Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Never-ending Spectrum: A Mini Manifesto

It seems most human traits are spectra. For everything that seems to be a pair of opposites, there is someone who fits in the middle. There are right-handers, us lefties, and ambidextrous people, and some righties are more able to use their left-hand than others.  It's people in the middle that we often don't know what to do with. We either don't think they exist at all, or if they do, they don't fit into either box, but we try to force them to, or just exclude them altogether.

I think most parents of autistic children, if they took a good hard look in the mirror, would see their own autistic traits, and that of family members. The "autism spectrum" does not exist in isolation. It's a Never-ending Spectrum. Every autistic trait can be found in the rest of the population, it's just a matter of degree.  It's the strength of these traits, and how much they disadvantage the person in a particular social context. A label can be seen as a tool for getting services or treatment needed to adapt to the rest of society, live a fuller life  or to compensate for deficits. And in turn, if the greater society adapts to people with differing minds and bodies, it benefits from their talents and insights, and learn that the "humanity" is much broader and deeper than it once imagined.

The "autism spectrum" is really more of a cluster, a cross-section or giant Venn diagram of overlapping conditions and groups of characteristics. Practically every Aspie I've met, also was labeled AD/HD. Tourette's, OCD, Non-verbal Learning Disorder (may just be a different label for the same thing) and so forth. They are really just sets of traits that are seen together enough to constitute a pattern.
But it's all one pattern, really. It's all part of the Neurodiverse Web of Life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Autism & Atheism: A Correlation?

This spring, an article came out with several studies showing a correlation between autism and atheism. My procrastinating self is finally getting around to responding.This connection does not at all surprise me. Most adults with autism I have met or interacted with online, (myself included) seem to be either skeptical or non-believing in God & religion, or have their own unique spiritual beliefs/practices.  Some of these psychologists are attributing the lack of belief to autistics' lack of  theory of mind or mentalizing- the ability to understand what others are thinking.  It was also stated that men as a group have a lower mentalizing ability compared to women. Maybe this is so, but I think it isn't so much that autistic people don't develop similar beliefs due to not intuiting others' thoughts, but because we care less about what other people think and believe.

The autistic mind is generally prone towards logic and free-thinking.
We also tend to be literal-minded, which can either result in rigid fundamentalism or questioning commonly held beliefs, traditions and customs. We also tend to edge away or outright refuse to do or say things we don't understand or agree with.
A neurotypical child, who is more easily socialized may sit quietly during a service that s/he finds dull and little meaning in, and recite a creed in a confirmation ceremony before they are really old enough to have formed beliefs for themselves. An autistic kid? Don't bet on it!

Faith and emotion might hold together an individual's religious belief system, but it's social conformity that holds together religion as a whole. This is not to insult religion- conformity isn't always a bad thing, we all must follow traffic laws to be safe for example. Nonetheless, organized religion with its positives and negatives depends on many people following leaders, rules and traditions that aren't always so logical.

I hope this data does not lead to further stigmatizing either autistics or atheists- seeing autistics' religious beliefs or lack thereof as a sign of their mental inferiority or thinking those poor misguided atheists must just be autistic.
But this does seem to reveal some sparks of autism in the lack of social tact practiced by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.