By Dr David Laing Dawson
Greta Thunberg has called it her super power. And indeed, her blindness and deafness to the non-verbal nuances of human communication, and lacking the caution that that creates in most of us, allows her to barge ahead confronting world leaders advocating for a change in all human behaviour, though she is but a teenager.
A couple of times, talking with boys on the ASD spectrum, I have quipped that, “I was as smart as you are when I was 14. But then I discovered girls, and sports, and hanging out, and parties, and music, and clubs, and girls.”
It does appear that for most of us, a large portion of our brain is utilized to receive, interpret, and respond to pre-textual and contextual components of language. This includes body language, facial expression, context, assumed role relationship, eye movements, and the prosody and cadence of the text being exchanged. It has been said that up to 80% of the meaning of the words we use in speaking to one another can be found in the non-textual components of language. And it is in the non-textual components of language that we discern the nature of our current relationship and what we can expect in the near future. Just think of the thousand ways one can say, “Hello.”
The neuro-diversity that is Aspergers has benefited humankind in many ways, from the breaking of the Enigma Code, to the development of computer sciences, the understanding of gravity, alternating electrical current, the theory of relativity, and the theory of evolution.
But quite suddenly we live in a world with technology that allows us to forgo that most complex and nuanced world of face to face communication. Emojis help but they cannot replace the raised eyebrow, the constricting of pupils, the tonal change at the end of a phrase, the tiny hesitation before a word is used, the forced laugh, the genuine smile…
I suspect Facebook was originally created to help certain young men acquire girlfriends without the trouble of venturing outside their dorms and actually talking with women face to face. Now Mark Zuckerberg wants us all, or at least our Avatars, to join him in the metaverse, to work and play in a virtual world, where eyes resemble the headlights of an ambulance transporting a talkative Alzheimers patient from the hospital to a long term care facility on a Sunday afternoon.
And Elon Musk.
I have wondered if this particular neurological organization, this particular diversity we call Aspergers, is actually an evolutionary step. What was once a small but useful group who were able to forgo the pleasures and anxiety of always trying to fit in, enabling them to pursue a single mathematical puzzle for days and years, could now become dominant as we merge with machines.
Who else might be content and even happy living with a family of robots in a geodesic dome on Mars?
“I don’t get poetry.” One of my Asperger patients once told me. “If you want to say that you enjoy walking in the woods after the first snow fall, why not just say it?”