Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Annie on Autism

By way of a change, a few notes on autism today. I'm posting are some of the journal entries made by Annie Parmeter on my son Martin, who has virtually no speech (he can just about whisper yes or no). The Sally-Anne test that she refers to was a marvellously simple experiment devised by Simon Baron-Cohen; basically it tests the ability of an individual to see what another person is seeing - as it were, to get "inside" of another person's mind, and understand what their perspective is. The test is very simple, and highlights one of the problems that autistic people have:

The experimenter uses two dolls, "Sally" and "Anne". Sally has a basket; Anne has a box. Experimenters show their subjects (usually children) a simple skit, in which Sally puts a marble in her basket and then leaves the scene. While Sally is away and cannot watch, Anne takes the marble out of Sally's basket and puts it into her box. Sally then returns and the children are asked where they think she will look for her marble. Children are said to "pass" the test if they understand that Sally will most likely look inside her basket before realizing that her marble isn't there. Children under the age of four, along with most autistic children (of older ages), will answer "Anne's box," seemingly unaware that Sally does not know her marble has been moved.

Here are Annie's notes, and they are also a good reminder that we don't all see the world the same way, and while we may think we are right in our understanding, those whom we disagree with also believe themselves to be right.

One of the hardest assumptions to shift is that everyone must see the world in the same way that we do and it has a been a fascinating privilege for me to spend time with some people who have Autistic Spectrum Disorders of varying degree.
As Simon Baron-Cohen's simple Sally/Anne test shows it can be extraordinarily difficult for people with ASDs (autistic spectrum disorders) to imagine what another person might be thinking, they tend to assume that the other person will be thinking the same as they are and this can lead to grave problems with socialisation and empathic connection even with people close to them.
This has served to remind me to what degree following our own assumptions can create blocks to understanding others, it has also reminded me not to make assumptions about my autistic friends even those with milder forms of ASDs especially in the realm of emotional responses and for whom anxiety due to change and lack of certainty is a big part of their lives.
One person in particular who is quite severely affected by his autism very seldom speaks and although he sometimes appears to laugh I have very little idea of what he finds amusing, (when he has had a verbal phase albeit fairly minimal he has said that he finds something funny although half the time I might be at pains to see why and does he mean funny in the same way that I do?)
He may laugh by way of discharging light fears or embarrassment or he may just be enjoying the sound of own voice, it would seem entirely inappropriate and indeed irrelevant to make any assumptions about his behaviour at all.
He is a human being and so logically I should assume that communication is something that I may enjoy with him but nearly all of the time I have no way whatsoever of knowing what is going on in his head, this seems to be most disconcerting for his family to be so near but yet so far as it were; but I find I can enjoy sharing other things with him like watching movies, eating sausages and playing a strange (communication?)'game' of squeezing each other's hands and feet.  He has given my existential complacency a good boot up the rear end and I am delighted to know him.

No comments: