No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Autism

Introduction

How people behave can be influenced by what others around them expect. And those expectations can determine how society judges that behavior. But labeling someone based on their behavior can create problems, especially if it prevents us from taking action to support them. It's important to remember that empathy goes both ways. For example, we can't say that people with autism lack empathy if neurotypical people don't try to understand their needs and experiences. That's why I post my review of Peter Vermeulen's excellent book about autism.

 

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Vermeulen, P. (2022), Autism and the Predictive Brain, Routledge.

The traditional view of the brain as a reactive organ that responds to stimuli is inaccurate. The brain actually predicts the world around us to better respond to what is about to happen. Emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are three ways our brain deals with prediction errors and they all serve the same purpose and work together. The brain creates a model of reality based on our perceptions, which may not necessarily reflect the objective reality. The brain wants to anticipate what is going to happen and predict what will happen rather than waiting for the senses to bring information. The brain adapts its models continually to improve them and create a more accurate representation of the world.

The predictive brain theory sheds light on sensory processing issues in individuals with autism, who tend to have a learning style that is better suited for memorizing specific details rather than generalizing categories, making it harder for them to adapt to new situations. They have less flexible models of the world, leading to hindrances in their ability to generalize and causing many prediction errors. Research suggests that the main issue with autistic perception is its lack of context sensitivity. Individuals with autism have a reduced influence from internal models of the world, which can lead to more accurate perception of the environment but can also result in less accurate perception in situations where internal models could aid perception. People with autism have a different response to unexpected events and take predictive errors more seriously, leading to differences in conscious versus unconscious predictions.

Sensory processing issues in autism are not just sensory in nature but involve emotional processing of sensory stimuli in the brain. The predictive brain theory can provide insight into the sensory processing difficulties experienced by individuals with autism. The needs of people with autism are human and not different from those of others. Hyperacusis, tinnitus, and chronic pain are conditions that can be managed by addressing the brain's expectations and predictions. The treatment of sensory issues in autism also involves reducing unpredictability and providing predictability and context to reduce stress and anxiety. Individuals with autism may struggle with interoception, the ability to sense and understand internal bodily signals.

Predictive abilities are also important in navigating complex social situations; individuals with autism struggle in this area as they have difficulty processing social cues and predicting behavior based on context, leading to challenges with shared attention. The traditional linear model of communication is not an accurate reflection of how communication works. People with autism struggle to adapt the meanings of words with multiple meanings to new contexts, rely on their previously learned, dominant associations between words and meanings, and have difficulty anticipating multiple meanings based on context. Incorporating contextual information is essential in improving social competence and emotion recognition skills in individuals with autism.