Reciprocating Self and Other – lessons from autism by Dawn-joy Leong
Conference paper presented at the Inter-Disciplinary.Net conference,
Strangers, Aliens and Foreigners
Thursday 5th September – Saturday 7th September 2013
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom.
(This paper has now been published in the ebook, “Experiencing Otherness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives“. Full draft paper may be downloaded from this link.)
Culture is the agglomeration of values, customs, and communication systems identifying groups of people, where demarcations can be geographic, economic, intellectual, or even neurological predisposition. In this paper, I shall discuss Autism Spectrum Condition as a mental culture, and investigate Self-Other identities from the perspective of a researcher-artist with Asperger’s Syndrome. Autism is widely portrayed by the general media as stereotypes exhibiting bizarre behaviour. Why is autism considered an aberrant existence? In reality, autistic individuals grapple daily with the complexities of Self and Other. Assimilation and communication is very much based on the autistic individual’s ability to grasp and ‘perform’ alien systems and realities. How much should we conform to the cultural tenets of Other at the expense of Self for the purpose of convivial integration, and how much to attend to Self for the sake of intrinsic preservation and need?
In the push for a more enlightened co-existence, some questions require address. When is co-existence considered cultural migration and when imposition? We are often strangers even in our own ‘homes,’ perennial actors and performers of Other, and thereby losing understanding and appreciation of Self. Should it be a compliment or insult when someone declares, “But you can’t be autistic, you don’t look or behave autistic?”
Perhaps a transdisciplinary approach to this conundrum is in order—with science as syllogism and artistic research and praxis as agency— to facilitate understanding and reciprocity between Self and Other.