Recreating Autism

I tweeted yesterday (@bruddajack) about a unique video game developed by Taylan Kay.[1]  He is trying to raise awareness about autism. Various headlines describe his effort as follows:

Video game that mimics childhood autism;[2]
Video Game Recreates the World of Autism;[3]
Video Game Developer Tries to Recreate the Autistic’s World;[4]

Recreating the world of an autistic person is a laudable goal. For a time it was a goal of mine. I planned to create an immersive virtual reality environment to give people an idea of the world of my low-functioning, nonverbal, autistic brother. However I realized that there is a fundamental flaw in the basic premise that one can simulate the world of another. One can display distorted inputs to the ears, blur images presented to the eyes, find a myriad of ways to present disorienting sensory inputs. Ultimately however, the brain processes the signals presented to it by the sensorium. The autistic brain processes information differently than the non-autistic brain.

Most of us (who are not autistic) can agree that we experience our environment in more or less the same way. For example, I assume that the red I see is the same as the red you see. As long as we both can see in color, the subject will probably never come up. For a low-functioning, nonverbal, autistic person like my brother, there is no way to know how information is processed in his brain. Even if I had a filter, which could rearrange my sensory inputs to the same configuration as my brother’s I could never know what it is like to be him. The best I could hope for in my project is to present my interpretation of my brother’s world.

I applaud Mr. Kay in his attempt to raise awareness of the different sensory environment encountered by an autistic person. However, this is not a simulation of autism. No matter what stimuli are presented, unless the gamer is autistic, he or she processes the environment with the brain of a non-autistic person.

I am happy to know that Mr. Kay is open to the idea of considering input from autistic individuals in the development of his ‘autistic’ environments. Perhaps certain parameters could be identified based on feedback from autistic people and ‘tuned’ to create a custom environment similar to the way audiologists adjust sensitivity of hearing aids to certain frequencies to normalize sound for a hearing impaired person.

2 thoughts on “Recreating Autism

    • I appreciate your comment, Ruth. If the program simply increases awareness of the autistic condition, it can be considered a success. But it is wrong, in my opinion, to tout it as a recreation of the autistic condition, or even a simulation. Thank you for commenting.

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