Use of "Autism" as a (Usually Pejorative) Metaphor

Internet Resources

The word is used metaphorically by the computer scientist Peter Wegner (Brown), who in a number of places argues that, "algorithms are autistic" and by a group of delightfully renegade economists in the "post-autistic economics network."
Humanist Archives, Humanist Discussion Group
...important parts of human experience that should not be neglected... the symptom of their neglect in AI: the development of agents that are debilitatingly handicapped by what could reasonably accurately, if metaphorically, be termed autism.
Phoebe Sengers
Hayles's discussion of the novels of Philip K. Dick, particularly of his repeated concern with the trope of the "schizoid android," provides a literary reflection and deflection of the autistic solipsism corresponding to the dark side of autopoietic reflexivity.
Linda Brigham
In which the anonymous author uses AS as a deeply negative image for rhetorical purpose in a sermon. He describes AS as involving a want of connectedness, then segues to a discussion of the need for a sense of connectedness in the church.
Homiletics Online
What's behind the impulse to unearth autism in the classics? In part, it may reflect our growing awareness of the disorder and its milder cousin, Asperger Syndrome. Critics seeking to diagnose literary icons may also be taking the current vogue for finding autism in dead geniuses -- Michelangelo, Wittgenstein -- to its logical conclusion. Given these trends, it's not surprising that the wave of fascination with neurological quirks has also touched contemporary literature. Over the past decade or so, novelists and short-story writers in various markets -- from genre authors to writers of young adult fiction to avant-garde experimentalists -- have all created characters who could be labeled autistic.
Polly Morrice, New York Times Book Review
Increasingly, political commentators deploy "autistic" to insult their ideological opponents. For instance, one who doesn't bend to public opinion, or displays lack of interest in others' problems, may be called "autistic." Radovan Karadzic, Vladimir Spidla, Dominique de Villepin, Jacques Chirac, NATO, the U.S. government, and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, have all been called "autistic" by their critics. This occurs even though the label "autistic" already adheres to countless individuals experiencing a varied constellation of often-disabling cognitive, sensory and behavioral characteristics. Most are painfully familiar with the world's disdain; they should not be subjected to further denigration by negative linguistic associations. "Solipsistic," "insular," "hermetic," or "narcissistic" would be more appropriate descriptors for institutions and individuals who seem immune to external influences, or who wantonly disregard the perspective and welfare of others.
Kathleen Seidel,
Paskaljevic explains: "We have very little communication with the world in Serbia, we are enclosed but it isn't really our fault and we need help." He adds he felt he faced a moral problem in casting the autistic Jovana Mitic in the starring role but went ahead after doctors and experts from the United Nations gave him the green light. "I think one must integrate autistic people, notably through art," Paskaljevic told a news conference.
B92 News
Simplicity is a necessary and useful tool, but its value lies in recognising its limits. Autism on the other hand is a kind of pathological simplification of our environment.
Patrick Lambe
Gordon Brown is Labour's Richard Nixon. That is not to suggest for an instant that he is a crook -- far from it -- but he has Nixon's combination of immense political talent and utter clumsiness. The buttoned-up suit, the mouth slightly agape, the physical awkwardness, the alarming smile which seems to appear from nowhere as if a button marked "smile" has been pressed in his head, the nocturnal brooding on imaginary grievances encouraged by a group of chippy cronies -- Brown, like Nixon, suffers from a kind of political Asperger's syndrome. Intellectually brilliant, he sometimes seems socially barely functional: a little bit . . . odd.
Times Online
In which the author uses the word Autistic Catastrophy (sic) as a site name for no apparent reason but shock value.
In this terminology, autistic means self-generated without reference to external reality, and certainty means the unequivocal conviction that a particular belief constitutes true knowledge.
Donald E. Watson
My disconnection from society along with my attempts to better understand society are a gold mine containing the nuggets of social injustices and inequalities, hypocrisies, and self-aggrandizement.
Sam Smith
Key to the Asperger style of politics and media is the constant repetition of thought patterns and the imperviousness of the practitioners' thinking to outside fact or argument. The technical name for this is perseveration...
Sam Smith
Before examining what is autistic or allegedly autistic about... neoclassical economics, I note that the use of 'autism' as metaphor might be regarded as inappropriate by many whose lives are touched by autism, or who are researchers of autism.
