea that treating people on the Autism Spectrum as medically broken is just plain ignorant, cruel, and wrong.

In truth, people on the spectrum are folks who have extreme versions of one of the four ways we master life—[1] we master our sensations, [2] we master the ability to sense things, [3] we master the ability to assign meanings to the things we sense, and [4] we master the ability to free ourselves from the ongoing need to master these three skills. Moreover, this idea—that folks with Asperger's have an extreme focus on one of the four ways we master life—remains true no matter what the cause of the condition. This means the best way to see people on the spectrum is as folks with minority personalities. And the best way to help them and us is to learn to understand—and connect with—people with these minority personalities.

Sadly, as long as we continue to define "normal" as the characteristics of the statistically largest group, we'll continue to see people on the spectrum as folks who are broken and need to be taught to act more like normal people. Indeed if you think about it, about the cruelest thing you could ever do to a person—on or off the spectrum—is to teach this person to not be themselves but rather, to imitate normal. And yes, folks on the spectrum do not easily fit into the molds society casts for us all. But every one of these folks, including me, is a human being first and only then, a person on the spectrum.

Does this sound more compassionate than the usual medical drivel? Are you chomping at the bit to tell me how misguided I am? Either way, remember the point here. The most caring thing you can ever do for someone you love is to take the time to get to know them. So if you love someone on the spectrum, care enough to see past the labels and get to know this person as the beautiful being he or she was born to be. Hopefully, this article will point you in that direction.

Let me say this right up front: My skill at presenting the theory you'll find here is still in the early stages. Even so, what I'm about to show you is the result of more than nine years of observations and explorations involving many hundreds of people. What am I about to show you? That Autism, OCD / OCPD, Asperger's Syndrome, and ADD are the same condition contracted at different ages; more so, that the age of onset determines what will distract the person. Equally important too, because these ideas come from the theories and practice of a personality theorist, they reveal an even deeper truth. This truth is that all symptoms, including these four groups of clustered distractions, are normal life responses experienced at abnormal times and in abnormal ways.

In a sense, what I'm saying is, all symptoms are a compulsive repetition of what was once a normal, natural response to life. Thus symptoms are like the sound of a stuck phonograph record which "compulsively" replays a small section of what may in fact be beautiful music. Even the most beautiful music endlessly replayed will feel terribly annoying or worse. All symptoms, then, including the symptoms of these four conditions, are simply a "compulsive" replaying of what was once a normal human response to life.

Now let's take this idea a step further. Given you can blamelessly explore peoples' symptoms (including the symptoms of these four conditions), what will you find? You'll find that all symptoms reveal, not the source of a condition, but rather the onset of the condition; not the "cause" of an illness, but rather the literal life stage on which a particular symptom, or cluster of symptoms, was once a normal, natural, healthy response to the person's life events. What do you gain by looking at symptoms in this light? For one thing, more focused healing interventions. For another, less suffering during the healing process. And for another, more natural compassion and blamelessness.

Here, then, are the two ideas which I will explore in this article: [1] the connections between the four conditions I've previously named: the connections between Autism, OCD / OCPD, Asperger's Syndrome and ADD, and [2] that using symptoms to find the literal life stage and onset of illness can be a far more potent, compassionate, and potentially healing approach than using symptoms to project a cause.

What is Autism?

What is "autism?"Autism is "a social impairment wherein a person suffers from a pervasive category of socially disconnecting distractions."

The principle symptom? The profound inability to connect to socially normal people.

The principle behavior? Compulsively focusing on things other than personal relationships at the expense of personal relationships.

Using this definition then, all four of the conditions I've listed here can be considered a variety of autism.

Is this link—a common definition—enough though? Of course not. However, this common definition does function as a good starting point for understanding these four conditions. More on this in a moment. Before offering specifics, allow me, first, to comment on the word "autism" itself.

Many people, when they hear the word autism, cringe. Why? Because for them, the word "autism" carries a very deep charge. Autism originally meant Kanner's Autism—the isolated, rocking, removed autism. So I can understand if you feel angry at me for suggesting that your recently-diagnosed-with-ADD, little boy or girl has a form of autism.

Why Must We Use This Word?

In truth then, most people can not even tolerate the thought that anyone they love has "autism." Why even use this word then?

