Saturday, June 27, 2015

A possible new understanding of autism

Having just read this article on a possible new understanding of autism, I was struck by the idea of hyper-sensitivity to others' emotions.

One of the defining memories of my time in the UK was the difference in my response to beggars. In SA, beggars are ubiquitous. In SA, my response to them was to ignore and withdraw from them, or to feel anger towards them for evoking emotions in me that were overwhelming about which I felt powerless to manage.

In the UK, my response to them was empathetic. I realised that my response in SA was not because I lacked empathy, but the opposite. In SA, I was overwhelmed by the need I saw around me, and my seeming powerlessness to change things. Consequently, my response in SA was to become withdrawn and harden my heart.

After reading this article, is that not what those on the autistic spectrum do? They are overwhelmed by the world - sensations of light, touch, sound, taste, hearing.... they are under a constant bombardment that is overwhelming and terrifying. Thus, an appropriate response is either to withdraw or to strike out, both of which are protective measures. Neither is a response from a lack of empathy, which is the traditional understanding. Reducing stimuli allows them to function normally, in most of their interactions, because they don't feel under threat of being overwhelmed by their emotions, or by the emotions of those around them.