a. The infinite perception
Rather than concluding with a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding of the world, a lack of communication, or even, as it has often been pointed out, a need to stop a world that moves too fast, we must accept to understand the symptoms. The autistic persons do not live in another world, they do not live in a world beside the normal world, but yes, they see the world differently. This is not the world that is going too fast and that they are trying to stop, as it has been suggested, but it is their sensory perception of the world that is too fast and too detailed.
Their hearing, for example, but the other senses operate on the same model, is not better, but it is constant. This means that if autistic people are bothered by the sound, it is not because they hear better, but because they hear every sound, all the sounds. In fact, we can hear a very far sound, but it is so weak that in the so-called normal people, it is automatically sorted in the drawer of background noise.
For an autistic person, to caricature, no noise is background noise. To sort a sound in the drawer of background noise in a normal person, the sound must have several features: first, it must be a more or less weak sound (some persons are able to treat loud sounds the same way), and / or secondly, it must be a sound that is often coming, also a sound that has been treated in the past.
This is where all the difference in the sensory system of an autistic person, there is only the instant. It is the perception of the instant in its entirety which is processed by the brain, and that in every instant, instant after instant. This has many advantages (real perception and not misperception), automatic perception of detail, originality of thought, but also, especially at the present time, and more and more, this has many disadvantages. The brain is overloaded. Sensory stimuli are everywhere, ubiquitous. No, the world is not going too fast for autistics, it is just overloaded.
If a normal person possesses the ability to set in background the music in a shopping center, the autistic person does not generally have this ability (within various stratagems, such as rocking or its derivatives). His brain will be busy to process the information, and as they are generally not the only (constant flow of light or visual information, odors and atmospheric changes), it is clear that there will be little room for other activities or even for a simple clarity of mind, and it is obvious that the autistic person will tend to escape these situations.
This also explains why an autistic person does not like the change, and the example of the clock is very telling in this case. For normal people, the sound of the clock that almost everyone has at home is inaudible unless they listen to it. For autistics, to listen and to hear is the same. Then the sound resonates every second. Obviously, an autistic is able to learn, and after several weeks, he has learned not to get involved. Now, if you change the clock, he will need again several weeks to achieve to mute the sound. Maybe you don’t notice that so much, but life is made up of sounds, smells, textures and light. The autistic, which sees the world as it is, without an instinctive mute function needs more than anyone, the tranquility of the world to think and act. If the sensorial aspects are constantly changing, his brain will be occupied to process the change, and it can not function properly for the rest.
Thus, an autistic child will use several weeks or months to get used to the sounds of the objects of a new house, even if the furniture has not changed, the resonance is different, and each sound will draw his attention.
This example is clear, but it is the same for the other senses, to different degrees in different individuals. In a such modern society, that is very noisy, very rich in lights, smells, textures, this feature of the brain is obviously often a handicap, and lead to suffering and anxiety.
These sensorial features explains a lot of autistic behavior. It explains why communication is difficult because the brain thinks so sensorial, in the speed of light, and makes no internal translation. Any translation is an extra effort, and it is slow. The autistic brain does not speak. It is so much faster, but apparently not communicating. Communication is only social, it is not obvious, and it is against nature. It is as if the light needs to slow down for that, it should so be trapped between two mirrors. This is what an autistic must do to communicate, and it is quite possible, if the brain is not saturated with informations that force it to work alone, on its side.
b. The world without limits
The problem in the theory of mind is also understandable. Seen from the outside, it is very strange, but seen from the inside, it is in fact less strange. The autistic person “feels” the world. This way of apprehending withdraws its limits. When you smell a fruit, the smell penetrates you, as if you eat it. If you eat the fruit, it really comes into you, and it really becomes a part of you. For the autistic, it is the same. The world is a part of him since he feels or senses the infinite world (all the world in every instant). The others are him and he is the others, instinctively, the limit is not obvious and must be learned, and, moreover, while the common communication of autistic is less instinctive, to feel or sense the world and other people this way actually allows him to communicate with his senses, as a kind of telepathy.