  • First, because it is the best way to describe what people with these four conditions have in common: these people all suffer from a significant social impairment, a personality deficit which causes them to repeatedly fail to make or maintain normal social connections to others. Certainly the word "autism" conveys this impairment well.
  • Second, because the aversion people feel to this word so mirrors the aversion people feel to those who have these conditions. In a sense, the word "autism" carries much of the meaning of this condition even to those who don't understand it.
  • Third, because facing this aversion head-on with blamelessness, honesty, and compassion is the only way we will even learn to offer genuinely helpful assistance to those with autism. And be able to connect to them as fellow human beings.
  • Fourth, since we all have some degree of the symptoms present in these four conditions, learning to understand these four conditions can forever change how we understand ourselves and each other. And improve how we live, learn, love, grow, and connect to one another.

We All Suffer From Some Degree of Autism

Am I saying we all suffer from some degree of autism? Yes, I am saying this. Hopefully, by the end of this article, I'll be able to help you to see this idea through loving eyes. Why say this though? Why say we all suffer from some degree of autism? Because I believe it is only through seeing the four "autisms" in ourselves that we can ever hope to help the more severely autistic among us. And learn to see our differing learning styles and social abilities as "diversity" rather than disease.

What are the "four autisms?" Kanner's Autism, OCPD, Asperger's Syndrome, and ADD. And for those less medically oriented, allow me to offer some very brief pictures of these conditions.

Kanner's Autism (classic autism)

Picture a little boy, age four and a half, sitting apart from the other children, alone, in his rocking chair.

His eyes? Flat. His focus? Unknown. His feelings? Primitive. His needs? To be unnoticed and untouched and free to engage in his sensory rituals; currently his rocking.

How does he respond when others try to connect?

With anything from abject indifference to angry squeals.

OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder)

Picture a little girl, aged two and a half. She too is sitting apart from the other children.

What is she doing?

Arranging her crayons, over and over.

Her eyes? Bright and intense. Her focus? Discovering the correct order for the crayons. Her feelings? Strong and basic. Her needs? To be untouched and uninterrupted and free to engage in her sorting rituals.

How does she respond when others try to connect?

With anything from annoyed withdrawal to indifferently tolerant compliance.

Asperger's Syndrome

Picture a little eight year old boy, standing away from the other children but next to the adults and looking up at them.

What is he doing?

Trying to engage them in a conversation about how car transmissions work.

His eyes? Bright yet distant. His focus? Sharing his discoveries about the true nature of car transmissions. His feelings? Precocious and hyper-mature. His needs? For the adults to listen to what he has discovered. And to be seen as intellectually credible.

How does he respond when others try to connect?

To his peers? He appears naively clumsy.

To adults?

If on his topic, he responds with intellectual excitement. Off his topic, he responds with anything from indifferent tolerance to impulsive yet empty compliance.

ADD (attention deficit disorder)

Picture an twelve year old girl sitting in the back of a classroom, being asked by the teacher for the fifth time to stop talking to her friend.

Her eyes? Alternately annoyed and defiant, and confused. Her focus? On doing what she wants to do regardless of the rules. Her feelings? Rebelliously dark, judgmental, and intolerant. Her needs? To be free to ignore any and all rules and to be accepted despite this non-compliance.

How does she respond when others try to connect?

To similarly rebellious peers and adults? With protective social alignment and negative bonding.

To normal peers and adults? She looks down on them as if they are sheep. And judges them as stupid or naive for valuing the normal.

Distraction as the Common Thread For All Conditions on the Autism Spectrum

What I have just shown you are four brief pictures, each but an instant in a child's life. Even so, examined more closely, these four pictures reveal what Emergence Practitioners call, a "thread of similarity"; a common thread which connects these four conditions.

What common thread connects these four conditions? The significant inability to connect with socially normal peers.

What about the differences between these four conditions though? Aren't they each a very different conditions? Outwardly? Yes. They are very different. Even so, this thread of similarity remains the most important feature of all four conditions.

What Makes These Conditions Different Then?

What about the differences then? What accounts for the differences? Primarily, just one thing—the age at which the condition began. What does this have to do with the symptoms? It determines the point at which the music of the child's life got stuck. Translation. It determines what will from then on distract the child; in essence, the primary "difference" symptoms. In other words, what I'm saying is that the nature of what distracts these children is what we use to identify each of these four conditions. And the nature of these distractions is almost entirely defined by what these children were focusing on at the time they developed their conditions.

What were these children focusing on at the time they developed their conditions?

