Monday 14 December 2020

Autistic Children Respond Differently to Something Scary. Why?


Let's imagine we're in a village in a farming community somewhere where there are wild animals that could threaten our community members or their livestock.

A lot of predators approach at night, very very quietly.

What skills would work really well, to spot this and raise the alarm?  Or to detect an oncoming forest fire, perhaps?

You need a super-spotter.  Someone whose eyesight and hearing is very highly tuned for differences and unexpected sounds.  Someone who is focused on the surroundings, not on the party going on round the camp fire.  Someone with amazing concentration skills.  Someone who doesn't overreact instantly whilst they are still gathering data on the threat.

And you need a relay person who watches the responses of that person, and conveys their signal back to the camp.  Someone who is 'tuned in' to that person's signalling.

And you need a party of fit, strong, angry people to drive away the predator.

And you need someone to figure out the safest way to keep predators out of barns and enclosures, the best ways to design spears or whatever else to defend children from harm, etc.


Autistic individuals often have supersensitive hearing and/or eyesight, and are scanning the horizon, not looking into the eyes of other humans.  In fact, we don't often go near loud noisy groups of other humans.  We'll stay on the edges, getting away from the distractions.  Who will be first to spot the danger, there?  We'll also often keep working on improvements in design, long after others would have given up. 

Villages need all kinds of minds, to work together.  Each type is important, whether autistic, other neurodivergence such as ADHD, dyspraxic, dyslexic, or more everyday forms.  Each type has its place.  No type is 'broken'.  The team collaborate to get safety and security.

I see a lot of studies that never moved on from the mistake of the 1940s - that autism is a broken version of Real People.   That unless we are 'normalised' our lives will be terrible and pointless.  Of course some will need support. Some wish for their lives to be different and hope for medical intervention for pain, distress etc, and that's very understandable. But who woke up today and thought, "Hey, I really hope someone describes me as broken, a deficit, a disorder, and imposes an alleged fix on me without even asking me ?" 

Actually, we are all of equal worth.  Every person is a person worth their place in the world.  The enforced normalisation of autistic people has generally led to misery, inauthenticity and increased rates of mental health difficulties and suicide.  Who was it benefiting?  Did people even ask us if we wished to be normalised?  Did they even check the Human Rights legislation explaining it is a human right for disabled people to choose to identify as disabled, (thus autistic individuals have every right to identify as autistic)?

Autistic people communicate differently.  We know this from the recent research.  Every bit as effectively.  Science had missed this for 80 years.  Yes, even the best scientists.  Yes, even from the top Universities worldwide.  So focused on Deficit that they never even thought to check.

The research can be found at along with a lot of other useful, modern papers that have changed almost everything we thought we knew about autism.

I see too many teams assuming that difference must equal deficit.

I see too many research papers where the discussion doesn't even mention the possibility that there may be a group-wide advantage to some people having a brain that does A instead of B.

Think.  Move out of this utter allegiance to outdated theories and historic ways of understanding diversity of brains.

Ask.   Get to know autistic people.  Get to collaborate with us as partners, so that you avoid making fundamental errors in your assumptions, methods and conclusions.

Be humble.  Some people are only alive because an autistic person saved their life.  Hearing the approach of a car.  Smelling escaping gas from pipes.  Spotting a movement in the bushes that no-one else saw.

Be curious.  Work out why something is like it is.

If someone can only see deficit, the deficit is in their own perception.

Thank you for reading.