Monday, 22 August 2011

Autism: An Ailment or Evolution?

In discussions on autism, a major characteristic often cited is that children with autism do not interact in the same way as "normal" children. Specifically, they do not seek physical comforts, like hugs, or make eye-contact, etc.

Inspired by the books "Childhood's End", and "The Way to Love", I have to wonder if the apparent increase in children with autism today is a sign of a new step in evolution?

The convention of physical contact with each other, that we take to be a sign of humanity, or normalcy, can also be interpreted as a behaviour resulting from fear. The deep-seated psychological fear of isolation, of being alone, disconnected -- despite our genuine inter-dependance -- can be somewhat relieved by physical connection, by touch, by looking in someone's eyes and smiling. These actions are a comfort. It makes many of us uncomfortable when other people do not behave in the same way.

But if the root cause of the behaviour -- fear -- were removed, would the behaviour still exist? In other words, is the lack of eye-contact or hugging among people with autism painful to them, or only to those of us who need such things and cannot understand? Are we projecting onto people with autism our own perception about what is normal, and assuming that they need to be saved, to be cured?

Is it possible that people with autism have an innate sense of connection so that a need to reassure themselves of this fact through physical contact with others is unnecessary? If so, this could be described as a spiritual advancement. For people to have a genuine sense of connection innately is fascinating. Many of us struggle through spiritual practice to attain this kind of confidence and spiritual freedom. One's capacity to love is greater because of the lack of fear.

This may be a gross misinterpretation of the experience of a person with autism, but the possibility is intriguing. What it could mean... I don't really know.