  • With Kanner's Autism—Exploring their five physical senses and intuitive sense.
  • With OCD / OCPD—Using what they had just learned about their senses to explore the "things in their world."
  • With Asperger's Syndrome—Using what they had learned so far about the things in their world to mentally and emotionally categorize their "ideas about their world."
  • With ADD—Using what they had learned about their ideas to individuate from other peoples' systems of ideas. In a sense, these children get stuck in the period in which it was normal to recoil from the requests of others to learn ideas.

Autism as "Classes of Social Distraction"

"Sensation" itself; sensing "things"; organizing "ideas"; "rebelling" against the ideas of others: the four distractions. Combined with the primary symptom—the significant inability to connect with socially normal peers—these simple descriptions offer incredibly comprehensive ways to understand these four conditions. Further, these four simple descriptions derive from only two things; [1] the common thread: the significant inability to connect with socially normal peers; and [2] the primary "difference" symptoms: the child's primary focus at the time each condition developed.

Now let me describe these two ideas in a bit more detail. Let's begin with Kanner's Autism.

What does a baby focus on during the first months of its life? On exploring and managing its system of sensory understanding. On learning to use and self regulate their hearing, smell, taste, touch, sight, and intuition sensations.

With Kanner's Autism, wherein parents sometimes sense something wrong right from the moment of birth, the baby's focus gets stuck there. Thus, these babies get caught in an endless loop of trying to learn how to self regulate and manage how they sense their world. More over, because they get stuck in learning about sensation, they get very distracted whenever they can not manage what they sense in their world.

When do babies with Kanner's Autism usually get diagnosed? Usually, sometime before age three.

Why so late? Probably because no one wants their child to be autistic. And because the parents hope their child will outgrow the symptoms.

So when could those around a baby begin to see signs that their child might have autism? As I've said, some parents know right something is wrong from the moment of birth. However, a more certain time to become concerned would be in the period right after the first mastery stage, at the point at which it would have been normal for the baby to have achieved some mastery of his or her sensory self regulation.

What age is this, specifically? Somewhere around age six months old or so. Why age six months or so? My guess is, this is the age at which babies normally come into a more fully developed sense of vision. In all likelihood then, this more developed sense of vision is what draws babies to explore the things they "see" in their environment.

Recapping then, normal babies focus primarily on mastering sensory self regulation in the first six months or so of life. Then, when they achieve some degree of mastery over this, and when they have developed a somewhat normal sense of vision, their focus changes from mastering their senses to mastering how they sense the things they see in their environment.

Please note, these "things" include their own bodies. Why their bodies? Because at this point, they have yet to incorporate any sense of separation between themselves and their world. Thus, their bodies are simply one of the "things" they sense in their environment.

Finally, if a baby does not progress to this next step; to the mastery of things; what happens?

This lack of progress implies that the baby has become stuck in the first mastery stage, the mastery of "sensation." And when this stuckness happens to an extreme, the baby gets a condition which we call Kanner's Autism.

What if the baby later does progress? It seems there is a season for mastery. Thus, although author Temple Grandin certainly has progressed far beyond what most people with Kanner's Autism will ever achieve, she remains, by her own admission, clearly different than normal folks, and very much autistic.

Now what about those babies who do progress into the second mastery stage?

If a baby progresses into the second mastery stage, then he or she spends roughly the next six months or so using their newly acquired sensory skills to master their ability to sense the things in their environment. And the ability to not sense them. As I've already noted, to babies this age, these "things" include their bodies.

Why mention their bodies again?

Because a common symptom of those with OCD / OCPD is that they compulsively pick at minor imperfections in their skin or on their faces, often until they bleed and get sore. In fact, in the case of one woman with whom I worked for several years, when we explored her compulsion to pick at her body, something she often did to the point of bleeding, I was initially shocked by her ability to hurt herself consciously. This, in fact, was, to me, the most startling thing about this woman who, despite the way she compulsive sorted things, was an otherwise exceptionally intelligent person.

Consciously hurting herself was an act which total contradicted what I had come to believe and had been observing for years about people who were conscious—that conscious people do not hurt themselves or others—that people who do hurt themselves or others are, to some degree, personally unconscious. People with OCD / OCPD are the exception. They can be totally conscious while picking at a sore and in fact, can feel much satisfaction and joy in doing this.

Thus babies who get stuck in the second mastery stage will feel compelled to continue to focus on how they sense things long past this stage, including picking at their bodies.