Many animals do that – do not see anything “primitive” in this comparison – and human babies do that. It is also common to say that babies are not aware of being a limited person for the approximate age of nine months. It is also recognized that they are emotional sponges. They feel, they senses, so they communicate. Without communicating, some animals instinctively know very quickly what the others are thinking. This is normal for so-called normal people in crisis situations, so they need just a brief glance to communicate. The other knows our thoughts and our future action and can act accordingly to us, with no words. We are transmiting an image with the glance, and that image makes feel our own feelings to the other. The barriers are faling.
Thus, in the test of the theory of mind that I mentioned before, the fact that the autistic child answer that the chocolate is in the cupboard is a lack of theory of mind, seen from the outside. Seen from the inside it’s actually just a communication. The autistic child has in fact communicated without saying a word – because oral communication is a slowdown – with the boy in the story. He does not answer what the boy knows, he says what he self knows, or rather what is. His brain thought, that is to say, he saw: the chocolate in the refrigerator, the chocolate in the cupboard. These two images are very quick, but to think with images that the boy does not see what he sees, it’s different, you almost immediately must have recourse to words.
A bit like if I told you: focus: you don’t see a clock, you do not see a sofa, you don’t see a coffee table, you don’t see a TV, you don’t see a carpet. You are forced to see these things in your head, and tell you that you can not see them. It is not possible to see what is not, this is crazy. As the autistic brain thinks in pictures and reacts quickly, responding in images, to a question like this, he, more likely than a normal person, will answer what he sees, and take it as established that communication between the little boy in the story and him was done and known by all.
However, it is clear that an adult autistic person with normal intelligence will normally succeed the test, and will answer very well outside his point of view. Therefore, the problem of theory of mind does not explain autism, but the fact that autistic persons generally have more difficulty with this kind of test can be explained by their autism.
All this brings us to a point: it is totally wrong to say that people with autism do not have empathy, and I think a lot of autistic persons are suffering from this description because they do not recognize them in it. They have the same approach to the emotions of other people than for the rest of the world. They feel this feelings, and thus they live them exactly as they perceive them from this person. These feelings the autistic person perceive from another person will be his own feelings.
This causes two things: firstly a new overdose of sensations, and secondly, an apparent less subtlety because they feel these feelings, but they do not see them and even less describe them with words, and is well known that we are less rational about our own feelings when we feel them that when we got distance with them. Overdose of sensations also drives them to avoid these situations, which causes, from the outside, the famous lack of interest in the emotions of others.
Thus is explained the famous shifty eyes. The autistics do not avoid the glance of others because they are made thus, but because this glance is unpleasant to them. It is not unpleasant because of its potentially rapid movement as some have mentioned, but because they fall into the deep intimacy of a person who is more or less foreign to them ; like the smell from the fruit they become that person, because they feel what he/she feels, and that feeling, in addition to being too rich, makes them uncomfortable. It’s a bit like to smell the fruit before eating it, it’s like to feel emotions before killing. The picture may look ridiculous but it is not, because this is exactly what happens in the animal world, especially in the wild: eye contact is a sign of attack, and death. With avoiding the glance, the autistic says: I respect what you are, and I do not want hurt you. To violate the privacy, it is already killing the other, and for autistic eye contact is to violate the privacy, because if they do, they feel what the other is thinking.
c. Lack of empathy or intimacy?
This is the whole problem. Nowadays, it is confused respect for privacy and lack of empathy. Today, to fill our own emotional vacuum, we like to look and detail the emotions of the others so much that it has become the norm. It is a kind of pornography of emotions. People do not feel that they live unless they express their emotions, and unless they look to the emotions of others, they cut off their privacy because they are afraid to live too much in themselves. They feel that they must first ensure that they are not crazies, that the others are like them, and while everyone is living the lives of others, nobody is living anything.
As soon as they approach the individual emotion, it is called depression. Indeed, it must be a phase of depression, hopelessness, or despair, that is to say, a metaphysical questioning, you must exit the emotions of others, to be yourself, to think and feel. This sickness unto dead, this despair, will take some humans (suicide), but it is necessary, otherwise no one is living. In truth, the people are afraid of the individuals who manage to be alone because they associate them with the individual that they in fact are or can be, in their own solitude, and they cannot support this. This is a paradox in humans, the human is a social animal, but he needs the passage in solitude if he wants to live himself, as his intelligence wants him to. But this individual intelligence is a perceptive intelligence, not communicating, it is a personal and individual philosophical elevation, as it was so well described by Socrates through the allegory of the cave. It is also the European image of the labyrinth: the individual elevation is essential to the understanding of these intertwined paths whose map, feet on the ground, is elusive.. The hero that we are will still attempt, and comes face to face with the terrible creature at the center of the labyrinth (the despair also, in the the Kierkegaardian sense of the term ; or depression, in its modern dress), and either he will be killed (commit suicide) or he will be elevated, and become himself an individual.
