Cross-posted from: https://autismethics.com/
Recent phenomenological research (Hens & Langenberg, forthcoming) has found that receiving a diagnosis can be very helpful for autistic individuals. One of the significant elements is a coming to terms with the nature of autism as, at least in part, neurological diversity. As discussed in an Autism Ethics Network event in Utrecht, it makes a difference what type of neurological explanation is taken; as the explanation not only impacts the self-perception of autistic individuals but also the way in which autistic people are seen by society.
Sometimes it seems like there is a definitive consensus in cognitive science about autism. This is most definitely not the case. In a recent cognitive science paper (1) autism theories have been grouped as “social first and nonsocial” based on which facts are considered to be the primary cause of the behavior giving rise to an autism diagnosis. Recent cognitive research is taking the heterogeneity of symptoms and co-morbidities associated to autism as an occasion for developing novel theories. Below, that research is systemized somewhat inviting the reader to keep an open mind on autism research as well as on the very real ethical implications of going for one or another type of theory.
Our classification groups theories in the categories ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’. This can be taken literally: some theories start from facts at a higher social or cognitive level where others start from facts at a lower sensory, perception, motor or predictive coding level.
I write this inspired by the work of Ian Hacking on looping effects, human kinds and so on. My sympathies are with Hacking on this. Still, I believe there’s something that needs to be added: the social looping effect needs a binding effect in reality to remain stable. This has consequences: it is too easy to reduce a specific kind of humans out of the human kind just because they are confronted with a reality that happens to be out of the social norm.
Let me make up a story, a parable of sorts, about an imaginary civilization in which an evil both real and socially constructed exists. A parable has the virtue of edification because it illustrates a point without risking the muddle of prejudice which will inevitably surround any actual real and/or socially constructed concept or behavior.
Mountains, social exclusion and initiation rituals ahead:
I’ll just come out and say it: I’m autistic. I’m 48 years old. My diagnosis was confirmed last week. I have been labeled with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a little over a week but the label means that I have been autistic all my life. That feels right given I’ve always felt a little off. When you live your life feeling out of phase with the world you can do two things: change the world or change yourself. I did both. I defined being normal and tried to live up to the standards. Any remaining awkwardness I compensated by controlling the context. It is not a strategy exclusive to autistic people, if you read attentively it is a common strategy for strangers to cope with and compensate for a world which is not (yet) theirs. In my case, I don’t look like a stranger and I don’t have a world which is self-evidently mine.
I’m writing this not as a complaint against the world nor as a frustration about myself. I’m writing this in the hope you might come to appreciate what it is to be different. Continue reading