Do all OCD / OCPD babies pick at their bodies? No. For example, a baby stuck in this second stage may compulsively rub a blanket edge or a furry toy long past the normal age for a baby to do this. Or they may cry when things in their environment get moved to a position which is frightening or confusing to them.

Then too, they may also be prone to compulsively rubbing their fingers or hands together or to touching their ear lobes over and over, sometimes to the point they create a sore or bleed.

Again, how can these babies do this? Because babies (and adults) who get stuck in this second mastery stage, in some ways, do not progress into seeing their bodies as themselves.

What are they seeing, then, when they pick at themselves? The same thing they see when they compulsively touch any other object; they are compulsively exploring a "thing" in their environment. Why? To learn about it. And to master their ability to sense all the things in their world. Unfortunately, these babies get stuck in an endless loop of these explorations, often to the point wherein symptoms develop.

Then too, not all people with OCD / OCPD pick at their bodies to the degree they bleed. My point is though, that when they do, for them, it is no different than when they repeatedly manipulate any other object or group of things.

When does OCD / OCPD usually get diagnosed? Often, not until well after age three. When could it get diagnosed? Sometime just after the second mastery stage would normally end. Somewhere around age twelve to fourteen months or so. Why does such a serious condition go undiagnosed for so long? Again, probably because no one wants to see someone they love diagnosed with such a serious condition. Perhaps too, because we have so far failed to grasp how significant the timing is for when these four mastery stages progress.


What about the babies who do progress into the third mastery stage? What do these babies focus on? They focus on what they think about their world; their "ideas." How can you tell? You can't. However, one way to know they are engaged in this process is that they begin to practice telling others their ideas. In other words, they engage in what I call, "pseudo-speech."

What is "pseudo-speech? It's roughly akin to what some people call, "baby talk." Unlike the cute but unimportant meanings usually assigned to baby talk though, pseudo-speech is incredibly important. What, then, is so important about pseudo-speech? Pseudo-speech is the interplay normally developing babies engage in which, in all but verbal content, resembles normal, adult conversation. Thus a ten month old baby may engage you in an interplay which involves exchanging eyes glances and facial expressions, but a sixteen month old baby will exchange melodically spoken sounds and rhythmic stops and starts and will even do this with strangers.

What happens if a baby does not progress into pseudo-speech? Babies who, by age two, appear to be interested in how things work but have not engaged in pseudo-speech will have some degree of Asperger's Syndrome. Please realize what I'm saying here. These babies have achieved some mastery of the second mastery stage; the sensing of things. And of the first stage; sensation itself. However, what they have not learned to do though is to imitate the form and style normal people use to communicate their ideas to others; what they think and feel about what they have mastered.

What Prevents Pseudo-Speech?

What could prevent a baby from engaging in pseudo-speech?

I have yet to understand this in any comprehensive way. I have, however, one example which is clear to me. You see, I have Asperger's Syndrome. I also know with certainty that I did not engage in pseudo-speech. How do I know this? I remember my parents frequently explaining to others my reluctance to speak as my being "shy," this despite the fact that I had spoken language skills far beyond my age.

Similarly, the mother of a young woman with Asperger's told me, she had believed her daughter was actually "reading" at three. Later, she realized her daughter had not been reading but had simply been parroting these words with no sense of what they meant.

Currently, I see a little eight year old Asperger's kid and his parents also told me, he, too, did not engage in pseudo-speech. Yet he knows and can speak words far beyond his age. This verbal emptiness; precociously reciting words with little to no sense of what they mean; is very typical of people with Asperger's Syndrome. I very definitely had this symptom.

Growing Up in a Silent House

What confirms my beliefs about myself even more though is the picture of the stage on which I grew up—I was the first born and my mother was schizophrenic. Also, during my first years alive, my mother—who was hypersensitive to any and all sounds—maintained an almost absolutely silent home. Except, of course, during holidays when she liked to hear holiday music.

In a sense you could say that in my first years alive, the only voices I was exposed to in a normal sense were the voices of vocalists such as Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. No surprise that I loved their voices and still do to this day. Nor is it surprising that despite my gross inability to speak up in classrooms or to respond to peers, by age twenty-one, I'd had several albums of me singing in an acapella group released, including that my group had been written up in Rolling Stone.

I had mastered sung vocals in my third mastery stage. But not conversation. Nor dialogue of any kind, including classroom exchanges or talking to peers in general. Moreover, I had no friends. How could I have had them? I couldn't even have simple conversations with them.