Søren Kierkegaard, probably the most important philosopher of modern times…
The autistic person is a wild human, a human that is not domesticated and that cannot be domesticated. Autism can be seen through the special senses of the autistics individuals. Like a computer. it can be very powerful and very efficient, but if all his inputs are used, it will be saturated and it will do each operation more slowly, or it maybe… bug. The autistic person can rock or swing to disconnect his inputs, get rid of certain tasks and thus be operational, at least for himself. In modern society, increasingly rich in sensorial stimuli and changes, the autistic person is sick, and it is not surprising that the number of people with autistic symptoms increases. The autistics are saying: leave me alone, stop this hubbub ! This is not the world that’s going too fast, but that is all the unnecessary sensorial stimuli that are too present, too rich, but also the humans, who are too numerous.
Indeed, it is this invasive or pervasive sensoriality and this sensorial thought that is common to all autistic persons. The autist are communicating with the world and with human beings, but in silence, and all attracts him at any instant. This is why the autistic does not more look to people than to objects. Why should he? Are people really so much more interesting? And why would they? Why bother? What will he communicate to them if he do not have observed the world himself, in his way before? Because it is not only to communicate, but it is also to know what. The autistic does not communicate easily (with words) to communicate, because this kind of communication requires too much from him, then he manages to do this if he has something to say.
The autistic is not made to learn from others. He is made to teach himself, through his senses. He is instinctively original. The others are not directly a source of learning, in any case not more than an object or a system. He will not learn what they say, he is new to the world. He is wild.
Yes, both the non-domestication, and these neurological particularity, but also and especially the particular sensoriality, seems to come from the last “real” european hunter-gatherer (you know that in my mouth, this comparison is not negative) before the actual hybridization, that is to say before civilization and self-domestication of humans begins to appear.
The adjective wild man is in no pejorative, and conversely the rise of civilization in itself is not negative, it was necessary, as we will try to explain later.
This is only my opinion, but I think that the autistic brain is somewhat offset relative to the Neanderthal brain. The classic and so-called modern brain is smaller, it is at the center of Neanderthal possibilities. During the hybridization, and after balancing, only the most necessary features have been preserved in most cases. However, in a bit bigger brain a bit bigger, but especially in the genes have survived elements of the Neanderthal morphology neurological, and these sometimes come back, especially when the size of the genes and / or brain development permit. So I think in all sincerity that the Neanderthal type, before hybridization, was not directly autistic as we know today, but he was a genius, as we sometimes can see in some autistic individuals in modern time. These autistic persons who calculate instinctively, for example, have often otherwise severe disabilities and even paradoxically mental retardation, because their brain is about the size of a modern brain, and it was therefore necessary to prune vital skills.
I think the communication in Neanderthals was more sensorial, although they used, of course, language. I just think that they used language less than today. The language is not as instinctive as we might think. The act of creating a language in a group of people, yes, but there is no universal language with which we are born. Whenever any group is forming (group of teens, couple, family, area, country), the language changes and the group gradually is acquiring more intimate language, with words that only this group can understands. It is well known in linguistics, and that fact here, is universal and seems to be very instinctive. The language is very intimate, and therefore very limited. How to communicate words with another group who does not speak like you? This is terrible. I think the loss of sensorial language (or so-called autistic language), because of hybridization, and the preservation of the instinct for the sensorial language, is one of the causes of the appearance of art, music and civilization in Europe.
The autistic is also a truncated Neanderthal too, but he reveals Neanderthal characteristics that normal humans have not. Sometimes the appearance of these characteristics leads to the loss of others who are vital. To make an autist you must have Neanderthal genes. They can be very old or recent. European autism, which has a very old emergence, is generally more stable (Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism), but autism whose origin is more recent (the modern hybridization between African and European) has a greater tendency to be unstable (autism in combination with retardation).