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The Opposite of Autism

I was thinking about the opposite of autism today and I looked at some internet talk about it.  Most of what I looked at were comments made by people with autism.   Many of them said that anti-autistic people would be outgoing and social butterflies, among other things.  Social butterflies?  Not really.  A lot of autistic folks are not shy and in fact are extroverts.  It isn't that all autistic folk lack the motivation to socialize, it is that so many of them lack many of the tools to socialize effectively.  That is a HUGE difference.  Whether one is an introvert or an extrovert is, I think completely independent of one's place on the human autism versus anti-autism scale.

The prevailing thought seems to be that if autism is an extreme on a human brain continuum, then perhaps its opposite would LOOK opposite in terms of most behaviors.  I suppose this would at least be true with some of the behaviors.  So what are some behavioral characteristics of autistic people?  Well that is complex, and certainly all people with autism don't have the same characteristics, but let's take ten commonly accepted characteristics and play with them:

1.  May avoid or lack eye-contact
2.  May not imitate others
3.  May not point or use other hand gestures
4.  May have language issues:  delayed development, hyperlexia, echolalia
5.  May not understand social cues
6.  May have a narrow range of intense interests
7.  May be resistant to change and  love of sameness in routine
8.  May engage in hand-flapping, rocking, or other repetitive behaviors or tics
9.  May get angry or aggressive when overwhelmed
10.  May hyperfocus on details at the expense of the larger picture

Okay, so if you take that straight across, then an anti-autistic person would look like this:

1.  May seek eye-contact
2.  May often imitate others
3.  May excessively use hand gestures
4.  May be gifted with language across the board
5.  May be hypersensitive to social cues
6.  May have a broad range of intense interests and trouble narrowing them down
7.  May seek change and avoid sameness in routine
8.  May sit still often
9.  May be peaceful and slow to anger
10.  May see the big picture at the expense of the details

So there is a simplistic picture of an anti-autistic person.  Except it's wrong.  Why?  Because you have to look at what CAUSES the behaviors.  If there is a big explosion, a deaf person might flinch back because of the bright light and flying debris she sees, while a blind person might flinch back because of the loud sound:  both people engage in the same behavior, but the underlying cause is different.  It stands to reason that   if autistic and anti-autistic people are both impaired by being at the extreme end of a human sensory/brain continuum, both groups might sometimes react to environmental stimuli the same way although their reactions are caused by different experiences.

For example let's take that first behavior: an autistic child may not make eye contact because they don't get a sense of positive human connection through eye contact like most people do.  But if your experience was in fact the opposite of that, if the sense of connection you got through eye contact was very intense?  You might well avoid protracted eye contact just like an autistic child.   Different reason, same behavior.

How about #5?  An autistic person may miss social cues like tone of voice or facial expression and therefore struggle socially with her peers.  An anti-autistic person, however, might struggle with her peers for an entirely different reason:  She is TOO aware of unspoken social cues.  Human beings often behave as if they want one thing, say they want another thing, and actually, inside, want something else entirely.  What if anti-autistic people can read much of this all at once?  How confusing is that?   Such sensitivity might well make for social awkwardness.

It's an interesting thing to consider.  For example, items 7,8, and 9 for the autistic person can all be attributed to their difficulty in dealing with their environment.  If the anti-autistic person also struggled to live in a world set up for "normal" people, then they might well also rely on routine to calm themselves, have physical tics or repetitive behaviors, or get angry, upset, or depressed,

I think there are anti-autistic people.  I think they struggle just as autistic people do to live in a world where they are not the norm.  I think they have not been diagnosed as a class because they have one main thing autistic people do not have:  The ability to imitate "normal" people (#2) for at least limited amounts of time.    And I think that if they were recognized it might help us understand what autism really is and how we can make the world a kinder place for those whose brains do not function within a certain median range (I might be using that mathematical term wrong, lol).

Surely the people at both ends are as valuable as the people in the middle.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
Good thoughts ...
Your points say to me that the medical profession should step back, take a long look at the bigger picture. As you said, what is it that highly sensitive, intelligent/gifted folks do that helps them get by in a crazy "normal" world, that autistic folks perhaps cannot do?

Surely that would help a lot with understanding ...
Apr. 13th, 2011 08:49 am (UTC)
excellent articles, useful for me. keep writing and happy blogging.

Apr. 16th, 2011 02:16 am (UTC)
I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

Matt WillsoonhavehisSanta Hatton
Nov. 14th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
same here
I had the words -opposite of autistic- pop in to my brain earlier, quickly followed by a to and fro discussion with myself about what this may mean.
I decided, as one does, to Google the initial thought, looked around, saw this and was surprised to find that you have written, pretty much, verbatim what my internal conversation came up with. I fit the 'opposite of autistic' frame, the points you list are very me. Interesting read, thank you for sharing.
Anne Agard
May. 18th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
I also had the phrase "opposite of autistic" pop into my mind and Googled it, thinking that's what I might be. Sure enough, the characteristics on your list all right on.

The big difference, though, is that autism is a serious disability and though being "anti-autistic" has its challenges, probably most of us end up with OK lives, albeit unusual ones. We have social skills and verbal skills to help us through. Also courage in the face of the unknown, and a high tolerance for ambiguity.

It is largely a matter of finding a way for yourself that works--a career that doesn't bore you, loving relationships with kindred souls, scope for your visions and your taste for adventure, settings and people that tolerate your sloppiness about some of the details. And your habit of focusing on the big picture means that you must find a nourishing spiritual path.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )