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Aspies and self-reflection

This article
is interesting
, and I believe its research is valid, but I
disagree with the interpretation of the results. It basically says
that the part of the brains of people on the autism spectrum that
process information when thinking about oneself fire just the same
amount as the part that thinks about other people. This is different
from "normal" (neurotypical) people, whose brains have give more space
to processing data about other people.

Their interpretation of this data was that people on the autistic
spectrum have a less developed sense of self. *Sigh* That's pretty
much exactly the opposite of what they believed before this new data
came in. But from other studies I've read about, observations of
myself, and observations of other people (neurotypical and otherwise),
I think there's another option they've failed to consider. I think it
means that auties/aspies have more self-reflection capabilities than
neurotypical people do. It gets better: I also believe, from other
studies I've read about, that auties/aspies get more data from other
people than neurotypical people do. They go on and on about aspies not
being able to discern body language, but I think what's really going
on is that we get too much body language information, and can't
tell what information is important to social situations and what
isn't. Taking myself as an example, as long as I can remember I have
had the ability to read people like a book, getting an accurate
picture of their personality from just a few seconds to a few minutes
of observation. I think part of it is because I can tell when people
are lying, either to themselves or to others. Where I think I had
problems growing up is in other people's reactions to my having this
information. It makes many people uncomfortable to know that anyone
can know them so well, and so people who count on their facade being
impenetrable (bullies, for example) will react to that discomfiting
idea. It didn't help that I've always been very androgynous even in my
Another problem is that, when I was a young child, I couldn't tell the
difference between a lie told to others and a lie told to oneself, so
often I was able to see things about people that they were denying to
themselves, wouldn't let themselves recognize, let alone anyone else.
And I had no compunction, in my early years, from telling them what I
could sense of them.
One last thing in that vein: I was also uncomfortable with other
people's discomfort. I've always been able to feel other people's
emotions. In fact, the last few years I've pushed my own emotions back
so far that I can feel other people's emotions more clearly than I can
feel my own. And as a child, I didn't know how to ignore flood of
emotive information, so I retreated inside and lived in a fantasy
world for most of my childhood. Lately I've been thinking that
autistics probably have it even worse than aspies, and are so unable
to cope with the overwhelming flood of information that they have to
shut off the whole world to survive it. It reminds me of the TV show
Charmed, the episode where Prue is given the empathic gift, but she's
not prepared for it, so it's driving her insane.

I was also thinking on the way here that being an aspie or autie in
this society is kind of like being one of the few people who can see
color in a society full of color-blind people. How do you talk about
colors with people who can't see them? How can you even conceptualize
colors to yourself when no one around you talks about them? Hell, if
you were born color-seeing in such a world, how would you even realize
that you were different from others when no one talks about colors?
Imagine color-blind people wearing horrible color combonations (bright
red with neon blue polka dots or some such, something that looks like
it's moving when you see it), and you're getting overwhelmed by the
sickening color combonations, but no one can figure out what's wrong
with you because they have no concept of "color" beyond black, white,
and grey. Lacking any concept of what you're going through, they
project their own interpretation onto you. Some say you can only see
blacks and greys but not whites, others say you can only see whites
and greys but not black, or only white and black but not greys, when
the answer is "none of the above."

I believe this to be the true interpretation because I'm an aspie and
I'm empathic. So is Lilla. Even her ex-boyfriend Jordan, who had an
extreme case of Asperger's, could feel other people's emotions (even
when he couldn't figure out their reasons). I believe people on the
autism spectrum are, thus, a mutation. We're evolving as a species,
and I think one day most people will be aspies or high-functioning
autistics. But even if that hope isn't true, I *do* believe
autism/asperger's is a mutation, a surplus of ability rather than a
lack. And being too good at something can become as maladaptive in
some societies as being disabled. In a society of the blind, the one
eyed people can make others uncomfortable. People try to feel better
about their discomfort by calling it a disability; they may not be
able to admit to themselves that the prospect of it being an
improvement scares them.


EDITED TO ADD: I hear neurotypical people going on and on about how aspies only see the world in terms of black and white supposedly, but I've seen far more black-and-white thinking among neurotypical people than I have among aspies. Everyone's guilty of it on at least a few things, but neurotypical people are far more guilty of it than aspies, in my experience. I think because having so much brain power devoted to self-reflection lets us get a clearer picture of our thoughts, and leans us in that direction more than NTs.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 18th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
This is different from "normal" (neurotypical) people, whose brains have give more space to processing data about other people.

