Through the Eyes of Autism

Ingrid Robeyns at Crooked Timber wrote some wonderful posts about autism this week. (It's autism awareness month, and I really should be writing more about this topic.) 

One of the posts that has gotten the most attention is her discussion about attending an autism simulation, which gives neurotypicals a feels of what it is like to have autism.

I visited the Headquarter in 2010, and I still recall coming out of the Headquarter and feeling completely flabbergasted. Literally. That world that was presented to me was not only very hard to follow and understand, but it suck my energy being in there, trying to understand what people on these television screens were trying to tell me. And realising that this is how people with autism, including my son, have to cope with the world, was hard. Visiting the Headquarter was disturbing, but also directly useful, since it helped us in improving our parenting. For example, we realized much better that we had to look for strategies to protect him from begin bombarded by sounds, and that we had to intensify our efforts at communicating as clearly as possible.  

Most parents of autistic children have a huge learning curve in understanding how to protect their kids. When the kids turn two, they suddenly start screaming about loud noises, bright lights, big crowds. They aren't understanding you like other kids. They don't turn their heads when you call them. It is incredibly frustrating. 

Steve and I weren't sure if we should protect Ian from these sounds and smells or take a sterner approach. Others told us that he should be punished. Ultimately, we figured out that he needed protection, big time, and we took babysteps in getting over the sounds and smells.

But there is more to autism than just the sensory and communication problems. One of the best parts of the HBO Temple Grandin movie was that it showed her visual mind. She thinks in pictures first and then her brain has to locate the right word for the image. That visual map is definitely part of the picture. So is the need to find patterns and meaning in things that have no meaning.  

Ingrid said that autism simulation center was in danger of closing. It's too bad. It would have been very helpful for us, when we first started down this path of autism. 

5 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of Autism

  1. I’d always thought of myself as merely profoundly introverted. Reading Ingrid’s account of the simulation was something of a surprise, to find that experience of the world is not a common one. My younger son and I have both been known to leave noisy parties and hide in the first available quiet place. Sadly my coping strategies (leaving is no longer my primary response ;-) don’t typically work for him – even though I can empathize I still can’t find a reliable way to help him, which I suppose is just one of the forms of parental heartbreak. School was easier for introverts forty years ago I think, far less emphasis on group work and more on working quietly alone, perfectly fine from my perspective. Story: when he was 5, I dragged the family over to Kansas to watch me race: he got out of the car, looked at the milling crowd of athletes and spectators, said, “that’s too many people for me, I’m staying here” which he did until the race started and the crowd thinned out.
    A swift googling finds at least one academic paper suggesting that introversion may be somewhere along the autistic spectrum. Hm interesting.
    Het hoofdkwartier’s home page says they also did some work on Autism Specs, “a digital spectacles that enables the user to experience the world as if he would have autism. It is possible to adjust the settings to simulate different levels of visual and auditive experience of vision and sound affected by autism.” It doesn’t seem to have become an actual product though, can’t find any reference to the Specs other than a Linkedin page for the product designer.

  2. I have some ideas on the obesity/autism article (among other things, I think the autistic tendency to keep doing stuff could be making the mothers fat), but am hoping for an actual post to appear eventually.

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