So when is Asperger's usually diagnosed? Usually between ages three and six. When could the Asperger's symptoms actually be first seen though? Somewhere toward the end of the baby's second year of life, wherein there should have been many instances of pseudo-speech exchanges. Along with a developing interest in not being forced to learn the ideas of others. This, then, is how the fourth mastery stage begin.

Some, at this point, may think I'm implying these stages are progressive, and to some degree they are. Please know, however, that a baby who gets stuck in the second mastery stage may master the third stage normally. In fact, often, this is the case. For instance, the woman I mentioned in the OCPD section, the one who picked at her body consciously, was exceptionally adept with connecting to others with language and conversation.

My point?

People can have any combination of mastery and stuckness. And they can get stuck in more than one stage and may still master the stages which follow. Or they may get stuck in the first stage and never progress out it.

Now what about those babies who do master the first three stages. What is the fourth mastery stage like?

The fourth mastery stage is, in a sense, the most difficult to see the value in, in that babies in this stage are compulsively rebellious. In truth, then, most parents of babies in this stage simply do their best to endure this stage.

What does this stage look like? The common label is the "terrible two's," and this label is actually pretty accurate. What do babies learn in this fourth mastery stage? That they exist as separate beings. And as valued beings despite their differences. And as beings who, despite their faults, are worth loving and are wanted. What happens to children who do not master this stage? These children develop some degree of ADD; Attention Deficit Disorder.

What distracts them?

Any requests from others that they focus on something they have not, themselves, decided to focus on.

In a sense, they experience these requests from others to change their focus as being forced to focus on what does not interest them. Thus, when people make these requests, these children will, in some way, rebel, either outwardly, or inwardly.

When do children with ADD usually get diagnosed? Usually, somewhere around age eight to twelve. When do the signs of ADD first appear though? With ADD, the signs are usually apparent in children in and around age four to six. Why? Because by this age, children normally progress into a time wherein they love learning and connecting their world. And connecting to others, both to their peers and to adults.

Children with ADD do learn to connect to some people. Who? They learn to connect to socially similar kids and adults, beings who rebel against requests made on them to focus on things they are not interested in. Of course, if you are not similarly rebellious, they see no value in connecting to you, especially if you are clearly in the normal group.

One final note. ADD and ADHD are not the same condition. Thus, although any child with one of the four autisms will fidget at times, children with hyperactivity suffer from some wound specific to being "still" rather than to socially connecting. How can I know this? Because I have worked with a number of children who have had hyperactivity. In each case, I was able to find a scene or scenes wherein the child had been startled by a request to be still.

Am I saying this is always the case with ADHD? No. I am not. In fact, I know all too well that at this point, I simply have too little data to assume such a thing. Even so, there is a very obvious difference in an otherwise normal child who suddenly begins to have trouble sitting still and a child who is responding to some deeper internal struggle against learning.

  • And the fidgeting Asperger's kids do? Asperger's kids respond differently than ADHD kids to requests that they stop fidgeting. How? Asperger's kids respond with some degree of non-judgmental detachment.
  • And ADD kids? ADD kids respond with varying degrees of judgmental aggression, either inward or outward.
  • And ADHD kids? ADHD kids respond with some degree of frustration at their inability to sit still.

Too basic to be useful? You're probably right. However, any degree of real assessment criteria, no matter how small, is more valuable than volumes of inaccurate assessment criteria.

At this point, I'm sure many of you will have recognized degrees of the four autisms in yourselves. But am I right? Do we all suffer from some degree of autism?

Let me ask you this—do you ever suffer from an inability to connect socially to peers? If you do then yes, you suffer from some degree of at least one of the four autisms.

How can you know which? You can know which autism you suffer from by which life skill feels most important to you; comfort, neatness, understanding, freedom. Or by which life skill distracts you most if you lack it.

Also important, at present, much of the stigma of autism comes from autistic peoples' inability to connect socially to peers. Yet don't we all suffer from some degree of this very inability? Don't we all have times when we struggle to connect?

Then, too, there is the fact that we more often focus on the oddities present in autistic people rather than on their inability to socially connect. In fact, we base most of our diagnoses of on the presence of these primary "difference" symptoms, rather than on the primary symptom; the inability to connect socially.

Because we do, we, most times, miss out on what is certainly the best chance we have to understand, and help, those with the more severe cases of autism.

