On Autism: A Suggestion Involving Movement, Cognition, and Imagination

At the International Conference on Movement and Cognition, "Movement 2017", at the presentation on autism by Dr. Crispiani, I suggested that autism might involve a "deficiency of imagination".

To clarify, I'd like to describe imagination in certain, more digestible terms.

Imagination: openness to being strangely drawn in some direction

The, "strangely" part is essential; if the experience is not strange and new, but common and familiar, it's not imagination, but memory we are describing. Memory is a kind of fixity; imagination is a kind of "changeability". Everything an infant encounters is strange to the infant and that stage of life involves massive learning, awakening of faculties and self-sense, and increasing interaction. Healthy infants and children are very imaginative and imagination is a large part of play.

Imagination is the basis of memory. We form memories by repeatedly imagining what we want to remember until a memory consolidates. Any new adaptation involves new memory. Difficulties of learning involve difficulty imagining.

This definition shows that imagination and eros are closely related. Eros is attraction that leads to a kind of fixity of attention; consider romance. Substitute, "eros", for imagination in the description, above. Do that, now.


You may also see that this description is perhaps precisely the opposite of the description of autism, which involves repetition, repetition, repetition and non-involvement in the world of relationships.

A practical experiment for correcting autism, then, might be to develop what is deficient: imagination, or eros, as described, above.

I suggest that two additional factors may be taken into account, with this experiment:
  • opposition to eros, or imagination, putting on "the brakes" by the autistic individual
  • opposition to eros, or imagination, in the family, perhaps in the mood of subliminal fear
Without taking these two "locations of possible opposition" into account, efforts to cultivate imagination, or eros, may be impeded or defeated.

Taking these two factors into account, in the intention to cultivate imagination, makes use of two phenomena:
  • somatic contagion
  • feedback

Somatic contagion is something everyone has observed and experienced. It's the communication of the state and behavior of one individual to another, as happens with yawning, laughter, and sexual arousal. See someone in any of those states and doing any of those behaviors, we feel them in ourselves. See someone yawn, you yawn. Hear someone laughing, you are moved to good humor or even laughter. Babies demonstrate somatic contagion when, hearing another baby crying, they start to cry. Somatic contagion is also the mechanism of compassion. Neurophysiologists might say that mirror neurons are involved.

Feedback is the reinforcement of a state between two participants similarly disposed. We see feedback in mutual agreement between individuals and in laughter and sexual arousal being contagious and mutually reinforcing, between individuals.

Because of somatic contagion and feedback, we might do well to consider the influence of the family unit on the autistic individual and also the influence of therapists. Seriousness during interaction with an autistic individual might reinforce the problem by "frightening off" imagination/eros. Imagination, good humor, and compassion or empathy (genuine, not pretended), might, through somatic contagion, lead to release from autism. At the very least, they point the right direction and create the right environment.

For autism, laughter might indeed be some of "the best medicine", easier to experience than efforts to cultivate imagination. Story-telling, music, and positive aesthetic experiences, which entice attention by stimulating imagination, might also assist in freeing an individual from autism. The starting point, I think, might be to first develop them in the family, rather than to attempt to develop them in the autistic individual by targeting him or her. Then, imagination and eros might become aroused and fostered in an autistic person through somatic contagion and be cultivated through interaction and feedback with family members.

Further help for the process might be to develop proprioception, more. Proprioception is the primitive foundation of the sense of self and of interaction of self and environment, self-in relationship with others. Head swinging and head banging behaviors observed in autistic persons might be primitive efforts to awaken the kinesthetic sense and proprioception. More sophisticated methods than banging ones head are available, involving the sensations of movement and position, including passively experienced movements and the sensations of being held. What's needed is the integration of sensation|attention and movement|intention in a conscious and deliberate way such integration being one benefit of somatic education. There's room for ingenuity, here. 

"Mind-body" is not a term that defines a "two-ness", but which refers to a one-ness viewed and described from two perspectives: the perspective and vocabulary of mind/psychology and the perspective and vocabulary of body/physiology -- two perspectives of the same thing. The term that integrates both perspectives is, "soma". I suggest that in an effective treatment of autism, two approaches -- cultivating imagination and cultivating proprioception -- might be more effective than any single approach.

Those are my "two cents" on the condition.

No comments:

Post a Comment