Autism and the “complex social environment”

Mike Stanton’s post Of mice and men and autistic fruit flies includes the following criticism of an autism related study using fruit flies:

But autistic fruit flies? Autism is a complex social disorder. Fruit flies are not complex social beings.

My first thought was, if autism is a “complex social disorder” it is only because we live in a complex social environment. In the comments, Amanda disagrees with Mike that autism is a social disorder at all, and I think I agree with her.

True, autism is measured against the “norms” of the complex social environment in which we live, but the “condition” of autism exists independently of those norms. If those norms didn’t exist, or if our social environment was different, those who are autistic in our world would still be autistic in this alternate world.

Mike’s commentary also includes a passage with which I wholeheartedly agree:

They showed diminished social interaction but improved cognitive performance compared to neurotypical mice. This is automatically seen as a deficit. But surely progress is driven by those individuals who turn their back on the herd and consider the external world?

Kristina Chew also has some thoughts on the studies, and Mike’s post, in her post Can Animals Have Autism?

4 thoughts on “Autism and the “complex social environment”

  1. Yeah, I think autism is more cognitive and perceptual than it is social, the social stuff is secondary if it crops up at all, and I don’t think the social stuff is entirely located within the autistic person, either. And I am still autistic even when I am alone.


  2. But what are social norms. What we have these days are so very different from what was in the 1700’s or even the 1300’s let alone those in the time ‘before christ’.Not only that but social norms vary so much even these days, from one social group to the next – churchies verus a gang etc. Let alone changing from one situation to another eg a social with the grandparents and then going to a social setting of a sports field…..It’s no wonder people on the spectrum can’t keep up with what is expected of them from one social situation to the next.


  3. As a mum of an aspie I’m considered ‘neurotypical’ and I can’t even keep up with the complex social environment in which we live! Really – what is normal??


  4. autistic people usualy get picked on and they have trouble learning but alot of them have spcieal tallents too.


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