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The Link Between Autism and Intuition

January 16, 2019

I remember making throat stims as a little girl. These vibrations eased the sensory pain I was feeling in my body but I was quickly told in no uncertain terms that these noises were not acceptable so I stopped to avoid any further approbation.

 

In contrast I quickly learned the importance our western world puts on thought and it's ability to be expressed to other people in the form of language. I realized my own mind had an insatiable capacity to absorb and assimiliate information, to find patterns and communcate them in discernable form. From there it was easy to get lost in the labrynth of my mind and ignore my body. And society rewarded me for it. I got good grades, my teachers liked me and then I developed an expertise that society further rewarded with a paycheck. 

 

Long after forgetting my urge to throat stim a therapist told me "Thoughts preceed feelings.You can't have a feeling unless you have thought about something first." I could understand this no more than I  can understand why someone would idolize the Kardashians. So in spite of her attempt to convince me otherwise, I remained certain that it WAS possible to feel something on a primal level without the need to put it into thoughts or form a judgment first. And eventually coming full circle I realized the gutteral vibrations I had  exchanged for societal approval as a little girl were the language my body intuitively needed to hear- primordial thought in motion. While society deemed them unacceptable, these wordless sounds had a more profound effect on my being than all the books I have read in a lifetime.

 

These days I spend a lot of time conteplating the elusive distinctions between thought, language and emotion. When I do contemplate this or anything for that matter, I begin by "feeling" or sensing something undefinable. It radiates from the core of my body outwards like a soft vibration. Sometimes images flash into my mind.  But sometimes the vibration transmutes into a melody begging to be hummed or a texture like velvet or the bark of an aspen tree. If something is disturbing it tastes like lye and has a color- chartreuse to be precise. If something is mysterious (the most gratifying sensation of all) it sits quietly in my chest cavity, the embodiment of  past, present and future all wrapped into one beautiful, magical and indescribable silence.

 

Words come later. For words (as wonderful and seductive as they can be) and thoughts (bless you Camus) in and of themselves are mere reductionist abstractions, Plato's shadows against the wall of a cave. But images, scents, textures, melodies, these interpretations are pure experience- the essence that exists before the thought can even be created or words assigned to them.


As much as the experts ecourage autistic children to graduate from parallel play to interaction as a sign of improvement, words can only serve to diminish the silent connection that is created when two people choose to just be in time and space together. Why should this experience be translated into words? It shouldn't. It would only lose something pure in the abstraction. 

 

I don't care how cognitively delayed or clueless they appear to be about proper social conventions and niceties, I have never met an autistic person who didn't harbor an intuition that eludes words but includes a rich gamut of sensory exploration.  Yes, thinking in pictures is a part of this  and it is true that many autistic people are highly visual.  Many of us do "think in pictures" but to leave it at that is this is a gross oversimplification of a profound and underrated process that neglects the importance of the other senses (sound, touch, taste, movement, scent) and that internal knowing that we refer to as intuition. 

 

Autistic people are masters of pure experience. 

 

Sadly, there are many autistic people who interpret their intuition as an inherent character flaw and there are many others who don't recognize this gift exists inside them because we live in a society that reinforces the use of words and conformity at the expense of the unique sensory experience. We live in a society that misunderstands, oversimplifies and consequently discourages such raw expressions of intuition. But research is begining to show that our minds and the rest of our bodies are not as separate was we once theorized (1).

 

Activities such as lining up toys, rocking, spinning, clicking, hand flapping or opening and closing doors can ease anxiety, diminish physical pain and help to process information. When parents or therapists attempt to stop these types of behavior because they don't look "normal" they may actually be interupting the body's natural instinct to solve it's own problems.  Even worse we may be preventing that person from experiencing the creativity needed to reach their potential.

 

We need to allow autistic children to direct their own play and self soothing routines as much as possible unless a behavior is harmful in some way. We should encourage our children to explore their senses and the environment through self directed play without any pressure or expectation for it to look "normal".  After all, expecting someone to be 'normal' is like sentencing them to a life of mediocrity. It is only when our children are allowed to follow their intuition that their true potential can shine through.

 

[1] Öhman, A. and Soares, J. J. F. [1998]: ‘Emotional Conditioning to Masked Stimuli: Expectancies for Aversive Outcomes Following Nonrecognized Fear-Relevant Stimuli’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 127, pp. 69–82.

[2] Scarantino, A. [2010]: 'Insights and Blindspots of the Cognitivist Theory of Emotions', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 61, issue 4, pp. 729-768.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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