Monday, July 29, 2013

We Grow More Solitary, and We Do So Because the Whole Flood of Humanity is Surging Around Us

Daniel Bor:

One emerging suite of theories on autism suggests that this disorder is centrally defined not at all by a poverty of mental skills, but instead by the excessive richness of information these people experience. In other words, in some sense autistics have an overabundance of awareness, and all their symptoms are merely their way of dealing with this supercharged consciousness.

...Many autistics seem to perceive the world with more detail than the rest of us and can exercise a highly focused and sustained attention. But being flooded by so much detail can be stressful and overwhelming. Autistics tend to hate noisy or busy scenes; while sharp, unexpected sounds cause most people's consciousness to be taken over by this new event, in autistics the intrusion is particularly pronounced.

...Many autistics, in order to compress their overflow of conscious detail and reduce the related stress, find comfort in crafting structure inside their minds and in their surroundings. This is why they may build blocks in carefully crafted stacks, or develop many rules and rituals. These activities are a desperate attempt to reduce the novelty and chaos in their lives and replace them with reassuringly regular, compressed patterns. It is also why they tend to seek highly ordered hobbies, such as mathematics, being a human calendar, and so on.

I've said many times that a grade-school Scribbler could easily have been the subject of Portrait of the Autistic as a Young Man, and though I can function well enough as an adult, enough quirks and idiosyncrasies have hung around to make me think I might still have a place on that oh-so-trendy spectrum. One thing that never seemed to fit my experience, though, was the common assertion that autistics lack a "theory of mind", that they're incapable of understanding and relating to other people's thoughts and feelings — I thought, if anything, I'm too aware of the nuances of social dynamics, and as with direct eye contact, it's too intense of an experience to bear for very long. So it's very interesting to read this; if true, it certainly would shed light on my fierce devotion to minimalism in all aspects of my life, as well as my favorite technique of dealing with stress by doing cleaning chores.