AUTISM: Genetic Disorder Or A Prelude To Genetic Evolution? (A GE-POA View Point)9 min read

Editor’s note: the con­tent of this article reflects the the­o­ries of the author and not of The Aspergian as a pub­li­ca­tion. As genetic evo­lu­tion is out­side the exper­tise of our edi­tors, we are unable to con­firm or deny if these the­o­ries are in line with evo­lu­tionary sci­ence; how­ever, the author has stated that these are his per­sonal the­o­ries, and the under­lying mes­sage has value for con­sid­er­a­tion and social aware­ness.

Since 2017, when I was first informed that I had been diag­nosed with autism, one of my per­sonal #SpIns (spe­cial inter­ests) has been autism itself. I have been trying to under­stand what it is, how it affects us, and why.

Over time, by talking to other autistic people and reading about the life expe­ri­ences of autistic people on this and other autistic-friendly web­sites, I’ve started to figure out some very inter­esting the­o­ries. Bear in mind that I’m not a sci­en­tist, and these are just my the­o­ries.

One theory I have been mulling over is that it seems that all autistic people are nat­u­rally born with some higher phys­ical, mental, or sen­sory capa­bil­i­ties beyond that of non-autistic people. Some of these capa­bil­i­ties are obvious, but most are hidden and we use them by instinct without real­ising that they are there.

For example, there is the capa­bility of POA (per­cep­tive obser­va­tional analysis) that I recently pub­lished an article about. I have had a lot of com­ments from autistic people thanking me for helping them under­stand how and why their minds think the way they do.

Of course, POA is just one of these hidden capa­bil­i­ties. There may be many others we use and don’t realize we are using until someone man­ages to iden­tify them.

More often than not, power has a price.

I did men­tion this old saying in my first article, and therein lies the greatest problem for autistic people. It seems that at this time, the human body and mind hasn’t evolved enough to handle these capa­bil­i­ties cor­rectly, at least not yet. For this reason, the body and mind can be totally over­whelmed and over­loaded by them.

This can cause all sorts of prob­lems, dif­fi­cul­ties, and even debil­i­ta­tion because the brain has finite neural resources — so there’s only a finite amount of resources that these higher capa­bil­i­ties can use. When resources are diverted to one area of func­tion, others may weaken.

As I wrote in my first article, the capa­bility of GE-POA can some­times com­man­deer and debil­i­tate the parts of the brain that are nor­mally allo­cated for nav­i­gating in the real world. If our cog­ni­tive resources are unevenly dis­trib­uted to visual per­cep­tion and working memory, then those parts of the brain des­ig­nated for speech might not be as con­nected, causing it to be dif­fi­cult or impos­sible to speak.

If an advanced ability com­man­deers the parts of the brain that are nor­mally allo­cated for phys­ical motor con­trol, then you may find your­self with little or no con­trol over your own body.

These vis­ible, obvious weak­nesses may be what cause many to have the belief that autism is a dis­ease; how­ever, it may be that the dif­fi­cul­ties, prob­lems, and debil­i­tating aspects are just unpleasant side affects of being autistic.

Now despite the dif­fi­cul­ties that come with these capa­bil­i­ties, they should not be ignored or down­played. Instead, autistic people should try to learn to har­ness and con­trol them. Like take for example those with hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity like The Aspergian founder, Terra Vance, has.

Hypersensitivity can cause many sen­sory prob­lems, but it may also empower someone with sen­sory gifts. For example, one autistic woman saved a building full of people from a gas explo­sion because she could feel the dif­fer­ence in air pres­sure.

People have been writing about autistic abil­i­ties for a long time as if they’re fic­tion. There is a world-famous comic book hero that has senses in a sim­ilar way to autis­tics. The name of this hero:

SUPERMAN

There was an iconic scene in one of the ear­lier Superman movies where he is flying above the earth, using his hyper-acute sense of hearing to listen to all of its sounds. Though the hyper sen­si­tive sen­sory capa­bil­i­ties of some autistic people are not as pow­erful as Superman’s, their life expe­ri­ences have a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties.

