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Ahuman Question: Framing Autism in a Digital World

Autism has something to teach us as we move on past the digital frontier.

Krissa Swain

on 4 March 2013

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Transcript of Ahuman Question: Framing Autism in a Digital World

photo (cc) Malte Sörensen @ flickr Technological Utopia? Transhumans among us Introduction to a Digital Community: What makes us human? How do we know we belong
to this planet? Autism Framing AHuman Question http://www.wrongplanet.net/ WrongPlanet.net is a digital community of people with autism spectrum disorders. To express their state of being in the world, they have chosen the metaphor of the wrong planet. It's as though they were born normal and somehow landed on the wrong planet. It might even be difficult to see people on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum as disadvantaged, because many of them possess astounding abilities, such as hyperlexicality, ambidextry, and hypercalculia. Some of them have dumbfounding powers of memory. Others have perfect pitch, or the ability to replicate music heard once, note for note. On a digital planet And yet who better suited to thrive and function in the world that lies ahead?

According to Simon Baron-Cohen, there is a "possibility that some of the genes that contribute to autism are inherited along with genes behind certain cognitive talents common to scientists, engineers, mathematicians and other technical-minded people." And, he points out, "some evidence suggests that regions around the world where a lot of engineers and scientists live and marry—such as Silicon Valley in California and Eindhoven in the Netherlands—have higher than usual rates of autism."

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=baron-cohen-autism-and-technical-mind-live-chat If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. My daughter is autistic. I live near the Tennessee Technology Corridor, which runs from Cookeville, TN, where my daughter's father and grandfather studied at Tennessee Tech, to Oak Ridge, birthplace of nuclear technology, where my daughter's grandfather worked for 40 years as a chemical engineer and nuclear physicist. Piero della Francesca, c. 1415-1492 cc 2008 Photo by Carulmare http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2206736584 Virgin with Child Giving His Blessing But these are the very features that make us most human, according to the Classical and Renaissance Humanist projects. Eye contact. Proper bearing. The ability to engage gracefully in the gracious give and take of civic debate. I gave her a camera and asked her to frame her planet. WrongPlanet.net http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt192712.html I feel like I am not human and I want to go HOME! http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt124382.html Why is human life more important than animal life? The posters at WrongPlanet.net offer some astonishingly insightful commentary on the idea of human-ness, and what it is like to feel or be treated as if somehow non-human, unhuman, alien, or ahuman. The possibility of autism as a form of transhumanism is even raised. I urge you to click some of the links in the next frame and read some of the surprising things they have to say. Human Inconsistencies http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt109421.html http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt76475.html A Human Quotient- what do you think? http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt216530.html Story - Almost Human http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt219638.html Dear Average Human http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt202556.html Song - I want to be human! http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt177022.html Being treated as less than human http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt92309.html I hate all human beings http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt170239.html Not wanting to be human?? http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt173010.html Difficulty hearing human voices- is this a common AS trait? http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt199271.html AS, the next step in human evolution? http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt211401.html Strange made-up human things... What if you sometimes weren't quite sure? This is what she saw . . . Disclaimer Her friends The Floor The Wall Flashing lights Stuff she likes Herself Education by a Digital Community Among educators, a great deal of worry is spent upon the question of how we can teach those in the autism spectrum, with emphasis almost always upon how we can make them fit into our world. But let's turn the issue on its head.

What can we learn from the autism spectrum? What do those on it see that those of us who (think we) are not on it do not see? Why are many in this group so comfortable in a digital environment, and so uncomfortable when face to face, eye to eye? Why do many of them so instinctively reject social, ethical, and even verbal structures the rest of us take for granted? In the US, the latest Centers for Disease Control estimate reckons the prevalence of autism to be 1 in 88. That's 1.5 million people on the autism spectrum in the US alone. http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/latest-autism-statistics-2/ Whether it's on the rise due to genetics, due to environmental factors, or even better diagnosis, or a combination of these, autism is part of a new reality - on this planet. Imagine technological utopia or dystopia -- pursue a humanist, post-humanist, or transhumanist approach to adjusting to the digital future -- use whatever metaphor you will to express the massive change we all feel we're a part of. Autism is shaping our education, our technology, and our planet, and it will have its place in any future you envision. How are they changing the world to fit them? We are all going to get
an education. Set your mind free, baby. The Geek Syndrome "It seems that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential." Hans Asperger http://lucarinfo.com/inspire/dautism.html In fact, people on the autism spectrum, some of whom are at least in part responsible for the digital technologies we take for granted, are reshaping our world. And they have been for hundreds of years.


To the list above, I would almost certainly add Adam Smith, the 18th-century Scottish economist. Others have suggested Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-29-2007/bill-gates-pt--2?xrs=share_copy (Watch the very end.) Many people with high-functioning forms of autism often feel like they are the ones who are normal, and it's the world around them that is crazy.
Their wants, needs, assumptions, perspectives, and interpretations seem perfectly logical to them, and the cultural overlay of manners, body language, and scripted conversations seems artificial, contrived,
and a lot like the rest of the world is communicating in a secret code.
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