Mindreading is a dangerous preoccupation, even for people celebrated for their minds. “This doesn’t mean that we’re correct in our working definition of autism: mindblindness,” Lisa Zunshine of the University of Kentucky told an audience at the 2013 Boston meeting of the Modern Language Association.
She is the author of Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture (2012). Indeed, she stops just short of attributing myopia to those academics who would attempt to read the minds of the autistic, particularly Columbia University neurologist Oliver Sacks.
“We’d do well to drop all references to mindblindness in references to autism,” she argued. “Some cognitive scientists have a dog in this fight.” In other words, they’ve put so much time and effort into promoting the theory of “mindblindness” that they can’t let go of it. Not all autistic children view their parents as “skin bags,” Zunshine avers.
“Read the work of autistic poets and writers,” Zinshine urged the crowd. “Talk to your colleagues in the cognitive sciences about the reversed charge of mindblindness.”
I am reminded of the wringer that my autistic eight-year-old daughter Annie puts psychologists through. When I ask her, “What makes you happy?,” she will answer, “Coloring makes me happy, drawing makes me happy, reading makes me happy.” When they ask her the same question, she adopts the Socratic Method: “What makes me happy?” she will respond. This process made one psychologist so distraught that he started pulling on his own ponytail.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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