If anyone has seen the origin sto­ries of Superman, they would know that when he was young, he suf­fered from what all autistic people with hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity would rec­og­nize as sen­sory over­loads, but over time he learned to har­ness and con­trol them for his and others’ ben­efit.

But even though he could better con­trol his sen­sory dif­fer­ences, that didn’t stop his ene­mies from trying to attack him through his vul­ner­able spots. I still remember the scene in the first Superman movie that starred the late Christopher Reeves, when Lex Luther first con­tacted Superman with a pow­erful high fre­quency tone– and you can clearly see him react in pain.

An old saying that I know is, some­times you have to take the bad with the good, but the reverse is also true. Yes, autistic people with hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity will always have sen­sory prob­lems, but if you can learn to har­ness and con­trol them, imagine what you could do. You would be able to see, hear, taste, touch, smell things that others could not, abil­i­ties which could ben­efit your­self and others.

If there was a short in an elec­tronic device that elec­tri­fied its out­side, it would give off a hum that an ordi­nary person may not be able to hear; how­ever, an autistic person with hyper sen­si­tive hearing could hear the hum from a dis­tance and give a warning of the danger. They may even be able to sense the elec­tric field.

Autistic hyper sen­si­tive smell may not be as acute as a dog’s, but it may still able to pick up the chem­ical smell of explo­sives or illegal drugs in the air. Hyper sen­sory taste could help you become a mas­terful chef.

The pos­si­bil­i­ties for the use of hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity are won­derful if you think about it, so my best advice for Terra Vance and all other autistic people who have hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity is not to let your senses con­trol you, but to con­trol them.

It won’t be easy, but doing any­thing worth­while never is, because it could be ben­e­fi­cial to you and so many others.

Hyper sen­sory sen­si­tivity is just one of the higher capa­bil­i­ties of autistic people have that we know of. There are many others like per­fect visual memory recall (pho­to­graphic memory), per­fect all-sensory memory recall, hyper ener­getic memory (learning through phys­ical activity), POA, F‑POA, GE-POA, and quite a few others. And these are the higher capa­bil­i­ties we have defined. There may be many more we don’t know of but use instinc­tively without knowing they are there.

GENETIC EVOLUTION

Of all the species that humanity has doc­u­mented, the evo­lu­tionary processes of humans are among the most poorly doc­u­mented and under­stood. We may be aware of the stages of human evo­lu­tion, but evo­lu­tionary processes them­selves are often a mys­tery to us.

So we don’t really know what the human evo­lu­tionary process entails. But we do know that the evo­lu­tionary process is con­stantly changing based on nat­ural selec­tion.

If autistic people have higher sen­sory capa­bil­i­ties, could it be a sign that the evo­lu­tionary processes of humanity may be selecting for these sen­sory capa­bil­i­ties?

After all, evo­lu­tionary processes don’t happen overnight. It could take thou­sands, if not tens of thou­sands, of years for ani­mals and humans to evolve; and though autism has only been iden­ti­fied over the last cen­tury or so, we know that autistic people have existed for cen­turies– we just didn’t have a name for it.

Now if evo­lu­tionary processes are con­tin­uing to happen to humanity, then this is an amazing time for mankind. Think of all the achieve­ments of mankind to date. All the music, art, lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence, med­ical under­standing… we’ve split the atom, gone into space, sent probes far off into space, cured forms of cancer, and all this was done with humanity for most of its his­tory just having access to the capa­bil­i­ties of Homo sapiens. And if this is part of the evo­lu­tionary process, then new capa­bil­i­ties are being born into humanity that we never had access to before.

So what new levels of devel­op­ment could we reach, and how much fur­ther could we go?