Actually, the article says that the neurotypical people spend more brainpower thinking about themselves than about others, whereas aspies use the same. But that made me think, like you, that it could be because aspies are more empathic than non-aspies.
Dec. 18th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
Really? I actually read the whole article this time. I must have misread something. But like you said, my point remains valid.
Dec. 18th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
But if a lot of auties are overwhelmed by it, then how is it a positive mutation? Ever heard of too much of a good thing?
Dec. 18th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
Positive in the case of aspies, but yeah, it goes overboard with auties. Still, there have been cases of far-gone auties becoming high-functioning through the hard work of loved ones to help them.
Dec. 18th, 2009 06:12 am (UTC)
Interesting about the reverse of the hyper-ego concept. I suppose it appeared to doctors as if they were prone to focus more attention on the self, or being introverted. Which is true in a way because auties have to spend so much time dealing with the overload of information, ironically it would seem to the understandable lack of focus on others. Of course, scientists had no way of knowing this, until now. But I
Dec. 18th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
wonder if more auties than NTs need therapeutic help, which is the implication based on its history with the medical and scientific field, meaning that it wouldn't be a trait that survives in more natural circumstances because it wouldn't be supported. There are times when we require work as a group meaning a lot of people would bristle at giving extra help. Even today when people are fighting for universal health care, surely auties would benefit, but people are mostly thinking about what we can call without a doubt injuries and illness.
Dec. 18th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
I'm not so sure how much of the difference between autistics and NTs is inherent to those brain-types and how much is due to privilege. NTs have privilege in our society. Everything in our society is set up around their needs, their abilities. To use your color-blind society example, monochromatic people (people who lack any color vision at all) tend to have the ability to detect much more subtle differences in brightness than people with normal vision. Their inability to distinguish color is offset by their ability to detect variations in brightness. So, your hypothetical color-vision person not only has to deal with clashing colors, but also has to deal with a society that, say, uses subtle contrasts of greys to convey meaning - a contrast that he can't see, or, even if he can see, is hard to pick out amongst the color variations (since they can't see color, a single shade of grey for them may easily cover a range of colors for us), making it difficult to pick out what's important.

Every child starts out self-centered, with no concept of other people. At some point, they realize that other people are real, with feelings and thoughts of their own. They assume, to begin with, that everyone's basically the same as them. Over time, they learn that people are different, and they begin to expand on their mental model. NTs, because they are basically more similar to the majority of other humans, start out with a model that doesn't need quite as much work as autistics. We have to race just to catch up. In addition, children's socialization is in settings that are designed for NTs, but which may often contain sensory assaults for autistics. Children running around screaming, for example. Thus, not only do we start out behind, but we are handicapped in learning about other people by the fact that the very environment where other kids learn about other people is unpleasant at best, outright painful at worst, to us, and thus, even if we don't avoid it, we can't get the same benefit out of it.

There are a million other small ways in which NTs are subtly advantaged, ways that are invisible to NTs (it is the nature of privilege, the privileged group does not see it).

We are forced to use our conscious mind to understand people. Often, this results in a *better* understanding, eventually, although one that often still misses subtle social niceties and the like. Because we're surrounded by people who are different than us, we're forced to gain a broader (even if sometimes shallower) understanding. Just look at your typical liberal and conservative arguing, for example. Rarely does either really understand the other's view, and instead reads malevolence or stupidity in the other. (to be continued - my comment exceeded LJ's character limit)

Edited at 2009-12-18 01:29 pm (UTC)
Dec. 18th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Part II

I think a lot of the diagnostic traits of autism/asperger's are not actually inherent to the neurotype, but are coping mechanisms developed to deal with the clash between oneself and a society not built for oneself. So, if autism were the norm, we'd be a very different group. In fact, I think in many ways - especially in social aspects - we'd be just the same as the neurotypical majority in our present day society. I've seen much of the same clique-forming and even (to a certain extent) groupthink in Asperger's communities as in NT communities. It's not as common offline because it's rare to have large groups of aspies/auties. And, with most of us having grown up the only one of our kind in our circles, we've had time to develop a greater since of individuality, and to prize non-conformity more. And since we often had to learn social conventions by conscious reasoning, rather than unconscious acquisition, those conventions are often more obviously artificial to us (I remember being shocked when I realized that most people didn't realize how odd and artificial many of our social conventions were ^_^). But if we lived in a society that catered to our particular learning styles, our particular sensory comforts, we, too, would absorb social conventions as readily as the NTs in our society, and probably internalize them to the same degree.

I'm very skeptical that there's any inherent difference in socialization between aspies and NTs. I think NTs just have so many advantages in our society that they *seem* superior to us in those areas. But that would be like looking at how men fill high social positions disproportionately and concluding that men must be superior at leadership. But, except to sexists, that's obviously untrue, and we recognize that society privileges men over women.
Dec. 18th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Part II
I think a lot of the diagnostic traits of autism/asperger's are not actually inherent to the neurotype, but are coping mechanisms developed to deal with the clash between oneself and a society not built for oneself

Makes sense to me. A society of aspies would, I think, be a more open and honest one, given the ability many have of reading people like an open book, and a more peaceful society too, I think, because of the high rate of empathy. And I think it would have more focus on education and would value intelligence. Kinda like a geek society. :-D
Dec. 18th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
Hmmm... indeed. Food for thought.

I had an idea last night, but I have no idea how to make it into a story yet: a world is colonized solely by people on the autism spectrum, and a non-autistic person from another planet makes contact and has similar problems adjusting.
Dec. 18th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, re: the "mutation" idea - I suspect that autism is not a single condition, that when we learn more about it, we'll discover that it's actually a number of different neurotypes that have similar manifestations. I also suspect that autism, ADD, and other alternate neurotypes are a side-effect of the evolution of the brain. Our brain has developed unusually rapidly, which suggests that certain key controlling genes have acquired greater mutability. One difference that has been found between ADD, autism, and NT brains is that brain development timing differs. In ADD, many key parts of brain development occur more slowly than in NTs, while in autism it tends to be the opposite, key parts developing more quickly. Differences in the timing of brain development - especially overall lengthening of the time involved - is one of the most important differences between human brains and chimpanzee brains. Is it any surprise, then, that in the process of lengthening brain development (to allow for greater final size) there would be a significant variation in timing?
Dec. 18th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Dec. 19th, 2009 02:23 am (UTC)
Perhaps the problem is that some NTs are only capable of interpreting an Aspie's viewpoint in B&W?
Dec. 19th, 2009 02:25 am (UTC)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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