Autism: The Perceptual Gulf

It’s natural to fear what we don’t understand. The problem with this is that fear distorts our understanding still further, until all our fears are realized due to a failure of understanding. To return to the previous analogy, if aliens arrived on the planet and were unable to communicate with us—or if we were unable to understand or receive their communications—it’s more than likely their strangeness and otherness would cause us to perceive them as a threat. We would react to them with suspicion, fear, and hostility, and that would communicate itself to the aliens. Chances are they would then feel threatened by us, and begin to behave in ways that confirmed our reading of the situation, not because it was accurate, but because we provoked it. This is all part of animal (i.e. biological) nature, whether we are talking about human or presumed aliens, autists or “neurotypicals.”

(Note: Re: the term “neurotypicals” to refer to non-autistic types. This is not ideal, because if there is a spectrum, and if it includes all human beings (debatable), then it may be a mistake to draw a line between the two types. However, not drawing such a line makes it impossible to discuss the subject at all, and I prefer not to use terms such as “normal people” or “the rest of us,” because that would betray a neurotypical bias, when in fact I place myself firmly on the autism spectrum, not in the ranks of neurotypicals.)

I’d like to suggest that there is a gulf between autists and neurotypicals every bit as great as that between hypothetical aliens and humans. I’d also like to propose that this gulf is not merely a communication gulf but also a perceptual gulf. That is to say, autists (like aliens) perceive their world in a manner fundamentally different from neurotypicals. Because of this, and because autism as a phenomena is one that until recently has been studied and mapped almost exclusively by neurotypicals, we are obliged to assume that much of what we have heard about autism is wrong. It is akin to descriptions of ocean floor activities made by people who have never set foot in, or even laid eyes upon, the sea. In a word, (mostly) worthless.

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One thought on “Autism: The Perceptual Gulf

  1. I have thought about the idea of ‘alien souls’ a lot, and trying not to get obsessed or egotistical, I place myself and a lot of others I meet in that category. And they usually take me seriously when I bring the idea up. There are a lot of strangely sensitive people that tend to be more caring than the average and have trouble fitting in to the world.

    I usually bring up this idea, that we are not all created ‘equal’ (neuro-diversity), when I see an ‘odd/caring/alienated/possibly autistic’ individual having trouble with relating to people in social environments and point out the fact that we usually project ourselves onto others with illusory expectations. And then unrealized expectations tend to cause suffering and problems.

    I’ve wrestled with these ideas of neuro or metaphysical diversity my whole life in different ways and I like the anytical ideas you are getting into.

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