Because his­tory has shown at times that when a leap for­ward in any field or sub­ject occurs, it often has someone who is deemed or sus­pected of being autistic at the center of it. Musical com­po­si­tion (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), radi­ology (Marie Curie), elec­tronics (Nikola Tesla), physics (Albert Einstein), art (Van Gogh), and envi­ron­mental pro­tec­tion (Greta Thunberg), to name but a few.

Theorists have made pre­dic­tions about human evo­lu­tion and how it looks. Hintze, Olson, Adami, and Hertwig (2015) posit that nat­ural selec­tion is pushing humans towards more risk aver­sion and Santos and Rosati (2015) hypoth­e­size that humans are evolving towards decision-making that is more rational than emo­tional.

In this article by Emma Young (2016), the preva­lence of increasing sen­sory sen­si­tivity and its rela­tion­ship with autism and other neu­ro­di­ver­gence is explored and sum­ma­rized according to mul­tiple the­o­rists and studies as a poten­tial evo­lu­tionary process that requires more inter­de­pen­dence than depen­dence.

Researcher and author Thomas Boyce, in his book The Orchid and the Dandelion, makes the analogy that most chil­dren (80%) are like dan­de­lions who per­form essen­tially the same every­where regard­less to the envi­ron­ment’s con­di­tions; how­ever, sen­si­tive chil­dren (autis­tics and those with sen­sory sen­si­tiv­i­ties) are more like orchids in that they are fragile and do poorly in dif­fi­cult envi­ron­ments, but with the right sup­port and envi­ron­ment, they can out­per­form dan­de­lions.

Boyce main­tains that orchids are not failed dan­de­lions, but that they are just a dif­ferent kind of flower– and they may be an indi­ca­tion of nat­ural selec­tion towards traits that con­tribute pos­i­tively to humanity.

Evolution, Biodiversity, or Disease?

Of course, evo­lu­tion hap­pens so slowly for species as com­plex as humans that we can only con­jec­ture about whether what might look like frailty is actu­ally the begin­ning stages of a new normal that helps humanity adapt to changing times. Bozek, et al., (2014) note that humans rapidly lost strength and mus­cu­la­ture in order to pro­vide more meta­bolic resources for cog­ni­tive pro­cessing (brain power).

While we may think of “sur­vival of the fittest” as selecting in favor of the biggest, fastest, and strongest, the path of human evo­lu­tion is much more com­pli­cated. Even food aller­gies (Nabavizadeh, Nabavizadeh, Anushiravedani, 2016) are evo­lu­tionary responses that have allowed for humans to develop immune responses that pro­tect against toxic col­o­niza­tion and deadly par­a­sites.

What I would ask people to do is to keep an open mind about autism and what it might be. Whether or not autism is a part of com­plex evo­lu­tionary processes or not, non-autistic par­ents of autistic chil­dren should never think of their child as a burden but as a child who is devel­oping dif­fer­ently– maybe even in ways that con­tribute to human sur­vival as a species.

And because it took the com­bi­na­tion of the genes of both par­ents to create a child, that means you might also be a part of the evo­lu­tionary process. So instead of framing autism as a dis­ease and autistic people as only the sum of their weak­nesses, food aller­gies, and dis­abil­i­ties, under­stand that like Boyce’s orchid analogy, this might be more an indi­ca­tion that the envi­ron­ment and con­di­tions need to change– and not the species.

To all other non-autistic people: Though we and our capa­bil­i­ties can be ben­e­fi­cial to all the world, please don’t con­sider autistic people valu­able just because of our capa­bil­i­ties, because that would be dehu­man­izing us. Where your resources are mostly bal­anced, ours tend to be strong in some areas and weak in others.

If autis­tics and other neu­ro­di­ver­gent people are evi­dence of evo­lu­tion, then reason would sug­gest that accom­mo­dating for neu­ro­di­ver­gence pro­vides insight into the steps needed for the human species to sur­vive.

Could this mean that the health of the species is pushing us towards inter­de­pen­dence over inde­pen­dence? Does humanity need to focus more on working together to sup­port areas of weak­ness while empow­ering people to max­i­mize their strengths?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. I’m not sure if you under­stand how evo­lu­tion works. Everything evolves all the time, humans at the same speed as every­thing else.