What is our best chance to help these people? To see how we, ourselves, have much in common even with those with the more severe forms of autism. And to see that it is only through exploring this commonality that we become able to develop the loving interventions these people truly deserve.

What I've presented so far is the idea that there are actually four autisms—further, that each autism is an exaggerated version of what was once a normal period of human mastery, a time wherein all of us experience a desire to sense his or her life from a certain perspective and in a certain way. What about the kids who do master these four skills? What do I call their skills?

I call their four skills, the "Four Master Life Skills."

What are the "Four Master Life Skills?"Comfort. Neatness. Understanding. And Freedom. Certainly, these are wonderful life skills for all of us to learn. And far more necessary than anyone has ever seen. More important though, being able to see people with one of the four autisms as people who are stuck in what are otherwise just ordinary mastery stages is very helpful for many reasons. How?

For one thing, learning to assess people for deficits in these four mastery areas can help therapists and loved ones to develop more effective and focused interventions. More over, diagnosing children for these conditions becomes much easier when the professionals involved have four simple categories of life to examine and not some incredibly complex list of symptoms. Who wants to memorize lists of symptoms anyway? No one I know. Not even those with Asperger's.

More important still, lists of symptoms fail to address the true nature of any condition, autism or otherwise. And while those needing medical interventions do benefit from a doctor's ability to use lists of signs to quickly assess for illness, healing an illness requires much more than simply managing a person's symptoms.

Finally, seeing the four autisms as deficits we all share, can, to some degree, help reduce the stigma from which the more seriously impaired among us suffer.

Equally important, the more we learn to consciously observe our children, the earlier we can intervene.

What usually happens?

Usually, parents faced with the possibility their child might have autism go into shock. Then, once in shock, they do not consciously experience what they are faced with; that their child might need help. Sadly, this denial usually leads parents to delay getting competent help for their child, and these delays can be very detrimental. And very sad for both the child and the parents. Further, minimizing these delays are one of the most doable ways in which we can all improve, in our ability to help, and in our ability to cope.

What I am saying is just this: Giving love requires that we are conscious. Giving love earlier means children will suffer less and have a better chance to heal. However, in order to be conscious in such stressful situations, we must be educated in and around the symptoms so as to come out of shock sooner and be there for them earlier. I see overcoming our shock in and around the four autisms as one of the most important tasks we all now face. Please join me in working to personally learn to see autism consciously.

How can you begin? The best way I've come up with to begin to see autism consciously is to do a personal "life skills assessment." What is a "life skills assessment?"

Let's begin with assessing someone normal. Let's begin with assessing ourselves. To begin, first number the four mastery skills sequentially based on the order in which they appear. Thus "comfort" is the number one mastery skill. "Neatness" is the number two mastery skill. "Understanding" is the number three mastery skill. And "freedom" is the number four mastery skill.

Now let's list them once again.

[1] Comfort (sensation; the body: internal physical needs)
[2] Neatness (organization & systems; the body's world: external physical needs)
[3] Understanding (ideas & reasoning; the mind: internal mental needs), and
[4] Freedom (intuition & emotion; the mind's world: external mental needs).

Looking at the list, these things seem so ordinary and desirable. And they are. Unless, of course, you are stuck in an endless loop of learning to master one of these skills. In which case, you will feel compelled to either avoid this mastery as much as you can or to focus completely on this mastery alone. In which case, you will feel distracted whenever you feel the lack of this mastery.

Each of us suffers from some degree of stuckness in at least one of these four areas. To what degree? Let's see. Let's do an actual assessment, starting with me.

The first thing to do in a Four Life Skills Assessment is to try to recognize which mastery skill the person focuses on most often, or perhaps, which mastery skill the person feels most distracted by the lack of.

My First Priority: 3

For me, I feel most affected by my need to know how ideas about human nature fit together, and most distracted when I do not know. For instance, I've spent most of my life studying and reading and investigating things about how people work; how they think and feel and learn and grow. No surprise I've spent many years studying philosophy, religion, psychology and healing.

What is surprising though is the fact that I've done this to the extent that in the past few years, I have written a completely new theory of human personality. Of course, by "new," I mean the way it is organized is new. Even so, the theory itself; the way it organizes human nature; is new. Then too there is the scope of titles you can find on this web site. How "learning" happens. How the "psyche" develops. How "human consciousness" functions. How "addictions and compulsions" occur.

In each area, I've focused almost completely on finding a system within human nature which explains these things.

