There is a new autism therapy based on the works of Shakespeare called the Hunter Heartbeat Method. The initial results seem extremely promising in improving socialization skills. The theater games all make a great deal of sense to me, at least. Even better, from my perspective, is that theater and, especially Shakespeare, the greatest of all playwrights, is being used to help socialize us. Who better to teach us how to be human all too human?
Daniel’s on a roll.
Daniel: What’s a step-brother?
Anna: Well, if I got married to someone else, and he had a little boy, that little boy would be your step-brother.
Daniel: You can marry other humans?!? That’s cool. I want a bigger family.
Daniel: I’m going to make a Bible. I’m going to draw the story of Adam and Eve, who were made with the Earth back when God was alive.
Me: Oh, that sound interesting.
Daniel: When’s the Earth’s birthday? How old is the Earth?
Me: The Earth is 4 and a half billion years old.
Daniel: 4 and a half? That’s old!
Reading NeuroTribes meant recognizing patterns repeated in me. There’s something I share with practically every case study mentioned (Wittgensteinian “family resemblances” to be sure!) But sometimes I recognize patterns found in others. One such pattern is the recurring patterns of people on the spectrum reading comic books, fantasy, and fairy tales (I suspect SciFi is also in there, but he doesn’t mentioned it in the book). I’ve never read a lot of comic books (though I have a small collection), and little fantasy or SciFi (I’m a fan of such movies, though).
One has to wonder what the fascination is with SciFi and fantasy among those on the spectrum. These are magical worlds, different from the world in which we live and experience, but surely such escape is not exclusively autistic. And yet, given the strong connection between the two, what may the popularity of SciFi and fantasy suggest about the true prevalence of autism, broadly understood?
Of course, I may be simply over-extending here. Autistics’ interest in SciFi and fantasy hardly means the causation runs backwards, that interest in SciFi and fantasy means autism/autistic traits. But it would be worth researching.
In two past articles, I have argued that autistics don’t typically like fiction and that we tend to prefer science fiction and fantasy over more mainstream fiction. This seems to be contradictory, but I would argue that both are true.
Autistics tend to read less fiction and to not like fiction; however, if they do get turned on by fiction, it’s likely to be either science fiction or fantasy. I suspect that more “mainstream” fiction is too ambiguous for autistics– that is, the boundaries between the real (nonfiction) and fiction is too blurred and thus a bit confusing–or perhaps it’s that science fiction and fantasy are more focused on plot (action) than on character development. The characters in science fiction and fantasy are less “human” so to speak, than in mainstream novels. We have a hard time relating to characters in the latter than in the former, as a consequence.
With science fiction, at least, there is also a tendency to have a focus on science and technology, two areas of particular interest to many if not most on the autism spectrum. While I always wanted to read, I have discovered many on the spectrum do not care to read all that much. But really, it’s like almost anything with autism–find the right topic, and it’s easy to get them to read (or talk). I recently got a 12-year-old autistic boy to read a book simply by finding a book about sharks (like Daniel, he’s interested in sharks). Until then, getting him to read was like pulling teeth. Without novocaine. And without strapping the patient down.
Part of the problem may simply be that many on the spectrum simply don’t see the point of reading fiction. If it didn’t happen, if you can’t learn something factual from it, why read it? Combine that with the typical autistic problem of understanding metaphors and other issues of literalism, and it might make sense why many autistics avoid fiction.
Science fiction can of course help with these matters, because science fiction involves science and technology, meaning it’s rooted in things autistics tend to like. The preference for fantasy among fiction-reading autistics, however, is a bit more of a mystery. Perhaps the fact that it’s so obviously untrue makes it attractive. It’s all so outlandish, outrageous that we’re comfortable in it.
Nietzsche, who I suspect to have been on the autism spectrum, argued that art is true because it doesn’t pretend not to be untrue. He was talking about how we believe science to tell us what is true, with scientists themselves presenting their findings as true (when their findings are ultimately falsified into theories and generalities that cover the variations among all things), but we can perhaps see how this attitude, when applied to literature, would make even more obviously “untrue” literature, like fantasy and science fiction, more attractive. Surely the more untrue art appears to be, the more true it really is.
Science fiction, fantasy, and video games are all plot-driven and do not focus much on character development. The internal goings-on of the average person is a mystery to us, and so it’s also possible that science fiction and fantasy are comfortable to us because these genres tend not to focus on those things. We see people acting, and we supply our own interpretations of why they act that way; we can do the same in plot-driven fiction.
All of these are mostly preliminary thoughts on this issue. I like fiction, but if the books I’ve read are any indication, I like nonfiction books more. Yet, I write fiction. But the reason I write fiction–especially short stories–is that I am typically trying to figure out what people were thinking when they did certain things. And of course I read fiction because I write fiction, as any moderately decent artist would. I haven’t written any short stories in a while, and I have several unfinished novel manuscripts, but I am now working on a fantasy epic, so I guess I’ve learned to become who I am.
The other day, we came home after sundown. I opened the side door of our minivan and Dylan, who is 6, asked me to lift him down. I grabbed him, and turned around to pretend to put him in the flowering bush next to the driveway. Dylan started objecting, “No! There’s bees! There’s bees!”
Daniel, from the back of the van, said, “There aren’t any bees. It’s dark and bees aren’t nocturnal. So you don’t have to worry about bees.”
Anna said, “Only our kids would have this conversation.”
About a year and a half ago I read Neurotribes. Throughout it I kept seeing in each of the autistic cases Silberman mentions that they seemed particularly focused on merit.
I definitely believe in meritocracy, and I always have. It was only reinforced when I read (and recently re-read) Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in which Rand (who was almost certainly a fellow Aspie), provides a epic celebration of meritocracy. Indeed, her primary argument against socialism or even the interventionist state is precisely that people are rewarded for things other than merit (for her the worst is mere social connections).
It is perhaps not surprising that people who identify with their work and who aren’t particularly social would think that the best system is one that recognizes people for their actual accomplishments than for their social/political skills. Of course, social skills and political skills are practically the same. Which is perhaps why many on the spectrum I have met have been particularly anti-politics if not outright libertarian. To us it seems a pretty stupid way to get things done, since nothing is getting done while everyone involved get rich and powerful while producing nothing of worth to anyone.
We thus have a tendency to respect creators, inventors, and other such entrepreneurs but not the kind of people who get what they want because of their personalities or their social skills or who they know. We appreciate the artists and the scientists and the inventors but not the social butterflies and the politicians and the demagogues.
But let’s be honest. We creators need the kind of people who can promote our work, if we’re not natural promoters (and we on the spectrum definitely are not). We autistic creators in particular need a promoter in our lives, someone who will make sure our things are published, sent out, or marketed to the right people.
I really do not think that enough attention can be given to the positive side of autism. There are jobs and situations out there where “I am autistic” ought to make people light up. Attention to detail and obsession with a topic to such a degree that one rapidly becomes an expert in a field ought to be popular traits. Of course, our different world view is often a deal-breaker, when it ought to be considered one of our strongest traits. But let’s be honest, nobody really wants to deal with anyone who truly sees the world in a new or different way. Until and unless people actually learn to appreciate creativity and different ways of thinking rather than merely giving them lip service while actually demonstrating their overwhelming preference for the same old thinking that they’re used to, we on the spectrum are going to continue to have a hard time of it.