Some people think that autistic people…
- don’t have emotions
- don’t care whether they hurt others or not
Some of those people are professionals, even, in the field of psychology or a related field involving interaction with autistic people (like special education teachers and therapists of various stripes). Such people think my mind is impervious to emotion, as if I’m a robot. Hence, when I voice an opinion about emotion, it seems to them like a toddler opining about economics.
Here is my model of emotion, the way I experience it:
Each person emits an emotional wavelength. Everywhere they go, ripples tumble out in all directions. And each person absorbs the emotional ripples of those around them. Except most people have soundproofing blocking most of the interference out and damping the intensity (for the sake of the metaphor, imagine everybody rides around inside sound-proofed phone booths mounted on Segways). This enables them to filter the noise and tune in to the frequencies they desire.
I’m one of those with the glass of the phonebooth replaced by tissue paper, sound-proofing stripped away, such that I absorb almost everything. So much that it is painful. This is why I make so little eye contact. The emotional signal is so intense, it pierces through me like an electron through a thin gold foil.
It was even more painful when I was a young child. And when a young child faces intense pain without being able to distinguish the signal (the emotional content) from the noise (the intensity and echoes of the emotional wavelengths), it is practical to shut it all out. When shutting out the emotional noise, we also shut out the emotional information. Missing that flood of information during the time the social parts of the brain do the most developing, it is entirely predictable that the individual will proceed to struggle with social skills. When finally learning to filter well enough to look for and interpret social information, there is a permanent disadvantage, like an adult learning a foreign language. They may learn to speak it very well, but will always speak with a bit of an accent. The analogy works just as well (perhaps better) when applied to sensory overstimulation, but the social/emotional connection seemed slightly less obvious.
The Intense World hypothesis of autism is highly intriguing, but it has not been confirmed. I suspect that aspects of it will be evidenced in future studies, I find it unlikely to work as an overarching explanation. There is good evidence that seems to lend support to various competing ideas about autism etiology, but much as relativity and quantum mechanics have modified physics while the theories of Newton and other classical physicists remain valid and useful but incomplete, so will a more complete understanding of autism and human neurology in general yield a theory which explains the current evidence, but with an altered, broader theoretical framework that leaves few aspects of evidence in apparent contradiction (like the evidence for light as wave vs. light as particle before wave-particle duality).