My point?

Anyone who knows me personally knows my top priority is number [3]: "understanding."

My Second Priority: 4

Which mastery skill is my next priority then?

Well, throughout my studies and searches for understanding, I have had a constant thread running through everything I've learned. This thread has to do with how people at times have been forced to accept other peoples' systems of human nature.

I dislike this happening a lot. In fact, while I love to have others teach me their systems of personality, being free to choose for myself what I believe and don't believe has always been very important to me. So important in fact that one of the key elements within my theory of personality is the freedom to see diversity as the birth right of all humans, rather than as illness or morality or social correctness.

So which skill is my second life-skills mastery priority?

Number 4; "freedom."

How do I know that my number one priority is "understanding" and not "freedom" though?

Because throughout my life, I have endured learning situations wherein I felt pressured by a teacher to parrot what he or she believed was true. And more often than not, I conformed to what was being asked of me so as to be allowed to remain in the classroom.

In each of these cases, I chose to exchange my freedom to discover for myself for the chance to remain in a classroom.


Yes. But then I believe forcing children to parrot the ideas of others is one of the major flaws in our school systems in general.

My point is though that my first priority is number 3; "understanding." And my second is number 4; "freedom."

My Third Priority: 2

What's my third life-skills mastery priority?

Well, for me, this question is easy.

I have books all over my house.

For the most part, these books reside in somewhat organized bookcases and cabinets and are currently organized by topics.

In years gone by, I've organized my books in several other ways, including alphabetically within topics and at times, by what my then most current interest was.

More over, friends have often told me that my things in general are pretty neat and organized. Which they are. Except when I'm in the midst of trying to systemically reorganize some facet of what I understand about human nature. In which case, you would probably find many books and papers and pads filled with my thoughts spread throughout my work areas. Unorganized. In piles. And in no particular order.

For instance, one of my current interests is the theme I'm exploring in this article; how the four distractions fit together. To wit, I have some twenty or so books spread out throughout my reading areas.

And I have papers and pads filled with possible ways these conditions fit together strewn all over my desks.

I even have several unfinished articles in my computers and on pads wherein I've tried to discover a system which connects these illnesses. And so on.

But then there's my closets.

Oh, my closets!

Thus if you were to look at how I've organized all the nails and screws in my house, you might gag.

And if you were to open my clothes closets and scan across the shirts and pants or worse, if you were to look in my sock drawers at the dozens of organized-by-color socks, you might see shades of Felix Unger.

So is organizing my things important?


But my free access to my books overrides this.

My free access to everything?


But to my books, which is about my "understanding."

Now the double check.

My Fourth Priority: 1

So is "comfort" my lowest priority?

Absolutely, although prior to my discovering this four part system of mastery, I might have denied this.

However, if I think of all the times I've endured uncomfortable chairs in order to listen to a lecture. Or uncomfortable rooms in order to be in some teacher's classroom. Or even the way I often fail to notice how uncomfortably I'm sitting when engrossed in reading.

When I'm investigating human nature, it seems, comfort in not that important.

So here we are at, at last, with what looks like my final mastery priority. The result? It seems I'm a 3, 4, 2, 1. An "understanding," "freedom," "neatness," "comfort" person.

Yes, indeed, this sounds like me. In fact, if you at all read into the degree to which I do these things, it is easy to see why I identify myself as having Asperger's Syndrome. I am so compulsive about my intellectual interests—human nature for instance—that I've dedicated my whole life to creating a way to understand human nature which works for me.

Am I saying that every 3,4,2,1 has Asperger's? No, I'm not. What I am saying though is that I have a lot in common with a whole bunch of normal folks. And I have some very intense things in common with a small category of pretty remarkable folks—people who have Asperger's Syndrome.

Brit: a 2, 1 ,4, 3

Need more examples? How about my closest friend, Brit. Brit is a 2, 1, 4, 3. He's also a newly married forty something plumber who is compulsive about organizing and maintaining his things, such as his tools and his possessions. In truth, he's somewhat OCD, and he can get pretty upset when he can't find something.

Comfort is also pretty high on his list. Still, he has often endured great discomfort and in fact, has given up long periods of his free time in order to organize or maintain his material life. And while he is occasionally interested in the ideas I come up with and in fact, has at times told me is amazed by what I discover, he, himself, rarely reads and even more rarely chooses to be in classrooms or with teachers.

