Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What if autistic people guess other's mental states MORE?

I've been (slowly) reading Daniel D. Hutto's book, Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. I say slowly because, well, it's slow. It's meant for people who are much more able to handle (and thrive on) philosophy jargon, as opposed to my sometimes ability to essentially liveblog it and hope that what I wrote out in what amounts to a liveblog in my own language sticks.

I'm only bothering at all because the ideas in the preface looked interesting, and I'm only able to at all because this one is better than most about using words I can understand and providing examples I can understand.

Right now, I want to talk about an idea that reading his stuff has let me work through a bit better. Here's some of the stuff from him that I'm looking at:

  1. It makes sense to ask if we even seek to understand people using predictions and explanations anyways. “For one thing, it is not plausible that we could take a detached interest in the movements of all those we encounter, for to do so would surely sap our intellectual resources” (250.)
  2. Hutto repeatedly points out that speculating on others reasons for their actions, even when we have evidence to support us, is unlikely to get us the right reasons, and that while the person's own explanation for why they acted isn't 100% foolproof, it's way more likely to be accurate than the guess is. I think I have this in my notes 3-4 times and I'm still on chapter 1 (and its endnotes.)
  3. In some cases, a person's beliefs and desires could be sufficiently different from those expected that knowing what they were doesn't actually help make their actions understandable. It just moves the confusion from “Why did you do that?” to “Why would you think/want that?” In that case, further explanation, using cultural differences or individual differences, is needed to understand. (Paraphrase from a paragraph on pages 7-8.)
  4. Stories can help us understand unusual actions: they can either show us why the reasoning behind an action is actually familiar or they can make it familiar. (Summary of a paragraph on page 8.)
  5. Sometimes the behavior of others is so erratic that we have no option but to regard those individuals in the same light as we do objects” (8.)

I think that covers the ideas and quotes I'm using for this bit.


Now for immediate responses I had to each of those things.

  1. I've seen a lot of autistic people write that trying to understand what others are doing, trying to understand social situations, is exhausting. It's cognitively taxing! As an autistic person, I'm going to agree. Handling social situations does “sap [my] intellectual resources.”
  2. And people insisting on taking that kind of spectator guessing without listening to the person's explanation when trying to explain the actions of neurodivergent people (my experience would be as an autistic person) is basically using this kind of logic. No wonder it doesn't go well! Folks, we already know it doesn't work that great when it's within the same culture and neurotype! (Grumble grumble theory of mind grumble grumble doesn't know what it's like to be themselves grumble grumble nonsense.)
  3. Oh, you mean like people thinking big parties are fun? Or that strobe lights are fun? Or that fluorescent lights were a reasonable idea? Or one of any number of ways that sensory processing and general cognitive differences mean that people's wants could be different to the point of not being able to understand them.
  4. Huh. So that's going to tie into representation stuff for all the groups ever. If there aren't stories about neurodivergent people acting for reasons that make sense to neurodivergent people, then it'll be harder for folks to understand the reasons neurodivergent people might have for doing things. Which goes back into thinking we're not understandable. I guess I'll keep writing fiction with autistic characters, especially protagonists, who don't die, get cured, or get sent away.
    1. The reason given that we would do so is when their actions are super-duper not understandable to us. Super-duper not understandable, not even a little bit sense-making.

    2. Isn't it people in privileged and majority groups who tend to have trouble seeing members of oppressed and minority groups as human? And the stories are about the people in the privileged and majority groups, so... yeah, actually this totally fits.

Now, I have some connections between the things!

Hear me out.

What if it's not that autistic people have some sort of inability to use folk psychology or theory of mind or any of those other things? What if it's that the reasons for doing things that make automatic or near automatic sense to autistic people are sufficiently different from the ones that make automatic or near automatic sense to neurotypical people that we have to resort to those kinds of guesses more? Then we run into the fact that no one is actually very good at those guesses.

And what if we resort to those guesses because the reasons that make sense to the dominant neurotypical culture are supposed to be “obvious” and we get laughed at (and probably still not answered) when we ask?

What if the idea that autistic people see others as objects... is because that's what most people do, at least a little bit, when their actions are super-duper impossible to understand, and the differences aren't being explained in ways that make sense to us? (I mean, also autistic people generally don't actually think of other people as objects.)

What if the exhaustion that autistic people often have trying to do social things is because, unlike people who are close enough to the mythical exactly average neurology that these expectations can be picked up by osmosis, we do have to use the kind of prediction and explanation that Hutto was arguing against on page 250, and he's right that the problem with doing that is exhaustion?

What if a willingness to explain the reasons and cultural underpinnings on the neurotypical side, and a willingness to listen to the neurominority-side explanations, could go further to solve the supposed lack of theory of mind or inability to use folk psychology (different things according to Hutto, and both things that I think aren't what's going on) than any amount of “therapy” to teach those skills ever could, because those skills weren't what was missing?

And by what if, I totally mean that I think those are what's going on. And I know other neurodivergent people have thought of a lot of these things before, but I think the specific way of looking at it through Hutto's ideas of folk psychology stuff and challenging how the neurotypical folk do things might be new. Also the turning theory of mind upside down and saying that  maybe we resort to that more, and that since it's not that reliable for anyone, that's part of where social differences are coming from. (Which would make the social differences a lot less "core" to autism than they're usually treated as.)

Work Cited
Hutto, Daniel D. Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.


  1. This is my favorite thing I've read this week. Sent you more details in a PM on Facebook.

  2. I am handflapping so hard over this. I want to reread it a couple more times later today to get a better grasp on it, but my immediate reaction is SO MUCH YES.

  3. This post is sparking me to think about things in a vastly different way. I would like to run through my thought process and see if this makes sense or whether I am totally off the mark?

    I think you are saying that autistic brains process so much more sensory information than a neurotypical brain, and where a neurotypical brain would filter stuff out so as to not tax mental resources, an autistic brain would not; AND there are so many things to pick up about what a person is communicating such as body posture, the content of what is being said, the tone of voice, the volume of voice, timbre of voice, micro facial expressions, muscle twitches, etc.; AND interpretations about all of those things need to be made and measured against what you already know; AND people so often contradict themselves in communication by saying one thing and meaning another, or doing another, or expressing another.

    SO, let's suppose you have someone who is communicating something but actually holds a contradictory belief from what they are saying in their subconscious; therefore they are speaking, but then there are so many other sensory indicators that convey the opposite message. A neurotypical brain might filter out all the subconscious communication and just pay attention to what is being spoken and will understand what the person meant to say but totally miss how they really think/feel about it. OR a neurotypical brain might filter out what is being said and pay attention to the ancillary stuff and therefore have a misunderstanding with that person. Whereas, an autistic brain would pick up on EVERYTHING and be confused as hell because it's contradictory on so many levels and doesn't make any sense.

    SO, in a way, the autistic brain could be like an authenticity detector? If someone's communication is in alignment with their beliefs on a deeper level, this would make much more sense to an autistic person?

    Am I making sense? Does this fit or no?

  4. Eep, strobe lights. Someone, presumably teachers, who organised the graduation ceremony of my daughters' high-school class thought that was a good idea, along with loud LOUD subwoofers and scented smoke. Result: the one openly autistic classmate had to be escorted out; some people left because of asthma and other distress; several graduates and parents (including my youngest daughter and me, both with undiagnosed but strongly suspected Aspergers) were reduced to shaking jelly. I wish people would think. Or at least ask. Not guess.


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