Human experience is actions (taken or  not taken) and  perception. Philosophically speaking (axiologically speaking)  our experience of our own worth or the worth we are assigned by society is determined through action and perception. Perception corresponding to actions taken or not is also the basis of  study of ethics.

People living with autism are often denied a sense of personhood as it is defined in a disabling world that socially constructs “disability” as a diagnostic term for people who are different. Part of this may be the result of the discrepancy between perception and action that people living with autism might be seen as experiencing when their perception-action behaviors are placed against those of people who are neuro-typical. See this beautiful video by advocate Amanda Baggs on this topic:

and this one, too about diagnosis by her:

Amanda Baggs argues above that her sensorial interactions with the world are her “native language”.  In the medicalized model within which society operates (one which requires diagnoses in order to receive services) we would see Bagg’s language as indicative of sensory input and perception dysfunction. And, people with autism spectrum disorders often experience sensory input and sensory integration phenomena related to balance, coordination, sensory over or under-stimulation, etc that can be contextualized as dysfunction or as a way of interacting with the sensory world.

Sensory integration dysfunction (as a diagnosis) evidences

what we might think of from a neuro-typical perspective as a broken link between perception and action. If the vestibular sense does not communicate with the proprioceptive, tactile, visual or aural senses in a person there are consequences that might require that person to need to be on rolling on the floor to find their body in space or to be rocking to activate the inner ear systems. Interacting in the world has to be done as Baggs points out in the “right way” with the “right things”. Smelling books or listening to a plastic top (rather than spinning it) are viewed by society as the “wrong ways.”

In Drama Therapy we operate with the dramatic worldview in which “life is theater” as Moreno wrote.

Stories (narratives) determine the roles we play or don’t play in life.
Drama is also built upon the notion of paradox–two different things being true simultaneously. The dramatic paradoxes of autism are many. Readings about research into sensory integration identify some of those paradoxes as they are manifest in sensory experience.

Either too many connections resulting in syntethesia of forms where perception is over-wired almost, or hyperarroused synaptic connections that produce pain are just some examples.  We can all empathize with experience of finger nails on a chalkboard but hard to imagine living in a world where The flooding of experience prevents an organizing cohesive experience. Its a world of trees without the ability to perceive or understand the forrest.

Also their are physical states of under arousal:  low muscle tone, etc.

Ethan made this statement about living with autism:

“To a person living with autism, the world is like a bunch of different pieces of music playing all at the same time. You hear all the parts all at the same time rather than hearing things like an organized melody. And you explain these things in a precise way, because it is easy to get confused.

What is it like to inhabit a sensory world of hyper-individualized pieces of experience that lack an organizing principle?

Sensory integration involves a concert of sensory experience. Walking, for example, sight, sound, touch, smell (to some extend, balance and posture, proprioception (where is the body in space) must operate in concert.

Kirby’s study,

demonstrated that individuals diagnosed with autism demonstrated challenges with perception and sensation often articulating preferences as aesthetic choices but not as sensory ones.

Can we (who do not experience sensory integration dysfunction)replicate the dysregulation of sensory experience in a way that mimics the sensory experience of someone with autism. Can we achieve this by building a portrait that is ALL sensorial  inverting Kirby’s findings?  Can we live in a series of trees and experience the profound challenge of moving from one point to another?

Doing a simple Butoh exercise may be a way to create in a neuro-typical body a neuro-atypical experience. Butoh theater a theater making method is, according to Hijikata concerned with:

  • Search for an individual or collective memory.
  • Use of taboo topics: death, eroticism, sex and mobilization of archaic pulsations.
  • Extreme or absurd environments.
  • Slow hyper-controlled motion.
  • Bodily contortions like inward rotated legs and feet.
  • Playful and grotesque imagery.
  • Aesthetical features that go against the western archetypes of perfection and beauty.
  • “There are an infinity of ways in which you can move from that spot over there to here. But have you figured out those movements in your head, or are we seeing your soul in motion? Even that fleck at the tip of your nail embodies your soul… the essential thing is that your movements, even when you’re standing still, embody your soul at all times.”
  • Kazuo Ohno performs during his whole life until he can barely move. People who knew him say that just his presence was like an artistic fact itself.

Give yourself this challenge: Walk from one point to another in a room gradually adding the following sensory phenomena and see what happens to your thinking and your emotions as you add one phenomenon at a time. This activity should be done with eyes cast downward in a soft focus.

  1. Walk the room.
  2. Walk the room slowly feeling green fragrant grass under your feet, squishing between your toes.
  3. Walk the room slowly feeling green fragrant grass under your feet, squishing between your toes and become aware of a bee buzzing around your head in a spiraling pattern.
  4. Walk the room slowly feeling green fragrant grass under your feet, squishing between your toes and become aware of a bee buzzing around your head in a spiraling pattern while you run your long spindly fingers through your long tangled witch-like hair.
  5. Walk the room slowly feeling green fragrant grass under your feet, squishing between your toes and become aware of a bee buzzing around your head in a spiraling pattern while you run your long spindly fingers through your long tangled witch-like hair and taste sour lemon on your tongue.

In this form, we can deconstruct the sensory experience and feel what it is like when the senses do not operate in concert.  If you try this, please try it, see what comes up for you.

In Basic Body Rhythms:From Individual to Interpersonal Movement Feedback, dance movement therapist Sabine C. Koch, of the University of Heidelberg uses the Kestenberg Movement Profile (from Laban Movement Analysis) to examine movement patterns in individuals with autism. She writes about how in some diseases such as schizophrenia,dementia and autism this symbolic-representative function or the capacity for rhythm and resonance is impaired

For a person to have an embodied understanding of others, mirroring and mapping on the body level is necessary. She write, “Movement via kinesthetic resonance is the carrier of all sensorimotor experience and thus the primary modality of this ‘bridging’ between persons (Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Sheets-Johnstone, 1999)…

On the basis of the findings from study 3, we hypothesized a main effect for both movement shape (approach vs. avoidance) and movement quality (indulgent vs. fighting rhythms) on affect and attitudes. Just as in study 1 and 2, participants received the information that the study investigated the effects of physical arousal on the perception of different stimuli and that they were in the low-arousal condition.In order to test movement quality as a source of influence we first conducted a number of experiments on the influence of smooth vs. sharp rhythms on affect and cognition. In our first study (Günther, 2006; n=60), 30 participants were instructed to spring (jumping rhythm as in elastically hopping) vs. kick (spurting/ramming rhythm as in kicking an imaginary ball), while performing a word categorization task with a wireless mouse.

We were able to show that that jumping rhythm (smooth, indulgent) vs. spurting/ramming rhythm (sharp, fighting) caused congruent affect in participants (p < .05): smooth rhythms caused more positive affect (i.e., more relaxed, joyful, indulgent, peaceful, playful feelings as measured by the KMP-affect questionnaire, Koch & Müller, 2007), sharp rhythms caused more negative affect (i.e., more tense, intruding, fighting, aggressive, retaining feelings). We chose these particular movement rhythms for the first study because they were particularly easy to observe and embody(due to their large size). Because of their high intensity they were particularly clear and easy to distinguish from one another. No effect was found on the cognitive measure.