I just finished reading the book The Autistic Mind: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Dr. Temple Grandin. She’s a scientist who happens to be autistic. What drew me to her book is my research into what motivates the character of Gertrude in my Null Paradox series of books: Gertrude & Grace and the upcoming Seth & Victoria. And more importantly, understanding how Gertrude , or someone like her, thinks.
It turns out that people with autism visualize, feel, and experience the world quite differently and sometimes in very unique ways.
Dr. Grandin breaks-down autism in her book into three broad categories:
- Picture Thinkers
- Word-Fact Thinkers
- Pattern Thinkers
At the extremes of these three spectrums, Grandin talks about the 10% of people who are autistic and are savants. These are the people who you read about that can multiple two numbers of almost any length and give you the answer almost instantly.
How? They literally see numbers as pictures. Math to them is a matter of combining pictures that represent numbers. When doing a math function in their heads, such as multiplication, they recall the picture that looks like the two combined pictures. Then it’s simply a matter of communicating the number associated with the combined picture.
Which leads me to the what if question for Gertrude: What if autism is the next evolutionary step in humankind?
This sounds all grand because I’m focusing on the group of people with autism who are relatively high-functioning. This means that they can communicate relatively well with the rest of us and they reasonably fit within “normal” people’s viewpoint of society.
I have friends who work with autistic children and their parents. At best, it’s extremely frustrating for the child, their parents, and their teachers. And that’s just the physical elements of being autistic. There’s also the societal issues of having autism. The reality of autism for many autistic people is nearly non-stop frustration, anger, and sensory overload. The reality for the majority of us: we’re fast to judge another person and we don’t go out of our way to understand their situation. It’s a difficult life for an autistic person, and we the normal people need to do more to understand and support them.
But what if the person who you just walked by, the person who was running around flapping their arms, was thinking on a much different plane than you? What if that person’s ability to see the world in a much different way helps to find the cure for cancer because they’re able to visualize the entire genetic sequence in their minds and manipulate that information in a much different way than a normal person or even a conventional binary-based computer?
Would you look at them differently? How would you feel about them?
How would they feel about you if they recognized that they are the next evolutionary step?
Would normal scientists try to determine a way to biologically manipulate human DNA so that autism, or aspects of autism, became the new normal of humankind?
Now for some insight into the character of Gertrude in my fiction books: she’s based on two real people: Gertrude Jekyll and Temple Grandin. In the first book Gertrude & Grace, Gertrude was learning about herself, about her relationship with Grace (her best friend), and about who she could become. Rachel Koontz (co-author) and I gave away some hints into the nature of Gertrude in Gertrude & Grace.
In Victoria & Seth, Gertrude knows who she is and she’s well along the way to understanding who and what she can become.
But there’s the question of the virus that’s in her body–what is it doing to her. What will she do about it before it kills her and wipes out Apple and Adel? And most importantly, what will she do about Seth?
Part of the answer is in understanding the autistic brain.