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Autism In Art?

  • Posted on November 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m reading a book called Initiate by Tara Maya and I recently encountered a passage that felt very autistic. She described a magical being that was forced to interact in a human world, using sensory disorientation, sensory seeking behaviors, and social inappropriateness and confusion that seemed to me very much like an outward expression of autism.

So, I got curious. I found two posts on her blog that mention autism. First, back in 2008, she wrote a post that connected “theory of mind” to novel reading and writing. She quoted Lisa Zunshine’s book Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel: “…it is our ToM [Theory of Mind] [which] makes literature as we know it possible.”

Maya then writes:

Perhaps novel writers suffer not just from hypergraphia, but from over-excitable mirror neurons as well. Thus we have a compulsion to both imagine what other minds are thinking and to then write about it. This could constitute a sort of inverse of autism, which renders it difficult to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling.

I wonder if Maya or, for that matter, Zunshine and Baron-Cohen (whose research is used in Zunshine’s book), realize that there is such a thing as an autistic author? That people with autism and Asperger’s do write fiction?

This post implies that Maya may have a curiosity regarding autism, but relies on non-autistic “experts” to form her impressions of the disorder. If so, this wouldn’t be an example of “autism in art,” but an example of “unconscious prejudice in art.”

But there’s a second post. In 2009, she wrote:

According to the cognitive science ‘theory of theory of mind’ (sic) we are all mind readers, to a greater or lesser extent. Those of us closer to the autistic side of the spectrum may prefer genres which tend to have flatter, easier-to-read characters, whereas those with highly honed hyper-acute mind reading skills may find flat characters painfully boring.

This almost suggests that she might include herself as among “those of us closer to the autistic side,” and yet she’s writing and reading fiction and still, seemingly, buying into the “theory of mind” bit.

Either way, it seems to me that if Maya wants to understand the autistic side of things, then she’s better off talking to people with autism than relying on non-autistic “experts” to interpret what it means to be autistic for her.