Public service announcement: CONTEXT, PEOPLE. SHEESH.

Traditionally, many of the communication problems between autists and allists seem to stem from the fact that they make statements for very different reasons.

Autistic people are very invested in pattern. It's a diagnostic criterion, in fact. They're motivated to sit and gather endless amounts of information about a subject because the inherent reward for that is the EUREKA! feeling when they finally see how it all actually fits together. It feels like a tangible achievement. This is not exclusive to autists, but natively-allistic people seem to need to hit a certain minimum level of intelligence before they can maintain this pattern on top of the other one; I get the EUREKA! feeling, and so do a lot of people I know, but I collect geniuses on purpose.

When autistic people make one of those bald statements that seem to surprise everyone else, they're voicing one of the many observations that they, like everyone else in the human race, are constantly making. The reason they pick this particular one to point out to you is that it's a thing that set off a EUREKA!. They derive great joy from seeing patterns completed, and they're trying to be sociable by sharing that good feeling with others. They're trying to point out that this thing is part of a pattern that the two of you have in common.

Allistic people figure that stuff makes some kind of sense by default, and that someone else somewhere gets it, and that's good enough for them. They get things, especially social things, mostly unconsciously; their conscious-level experience is either getting things or not getting things, and they really don't have much sense of whether further explanations will make any difference between the two. It's distressing when they don't get stuff that others are obviously expecting them to get, but getting it doesn't produce a real reward feeling -- it's just the relief of successfully avoiding the pain of failure.

When allistic people make an observation out of the blue without attaching any explicit context to it -- particularly without explicitly attaching an "I like that" statement -- they're making the observation because that thing sticks out as a thing they don't get, and they're verbally cross-checking it with other people to receive feedback on whether or not it's a thing they're supposed to be getting. They want to make sure they're not incorrect in thinking it's out of place. They point out things that don't fit and expect the un-fitting-ness to be answered with either an explanation (if the person they're talking to agrees that it's out of place for some reason) or with some indication that they've failed, and there is a pattern they're missing.

If you show up and your autistic friend says, "You're wearing sneakers today," he's saying that he has observed that you are wearing sneakers. Unless explicitly stated, he doesn't think they're out of place -- he might, in fact, be commenting because he thinks they're especially fitting for some reason. If you show up and your allistic friend says, "You're wearing sneakers today," he means that for some reason he considers the sneakers different from the norm -- out of character for you (i.e., he sees you as the sort of person who wouldn't wear sneakers) or inappropriate for the situation (i.e., he thinks you have misjudged the circumstances as those in which sneakers are appropriate, when in fact they aren't).

The way you fix this for both parties is by telling the other person why you're making the statement in the first place. "You're wearing sneakers today. I like the way the color of the stripe matches the color of your shirt." "You're wearing sneakers today. We're going out to dinner with your grandparents, I expected you to be wearing fancier shoes." "You're wearing sneakers today. I wish I'd thought of that; I forgot we'd be walking around on wet grass, and wore slippery ballet flats instead." "You're wearing sneakers today. I'm glad I'm not the only person who remembered to do that, everyone else is going to be sorry they wore dress shoes."

The tendency of weird genius allistic people to fall into the autistic pattern here, incidentally, is why I interpret both Sherlock's continually dragging John out on cases, and Tony Stark's inviting Dr. Banner to visit his R&D facility, as overtures of friendship rather than attempts to appropriate someone else's brains and attention for their own ends. In both cases, the brain-things are of paramount value to the people offering, both intellectually and emotionally, and they're staking a lot on the hope that the person they're talking to will accept the offer with a full understanding of its importance. The fact that a huge number of people don't get this is why a lot of very smart allistic kids are shunned as weird until they hit an age where they can make their own efforts to find people who feel the same way.

Comments

  1. One of my friends just sent me this article, which connects nicely with the whole topic (especially the probably well-meaning people who are trying it to cure all sorts of social issues... WTF people).

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2012/07/oxytocin_is_not_a_love_drug_don_t_give_it_to_kids_with_autism_.single.html

    This is just plain disturbing to me. It goes much beyond a new topic where we know a lot of cool initial results but haven't studied all of it; there are clear negative studies that indicate caution! But people probably never read/hear those for all the hype.

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    Replies
    1. Well, that's a disturbing amount of enthusiasm from people who don't know what the fuck. If its function really is to coordinate group social efforts, I can see where it might be a useful tool for people with massive social anxiety, who habitually see rejection even when it isn't intended. It's not going to make a damn bit of difference for someone who just has a different social structure mapped out in their head, though -- if anything, it would make them less oblivious to how much other people are confused by it. The rest of that is huge amounts of hogwash that's likely going to sell a lot of shady "nutritional supplements" and not a lot else.

      At least it appears unlikely to seriously, permanently damage people who take it hoping it'll do something it doesn't. A minor leg up on chelation therapy.

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    2. Yeah, the interesting thing is that when they gave oxytocin, to quote from the article: "Jennifer Bartz, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has found several responses that depend on a person’s mindset. She showed that socially secure people remember their mothers in a more positive light after inhaling oxytocin, while anxious ones remember mum as less caring and more distant. Along similar lines, she showed that oxytocin hinders trust and cooperation among people with borderline personality disorder."

      So it seems like this molecule mostly amplifies existing patterns. Which makes it a poor candidate for *changing* anything, if only socially secure people benefit and feel more trusting/caring. And it makes it even weirder that they're mostly doing interventions on just those people that do not seem to benefit...

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