    Evolution works at the level of the genes. The fac­tors affecting which genes prop­a­gate more fre­quently than others, in humans, have changed a lot in very recent geo­log­ical time. Therefore so will have any genetic traits that have been ‘favoured’.

    Evolution has no end goal, it works purely by acci­dent but not by chance. There’s no mys­tery in evo­lu­tion, it’s one of the sim­plest phe­nomena in nature, in terms of the prin­ci­ples of how it hap­pens.

    The big ques­tion here is, which traits does the cur­rent envi­ron­ment select for? The ‘cur­rent envi­ron­ment’ for most human beings now is tremen­dously com­pli­cated, thanks to inter­na­tional travel, the internet etc. At the end of the day, all it comes down to is who is repro­ducing the most, and why?

    Genetically, humans are becoming more and more sim­ilar as we mix more. So it’s going to be incred­ibly hard to find any mea­sur­able trait that’s come about as a result of evo­lu­tion by nat­ural selec­tion, And then for that trait to stick around for any amount of time, the envi­ron­ment in which it was more suc­cessful would have to remain rel­a­tively stable. But our envi­ron­ments are changing so fast.

    Things like autism could stick around now in the gene pool simply because it could have less effect on the individual’s repro­duc­tive suc­cess, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, rel­a­tive to other times.

    A more plau­sible reason for autism’s exis­tence could be to do with the fact that autistic people tend to extremes. With a wide range in capa­bil­i­ties of poten­tial human beings with autism, the genes that lead to autism stand a good chance of sur­viving in a rapidly changing envi­ron­ment. So in that way, autism could lead to more rapid evo­lu­tion (of the char­ac­ter­is­tics affected by autism) in response to envi­ron­mental changes.

    Autism or any other genetic trait can stick around over time without nec­es­sarily increasing or decreasing in its fre­quency. There could over time, in any given envi­ron­ment, be a stable pro­por­tion of a pop­u­la­tion with a given trait (evo­lu­tion­arily stable strategy).

    1. And remember that brains are mutable enough that genetic deter­minism doesn’t make sense: while there are genetic fac­tors influ­encing how likely a brain is to develop in a given direc­tion, any changes in how human brains operate (at least large-scale changes over a short period of time) are more likely to come from envi­ron­mental fac­tors. An envi­ron­ment that favours cer­tain types of brain func­tioning will tend to direct the devel­op­ment of brains along those lines, with genetic fac­tors being sec­ondary at best. This may have already hap­pened at least once in human his­tory.

      1. True, that’s a good point. Sorry if I came across as a bit brash or judg­mental last night in my com­ment. It’s inter­esting because things like autism have been seen as genetic, but I think there is evi­dence that they could be linked to gut ecosys­tems, and still be passed down through fam­i­lies. Genes def­i­nitely play a part though, it’ll be a com­bi­na­tion but I agree that envi­ron­ment plays a huge part, maybe espe­cially in humans.

        1. That’s fair, and I didn’t think you were overly harsh. For my part I’ve noticed that dis­cus­sions of the evo­lu­tion of the brain are maybe a bit too tightly focused on the idea of post-Darwinian genetic selec­tion, over­looking the fact that two brains grown from the same genetic tem­plate can develop in dras­ti­cally dif­ferent ways.

          1. Thanks! I’m glad. Yes it’s impor­tant to remember that the phe­no­type is a result of genes + envi­ron­ment.

      2. Agreed. That there were so many co-existing par­allel threads of human ances­tors, up to a few hun­dred thou­sand years ago, is very inter­esting.

  2. I began won­dering about autism and evo­lu­tion soon after some famil­iarity with var­ious suc­cesses of Daniel Tammet. He simply seemed to be a trial run for a future ver­sion of a human being.

  3. As soon as you started talking about heightned senses, I could feel the Aspies who dis­like “Superheroing” react

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