Why autism is a spectrum

I just came across this blog post which I really really like. Here Nick Walker describes autism in a very straightforward and non judgemental manner.

It also had me thinking. Since by now even some scientists have begun to realise autism means more perception and not anything less or anything broken it basically means autism amplifies EVERYTHING. Certainly feels true for me: more emotions, emotions other people do not seem to have, higher contrast and colour discrimination, more discernable details picked up, sounds other people can not hear (being the only one in a lecture hall of about 200 people hearing the beamer emitting a high pitched sounds is maddening in more than one respect) and the list goes on.

If that really is what unifies us spectrumites (and I have long since thought that) it also gives a neat explanation why we are all so different. Let’s assume your average neurotypicals (ANT) interests and their ability to focus are amplified. Then we do not get an army of clones who are all displaying the same interests. The amplification reflects the variety already present and takes it to a larger scale.

If your ANTs sensory perceptions are also amplified differences in ability to perceive are much more striking, if you saw slightly worse than your peers before, now this difference is much bigger between you and your simultaneously amplified peers. Let’s do something silly and explain it by a somewhat nonsensical numbers experiment.
We will reduce the ability to see to a silly score. One person has a score of 45.6 and the other of 51.0 which is a difference of 5.4 . Now we take our amplifier, let’s say it’s a x10 multiplier (amplification is always represented by multiplicative operation, never additive) so we have 456 and 510 now. A difference of 54, much more perceivable if we consider autistic people live in a world which is geared towards people being less perceptive.

Amplifying everything does not only mean more of the things nonamplified people recognise, it also means some things just start to become visible, audible, feelable. A bit like the first cameras took black and white picture of low quality and took hours to do so. These days we have cameras recording high quality images in colour and with movement. Colour and movement are two entirely new things. Movement came from ever decreasing the time it takes to make one picture. Now we record them in real time and thus can record them in a serialised manner and there is your smart phone recorded video. In humans maybe this is how things like synaethesia and hyperlexia happen.

And now the funny part happens: we are humans not machines. Thus more intensity, increased perception, whatever it is that is amplified does NOT lead to thing being better or running more smoothly. Our brains are not made to handle so much input all at once, so circuits get frayed and shortcuts happen. To keep with my example just because we suddenly got the upgrade that enables us to see colour and movement does not mean our hardware made the simultaneous jump in increased RAM, processor speed and all the other things required to decode movies instead of pictures. If we were a computer we’d simply crash bye bye.

But we are no computers. We are humans. We might have meltdowns. It’s a similar disruption between the amount of input we get and our ability to process said input. But unlike a computer we do not normally shut down completely. Instead we develop anxieties, depression, phobias, we hide, we run, we isolate. Anything to gain a little semblance of control over the chaos continuously assaulting our very core. Being autistic itself is thus a very stressful way to exist and it’s merely logical that we display self soothing behaviours. Stress has a way to mess with animals in a chaotic manner. Hence a spectrum of stress responses is born.

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