What is Autism?
Psychologists, psychoanalysts and neuroscientists all commonly apply a triune model of the brain :
- The Reptilian complex (aka “instinct” aka “the Id”) : where primitive subconscious emotions (such as sadness, anger, fear and happiness) reside and which is correlated to primitive neurochemical algorithms that measure one’s capacity to take care of oneself.
- The Paleomammalian complex (aka “consciousness” aka “the Ego”) : where individual consciousness resides, and which is correlated to defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions.
- The Neomammalian complex (aka “intuition” aka “the Super-ego”) : where collective consciousness resides, and which is highly correlated to the internalization of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence.
In Autistic individuals, the Neomammalian complex does not behave as it normally should, which could have any of a multitude of causes. In essence, that means that Autistic people are lacking what is commonly refered to as a “gut feeling”. Autistic people can’t just follow “whatever their heart desires”. So they need to analyse whatever data they have all the time to compensate for that lack.
Autism and emotions
The emotional life of Autistic people is no less intense than that of other people (if not more intense), but — due to the lack of a “gut feeling” — it is not as layered. Much of the wide range of subtle nuances in their emotional spectrum of “Neurotypicals” (aka “normal people”) is completely alien to Autistic people.
The Autistic emotional life is almost exclusively an expression of the level of (dis)comfort one experiences at any given time. While that may seem a very limited range of emotions, the emotional life of people with Autism can nevertheless be just as intense as (if nor more than) that of “Neurotypicals”.
Because Autistic people need to analyse everything all the time whenever “Neurotypicals” can just rely on their “gut feeling”, Autistic people are far more sensitive to a multitude of stress factors, but also far more capable of experiencing a state of Zen-like tranquility when stress factors are minimal.
This means that Autistic people and “Neurotypicals” experience a vastly different emotional spectrum, with different triggers, different sensitivities, different preferences, etc. The obvious consequence thereof is that Autistic people struggle to comprehend the emotional spectrum of “Neurotypicals”.
Perhaps less obvious is that it’s no different the other way around. It is not just difficult for Autistic people to understand and communicate with “Neurotypicals”, but also for “Neurotypicals” to understand and communicate with Autistic people, because their perception of themselves and the world around them is so vastly different.
Implicit learning and language
Because the Neomammalian complex does not behave as it normally should, Autistic people don't just lack only “gut feeling”. They also lack a mechanism known as “implicit learning” (or their capacity for “implicit learning” is very limited). This is a mechanism that allows humans to learn through observation at a sub-conscious level.
Because Autistic people can't learn at the sub-conscious level, they need to learn pretty much everything at a conscious level. Learning something at a conscious level is a lot harder and requires a lot more intelligence than learning something at a sub-conscious level. Because one's native language is typically learnt implicitly, Autistic people therefore require more effort and intelligence to be able to learn their first (native) language than other people.
Communication difficulties between individuals with Autism and so-called "Neurotypicals" therefore exist at two levels. Not only do both have a different emotional spectrum, but they also learn to express their thoughts and emotions in different ways, further widening the gap between Autistic and "Neurotypical".