The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has received funding to establish a brand-spankin’-new $20-million-dollar autism research wing. This makes me more than a little nervous. MIT is a giant scientific/technological think-tank, known for solving mysteries and Getting Things Done. I don’t want the prevention of People Like Me to be on their to-do list.
So, true to (my) form, the rebuttal ideas started to swarm around in my head, picking up speed and reaching an intense fury, and of course, the ideas shot out in several different directions.
Over the course of the next several days, I hurriedly typed notes into my mobile, notes of thoughts as they came to me. Because these ideas didn’t happen in only one sitting, my thoughts ended up all over the place in terms of opinions, themes, and analogies.
So, I turned my cognitive chaos into a mini-series of posts (the first of which can be found here), each highlighting a different theme. Here is the second subtopic/theme: Word to the wise: let nature take its course.
So MIT went and did it. As we speak, they’re establishing a new research branch, tasked with a single aim: to figure out how to solve “complex problems such as autism”. Sure, that sounds “great” on the surface–if that you believe Asperger’s/autism is a “problem” in the first place–which I don’t, of course. But what exactly does problem-solving entail? As you might have guessed, this is vague terminology, but the specifics aren’t a secret, as evidenced by their stated vow “to develop methods to better detect and potentially prevent autism spectrum disorders entirely”.
Yeah… I feel loved. What’s emanating from their peacock-strutting announcement is not exactly the warmest and fuzziest vibe toward people like me/us. They’d prefer that we not exist at all.
I see a potential hole in their grand plan. This might be a bout of irrational optimism and it might be completely unscientific, but two words: Jurassic Park.
Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Hollywood as much as segments of the general population had been brainwashed by “Vaxxed”, but throughout my Gen X-flavored life, movies have proven to be quite the instrumental source for many “a-ha” moments, pauses to ponder, shudders to think, and valuable life lessons.
For those of you who have seen the movie, please bear with me; I want to bring everyone up to speed, so I’ll write a brief synopsis for the benefit of those who haven’t…
Essentially, a non-petting zoo of sorts has been created on a remote island for elite tourists. The rich now have the first opportunity in history to see real live dinosaurs, thanks to the cloning of some fossils. The genetics of these dinosaurs were manipulated with the intent to produce only females, in order to render breeding impossible. And besides–urban legend had it that females were supposedly more docile than males. (Ha! Yes, even some scientists can be extremely ignorant…at least, in Hollywood.)
Nature had the last laugh, though (she always does, eventually); one day, the scientists administrating the park–much to their horror–came across a nest of dinosaur eggs. (Talk about the ultimate “oh shit” moment!)
Nature had seen to it that the dinosaurs would breed after all. Despite humankind’s best genetic manipulative efforts, the dinosaurs had a male among them.
End synopsis; begin my commentary…
Well, we’re not exactly dinosaurs. (Snark Ahead: ) contrary to popular belief, autistic people are every bit as human as anyone else. (End snark.) But nature works in mysterious ways. And nature put us on this planet, too (possibly in a fit of delirium/delirious wisdom(?), since many an Aspie/autist has made the comment that we were dropped off on the Wrong Planet).
In fact, it appears that not only did nature put us here, it looks like it wants us to stay here.
And it looks like it wants more of us.
Whatever genetic factors might be driving the Asperger’s/autism neurotype appear to be concentrating more strongly with each successive generation. People who demonstrate a few more Aspie/autistic traits than the average bear seem to be finding each other…and producing children! While those parents might not have met the official diagnostic criteria themselves, their genes have been positively selected and manifest more obviously in their children, who then go on to meet the criteria more definitively.
A Nerd Note here: the term “positive selection” in the context of genes is when a parent, who has two copies of a gene (one from each of their parents), has a copy for a “default” gene and a copy for a “variant” gene, and contributes the variant gene to their offspring when offering up their sperm or egg to create that offspring. All factors being equal, the default and variant genes each had a 50-50 chance of being selected to be the one passed on to the offspring. Since we Asperger’s/autistic people are so gravely outnumbered by the neurotypical population segment, it’s safe to say that the genes for autism would be the “variant” genes.
Some genes and human conditions demonstrate negative selection, where, given the choice of which gene (the default or the variant) gets passed on to offspring, nature chooses the default gene much more often than not.
Other human conditions tend toward positive selection–nature pushes the variant gene forward, into first place.
This means, I think, that nature must really like us, even if the rest of the world (in general) doesn’t. Autism-related genes, whatever they may be, seem to be getting passed on more often and persevering more strongly. (How many of you had parents or grandparents who exhibited characteristics of Asperger’s/autism to varying degrees, but probably wouldn’t quite meet today’s criteria, but you and/or your siblings meet those criteria easily? I think it’s due to a genetic concentration driven by positive selection.)
