DEBUNKING COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AUTISM
To let neurotypical readers imagine how an autistic person may see world through typography.
For many years, Autism was framed as a disability but our DNA told us a different story. Think of autism as a human operating system. Just because a computer was not running Windows didn't mean that it was broken. This bilingual book revealed two different visual perceptions: Pages on the right showed how a neurotypical person might read the book. Pages on the left showed how an autistic person might read the book.
This book addressed the common misconceptions about autism and debunked them with findings and facts extracted from articles, books and research papers.
THE RIGHT COLUMN SHOWS how a neurotypical person may process information
In recent years, researchers have determined that most cases of autism are not rooted in rare mutations but in very old genes that are shared widely in the general population while being concentrated more in certain families than others. Whatever autism is, it is not a unique product of modern civilization. Think of autism as a human operating system. Just because a computer is not running Windows doesn’t mean that it’s broken. People on the
spectrum experiencing the neurotypical world may think of it as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud and full of people who have little respect for personal space.
According to well-known Autism activist Temple Grandin, Autism is a very big continuum that goes from very severe - the child remains non-verbal - all the way up to brilliant scientists and engineers. All minds of the autistic spectrum are detail-oriented but how they specialise varies. By talking to many people on and off the spectrum, she proposed that they can be broadly categorised as visual thinkers, pattern thinkers and verbal logic thinkers.
This rapid rise was not an epidemic. It was the shifting boundaries of diagnosis, broadening criteria, accompanied with the rediscovery of Han's Asperger's forgotten writing on autism in 1944. As the medical world redefines autism, new categories like Asperger’s syndrome and the euphonic “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” took hold. This rapid rise in autistic cases is a reminder that sometimes people suffer simply by the numerical accident of rarity. As Steve Silberman puts it, diseases and disorders are ideas, medicine’s imperfect attempts to bring order to nature’s messy realities.
AUTISM PEOPLE ARE ANTI-SOCIAL AND LACK EMPATHY
Another popular misconception is autistic people are either anti-social tech geniuses or Rain Man - like savants. They are often said to lack empathy because they tend to avoid looking at eyes and have trouble imagining what someone else might be feeling. In a passage about autism-activist Jim Sinclair, Silberman offers a subtle, humane challenge to the conventional wisdom of researchers. Sinclair is hurt by the description of autism he reads in a pamphlet, "I didn’t consider myself to be someone who didn’t have empathy." As Sinclair describes, there is a jarring incongruity between the scientists’ interpretation of the man’s behaviour and Sinclair’s nuanced insights. Where a researcher claims that the subject is oblivious, Sinclair sees a familiar struggle to communicate. If empathy is the ability to inhabit another’s mind, Sinclair’s anecdote suggests that estimates of empathy should
be calibrated for just how far one must travel to do so.
The rise of the autistic culture shows how important it is to have alternative psychological modalities as a part of the cultural
fabric. As Temple Grandin said, "mild autism can give you a genius like Einstein. But if you got rid of all the autism
genetics, you wouldn’t have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social yak yaks." In an age when economic globalisation and other factors threaten to homogenise human
culture, it’s good to know that different minds can still give rise to new ideas.