Brit is a 2, 1, 4, 3. Neatness; Comfort; Freedom; Understanding.

Which autism does he have?

To a significant degree, a noticeable tendency toward OCPD.

Lauren: a 4, 2, 1, 3

How about my friend Lauren, a thirty something therapist with two young boys? Let's see.

Like Brit, Lauren is somewhat compulsive about having her material world organized. More so though, she thoroughly resists being in learning situations which go at a pace greater than she can follow. At times, she's even been quite abrupt with me about this, even when it's been her whom has initiated the conversation. Comfort? Pretty important to her. Organizing ideas? Probably the least important.

As I think of it now, Lauren is probably a 4, 2, 1, 3. Freedom; Neatness; Comfort; Understanding. So which autism does Lauren have? If any, ADD. Well, actually, probably quite a bit of ADD.

Any Folks with 1 First?

So do I know anyone with tendencies toward the first autism; Kanner's Autism. In fact, I know several. And you would know them by their constant complaining about how uncomfortable their seat is, or how the room is too hot or cold, or how badly the air in the room smells, or how badly their shoes are crunching their feet. For these people, their highest priority is number 1; "comfort."

What About You?

Now what about you? Which life skills area is your highest priority? Comfort? Neatness? Understanding? Freedom? Now which is second? And third? And last? And what about your closest friends? And spouses? And parents? And children? And what about the people you admire? And those you hate? And those you envy? And those you wish you were more like?

Now stop for a moment and consider what we've just been discussing: we've been discussing what we all have in common with people with autism, at least with those people who have one of the four forms of autism I've been discussing. Yes, I admit. Those with the more serious forms of autism may be far more compulsive and socially, very different from you. Even so, given you can honestly look inside yourself, and inside those you love, what I'm sure you'll find is, we all have a lot in common with all human beings. Even with those who are autistic. Not really such a bad thing when seen in the light of what these babies have been trying to accomplish.

What I've been saying here is, mostly we differ in how much we each have these things in us, and not in that we do not have them in us in the first place.

I'll begin my closing thoughts with this. I am not an expert on autism. I am a personality theorist and writer on human consciousness.

My point?

My goals in writing what you've just read are more to stimulate those more qualified by experience to carry these ideas to the next level. To the pragmatic level. To the useful, personal level. Especially for children.

Now if you are a parent of a child with autism, how do you find such a person?

Recently, I met such a person. I attended a day long seminar on autism and Asperger's and was thoroughly engrossed by the presenter and his experience.

Who was the presenter? A man named Dr. John Ortiz, and if you have the chance, please do go to hear him. Or visit his web site at .

What did I find so good about him? In a single phrase, he passed the "my kid" test.

What is the "my kid" test?" If I had a son or daughter who was suffering from one of the four autisms, I would without hesitation send my child to see him.

And what if you have a child suffering from one of the four autisms and the professional your child sees does not pass the "my kid" test?

Please take you child elsewhere. There are many personally genuine people who help those with autism, people who neither pity them nor overprotect them. People who have natural abilities to connect to them. And after all, isn't this skill; the ability to connect to others; the very thing your child with autism needs most?

For more on how these four Social Priorities play out in normal people. . .

For a look at what's behind the Social Priority Charts themselves . . .

The Four Social Distractions - Autism, OCd, Asperger's, ADD


At some point, I'm going to post some clips from a talk I gave last year at the Benway School, on the Autism Spectrum. Almost a decade later, the main points still much resemble this article. What's been added of course are the following—a variation of the Map of the Autism Spectrum, and a simple way to differentiate between the four autisms. Together, this short list gives you a scientifically sound way to assess for these minority personalties.

Autism, OCD, Asperger's, and ADD as Minority Personalities Which Are Complementary Opposites
If you strip away all features not unique to these minority personalities, you are left with just two qualities. Together these two qualities describe the organizing core nature in these people. Quality one refers to whether the pause focuses on physical (visible) or mental (invisible) things. Quality two refers to where the child’s decisions occur—either internally or externally—or stated more formally, whether this child has an internal or an external locus of control.

  • People with Autism and Asperger's have an internal locus of control. They feel they are in charge of their decisions and so, constantly focus inward. People with ADHD & OCD  have an external locus of control. They feel others are in control of their decisions and so, constantly focus outward.
  • People with Autism and OCD focus mainly on mastering physical things. Mental things distract them. People with Asperger's and ADHD focus mainly on mastering mental things. Physical things distract them.