"Why doesn't anyone recognize that I do not have a personality? I know that I do not. The other day I realized that I could sneak out some words and that nobody knew that I was sneaking. Are people so stupid that they cannot tell when someone does not have a personality, when someone cannot cry, when someone is sneaking? I guess if they cannot tell, I will sneak out and practice being a person. The pain of not being is scary and all consuming. I have to work real hard so to get to the other side where happiness lives."
What is this autistic boy telling us? He knows he does not have a personality and is not a person. He is very aware that other people are different. He seems envious of their ability to exist and to be a person. He seems determined to get a personality by what he calls sneaking out words. He also notices that others do not know the difference when he does this. He seems very lonely, in a lot of psychic pain and desperately wants to be like others.
What does it mean to have a personality? This autistic boy is opening up an important issue. I would like to delve into this subject briefly. The definition of personality from Webster's Dictionary (1989)*: "the visible aspect of, one's character, the sum total of the physical mental, emotional and social characteristics of an individual and the quality of being a person; existence as a self-conscious human being. Some might also think about personality as what we call our self.
According to Adams (1954, cited in Schultz & Schultz, 1994) * personality is 'I'. Adams suggests that when an individual uses 'I' he is expressing his personality, which describes who he is. Thus we are always describing ourselves and showing our personalities when we use the word 'I'. Furthermore, "The word I is what defined you as an individual, as a person separate from all others." (Schultz & Schultz, 1994, p.8)
This is important based on what we know about autism from an incomplete attachment. It is my belief that the child with autism does not have access to his 'I' because he does not have access to the different parts of himself because those parts are dissociated. He also does not have what I call self-agency which allows him to use those parts of himself in relationship to others. Thus we can now make sense of what this autistic boy means when he says he "wants a personality." He wants to have access to those dissoicated parts of himself and more importantly he wants to talk about himself using 'I'. As we know some people with autism refer to themselves using 'you' or echolalia. It is not until an individual has a completed attachment will he be able to use 'I' in relationship to others. It is also important to note, that individuals with autism do want relationships. A lack of self-agency and dissociation make this difficult to accomplish.
Most 'typical' individuals do not have to think about what it means to have a personality or to talk from the 'I' position (see my blog on communication and autism). The person with autism struggles with these ideas on a daily basis.
*Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the english language (1989), The dictionary entries are based on the first edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1983). New York/New Jersey: Gramercy Books.
*Schultz, D., & Schultz, S.E. (1994). Theories of Personality (5th ed.), Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.