In the last section I described one of my ‘lightbulb moments’ – the realisation that the natural method of communicating and socialising amongst the autistic population/ ‘square fillers’ involved a system that by-passed words and used a form of telepathy. I’d just like to stress that every child in the group I observed was using and responding to it, and they ranged from very high-functioning individuals to at least one who was said to be at the lowest end of cognitive ability. In other words, it wasn’t a skill some very gifted children had learned; it was a natural skill that – in these individuals – hadn’t yet been suppressed by society.
Despite the earnest efforts of their parents and caregivers, these kids had not been pressured into using and thinking with words.
In this section and the next, I will examine the reasons for this, according to the American thinker and educator Joseph Chilton Pearce.
In his book The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Pearce speaks of a “primary process of mind”. That means it is there, initially, in everyone. This primary process, he goes on, is repressed and largely eliminated by what our society calls maturation. The quote from his book that follows is one of the key points of this whole series of articles, because once it is understood, it becomes clear how autistic perception differs from neurotypical perception, how the square fillers think and process information and why that way of perceiving is so valuable to society as a whole.
“Autistic thinking (or A-thinking) is an unstructured, non-logical (but not necessarily illogical) whimsical thinking that is the key to creativity. It involves ‘unconscious processes’ but it is not necessarily unconscious. Autistic thinking is indulged in, or in some cases happens to one in ordinary conscious states. The autistic is a kind of dream-world mode of thinking. This left-handed thinking is nevertheless a functional part of reality formation. It is the connecting link between our ‘clearing’ and ‘forest’. It is the pearl of great price. It is the way by which potential unfolds.”
It’s possible that a high-functioning autist reading the above might be offended or put off by some of the language there – ‘non-logical’, ‘whimsical’, ‘dream-world’. There are certain values placed by society on those words, and the earlier mention of ‘maturation’ could imply that those with autistic perception are locked in some eternal wondering infantile state, while the rest of the population has ‘grown up’ and left them behind. I hope that, by labouring the point (throughout the last four sections) that our society’s norms offer only ONE possible way of developing and maturing, I will have mitigated that interpretation to some extent.
To be extremely clear, then: All humans begin their terrestrial, three-dimensional existence as autistic thinkers. They are infinitely creative, imaginative and open to new experiences. It is only by being that way that they are able to achieve the momentous strides in development which are managed in the first few years of life.
A baby is told, implicitly, “Within two or three years you will master several types of mobility, the ability to feed yourself, the ability to speak and understand the meaning, pronunciation and syntax of least one verbal language, the ability to perform complex tasks of manual dexterity and you will have formulated your own preferences in terms of what tastes you enjoy, what sounds and objects you like and dislike, and you will express those preferences clearly. You will recognise and discriminate between a variety of objects and individuals and be able to name several of them and you will indulge in a rudimentary level of logical thinking and decision making.”
By and large, the baby not only accepts these absurdly high expectations, but goes on to achieve them. This is not in spite of autistic thought but because of it. Within the autistic mind there are no limits, so anything is possible.
Thus, to square fillers, all possibilities are achievable. The ‘non-logical’ thinking is the Knowing/ gnosis, that allows the savant to draw the cityscape from memory, to recite π to hundreds of digits, to be the first to recognise that E=MC2 or to remotely view features of a location hundreds of miles away or identify a set of medical symptoms in a person he or she has never met. This thinking doesn’t rely on cause and effect or logical consideration. In fact, those – as Will and I have discovered and reported on this blog, during our experiments in some of these areas – are limiting factors which can undermine the ‘Knowing’ process. That Knowing IS autistic thought. It is only ‘whimsical’ or dream-like in that the members of society who have traded in such thinking for the so-called rational, logic-bound mental consideration they have been trained to follow cannot conceive of any way such things are possible, except in their dreams and fantasies.
So obviously, yes, there has been a trade-off. At key points in their lives, each individual has, at some level, made a decision. The personality has had to choose between retaining the innate level of autistic thinking, and complying with pressure to conform to society’s norms, abandoning the natural state of Knowing in favour of rational, logical thought.
This is not a simple either/or choice, of course. That is why autistic perception is described as a spectrum. There are those who elect to remain almost in the new-born baby state of total sensation and imagination and to pursue a lifetime of discovery in that condition. To society, these people will be considered unfortunate, handicapped and limited, since there will often be no perceived method of communication between them and the care-givers and they will be completely dependent on others to see to their bodily needs. Others individuals who elect to retain their A-thinking, however, agree to take on varying degrees of ‘maturation’; they will learn some of the key skills expected of the infant, although they may take their time over this.
All the developmental expectations described in the imaginary conversation with the baby above were imposed on the child by parents or caregivers. Experts such as paediatricians and health visitors would have been bombarding the carers with checklists showing ‘normal’ levels of development and this in turn pressurised them into encouraging the child to achieve all the milestones they had been given. The parents did their very best to encourage the child to develop ‘normally’, rewarding success and attempting to discourage ‘babyish’ characteristics. The children who failed to keep up with the checklists would be described by society as ‘delayed’ in certain areas. Those who opted out of certain developmental targets completely or partially were labelled ‘disordered’. Such is the pressure to conform exacted by our culture.
It seems obvious to me that the decision made NOT to conform and abandon autistic thinking must have a huge inherent value to the person who makes that choice. In our society, living as a square filler is far from easy. It is indeed what Pearce, rather romantically, refers to as ‘the pearl of great price’. Each of these people has chosen, at some level of being, to reject, or partially reject, society’s norms in favour of this creative, unlimited form of being.
Next time, I’ll examine the particular wonders and pitfalls that beset the ‘high functioning’ square filler, who treads the line between the two populations.