We should listen to nature. Nature is wise. Nature sees the big picture. Nature obviously thinks we serve a huge purpose. Nature has a game-plan, and that game-plan behind every (naturally-occurring) tweak of the genome seems to push humanity–and indeed the world–further forward up the evolutionary chain. Nature is dynamic, living, breathing, changing. To stagnate is to die; to adapt is to survive. Nature will prune genes and morph the genome into something it thinks will better adapt and survive. It produces a better (genetically stronger) world over time.
And that apparently includes (if not emphasizes) us.
This next point oughtta tickle some brain-noodles out there: positive selection in terms of genes is how, in minute, teeny-tiny baby-steps, the human race evolves, advances, and adapts to its equally-dynamically-changing environment. This genetic drifting phenomenon strengthens, enriches, and improves the quality of humankind. This adaptation and evolution are primarily considered to be beneficial for everyone–in short, it’s a good thing.
So maybe, just maybe, autism might actually be a next step (leap?) in human evolution. Maybe we really are indeed a different race of sorts, but one that knows no skin color or geographical boundaries or limitations. It’s everywhere, across every ethnicity and walk of life, across this Wrong Planet of ours. It permeates every ethnic lineage, at a similar proportion: about 1-2% of the population. (Different societies and regions are more adept at recognizing and thus recording/cataloging it, but that doesn’t change the actual underlying prevalence/epidemiology. Essentially, just because one region is more equipped to realize it than another does not change the fact that the Asperger’s/autism spectrum appears to occur consistently in one out of every 50 to 100 people.)
If all of the above is true, then nature must think pretty highly of us. And it just might be on to something. What if the next steps of human evolution did indeed include characteristics that we Aspergian/autistic people are already naturally primed for?
Let’s explore a few Asperger’s/autism characteristics and consider how they might drive humanity toward a more evolved, advanced world…
Take introversion, for example: in today’s world (and contrary to conventionally-popular belief), it’s not nearly as important to be extroverted in order to seek out and successfully pair with a mate, so the extrovert trait can afford to wane a little. Maybe with the exponential growth of the human population, the trait of introversion is being positively selected, perhaps in order to stave off runaway population growth (since we might not be quite as likely to produce children) and prevent overcrowding (since we’re less likely to venture out and have a wide social circle through which to meet mates, less likely to have casual sex, and so on. Our “quirks”, often misunderstood by the masses, may mean that we’re less likely to “appeal” to those masses etc). It’s possible that our quality-over-quantity social spheres and partnering choices might be a gentle natural answer to the population explosion.
Another example might be our different ways of thinking and perceiving the world. Many of us tend to have a more universal worldview, which might be a necessary prerequisite in such a populated, connected world. In order to survive, without complete social breakdown, the world might need the ideas, perceptions, and viewpoints of Asperger’s/autistic people.
Yet another example might be our (Aspergian/autistic) different ways of communicating with other people. Not having to make eye contact may be a sign that we can carry on a conversation without having to peer into their soul; we can connect without making eye contact. Maybe we don’t need an excessively-exaggerated (animated) affect in order to communicate. Perhaps (I’m getting a little metaphysical here, so bear with me) our lack of need for trivial chatter be the antecedent to mental telepathy or something, which would definitely be a positive and beneficial evolutionary step.
Maybe our “fixation with objects” and intense interests and whatnot will prove to be quite necessary in order to solve problems stemming from overpopulation and fight-or-flight stress. By perceiving and contemplating the world from a different angle and then hyper-focusing on a narrow range of elements, we can begin to offer up logical and easily-implemented solutions to the woes of the world. Maybe the world needs our stamina. Maybe our incredible stamina is what it will take in order to advance the human race.
It’s also possible that our desire for routine might simply be the result of having formed a “system” for living our lives, one that Makes Sense. It’s efficient, it’s reliable, and it has been proven to work for us. Maybe that can actually serve as an example for the rest of the population. Perhaps they might relieve some of their own daily stress by taking cues from us.
Ultimately, most of the humans on Jurassic Island perished under the side effects of their own egos. Because they could not understand that one simply does not try to overrule nature without consequences of some kind down the road. Nature always tries to bring the earthen organism back into balance after human shenanigans. Humans can manipulate genes, but who’s to say that nature can’t manipulate them back when no one’s looking?
Scientists, leave autism alone. How many of you actually, unknowingly, have a place among us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum? Probably more than a few of you. How else would you be able to “fixate” on this goal? Would you like to be stripped of your ability to do that? Let’s pray that your efforts don’t succeed.