Keith Rankin
They are still conducting themselves as autistic politicians living in a parallel world without any touch with the real world even though the Southeast European map has changed a lot in the meantime and Serbia and its influence have significantly faded.
Dnevni Avaz, Daily Voice, Bosnian national daily from Sarajevo
"Autistic" for no discernible reason
Byron Shire Echo
A U.N. official had recently mentioned to me that there's something compelling, almost Asperger's-ish about the United States' new ambassador, and when I see him at close range, it's clear what he meant: Bolton is savantlike yet socially awkward, alert yet more attuned to his internal rhythms than external ones. He doesn't make small talk. He launches straight into his remarks, which are direct and concise. He takes only a few questions, the last of which is a holiday softball: "At a time of world crises, what do you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, now that you're here?"
Jennifer Senior, New York Magazine
Like Cyclops, the mythic Greek character who, according to one scholar, "cared not one jot for his neighbors," too many citizens today appear introverted, limited in their perspective, and disconnected from those around them.
Monadnock Institute, Franklin Pierce College
Today, we of the western autistic collective, through NATO, one of our many well-intentioned tools of autistic terrorism, commemorate the tragedies of prior millenia on a technology-amplified scale.
...we reject outright the notion that scholarship must necessarily beget an effete ministry for whom affirming the inspiration. authority and in fallibility of the Bible is a mark of theological autism.
Reformed Church in the United States
Derrida is suspicious that the ends might meaningfully meet the beginnings in a fuller realization of the presencing of Being. "The end is in the beginning" is perhaps too explicitly tautological, and "risks sinking into the autism of closure"...
Joshua Schuster
Autism is necessary for altruism, since it is necessary to be able to accept and even love oneself before one can show true empathy and compassion for others, before one can feel what they feel. Autism is not egoism.
Elizabeth J. Harris
The most virulent form of philosophical technolibertarianism is a kind of scary, psychologically brittle, prepolitical autism. It bespeaks a lack of human connection and a discomfort with the core of what many of us consider it means to be human. (From Cyberselfish)
Elizabeth Weise, USA Today
Bush in particular has always found effective communication challenging. Is it possible that his difficulty has neurobiological roots? Asperger Syndrome, for example, could explain some of his interpersonal deficits. Individuals afflicted with AS possess normal intelligence but have "marked deficiencies in social skills" according to Online Asperger Syndrome Information & Support. AS sufferers "may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest" [four letters: I-R-A-Q] and may "perceive the world very differently" than you and I ["Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"]. While language development "seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody" (oh, lord, don't get me started) and can be "extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context." Experts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute note, "adults with Asperger's have trouble with empathy and modulation of social interaction."
Juliet Eastland
The wild man, Homo ferus, does not fit into any definitive category in eighteenth-century thought: for some he is a separate genus of mankind or a monster; for others he is a model of uncorrupted nature, an archetypal primitive.
Julia V. Douthwaite
The principal elements of the legal-religious mentality are autistic certainty, animistic labeling, and concrete thinking. Concrete thinking supports two stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness: that it is a manifestation of evil spirits, and that it is a myth.
Donald E. Watson
Dr. Jung Suck Rhee discusses why people are becoming increasingly withdrawn and anti-social within the church, calling it "spiritual autism." He says it is a combination of cultural attitude and the technological advances society is making.
Fuller Theological Seminary
The contrast, then, of autistic and objective thinking rests fundamentally upon the social acceptance o f the conditioning stimuli and responses and not upon the mechanisms o f association themselves.
Kimball Young
On October 6, The Simon "an online forum for sophisticated political and media commentary," whose editors suggest that their content is free of "glibness and cute sarcasm." published an article by Juliet Eastland, Grand Old Problem: Biology, Boorishness and Bush. The article bears the provocative subtitle, "Does Bush have Asperger Syndrome? Has his substance abuse returned?"
Kathleen Seidel,
Each technological advance makes more and more of us autistic.
Swami Vrhka Baba
Use of autism as metaphor reflects the way metaphors of self-loss, otherness, and animalisation/dehumanisation have been used to describe autism itself. These metaphors say little about autism as a condition, while speaking volumes about cultural anxiety.
Mitzi Waltz
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Thaksin Shiniwatra can only offer a wry, teasing smile in the different photo ops with the leaders in the Asean plus Russia Forum in Kuala Lumpur. The issue cannot be solved with a wry smile, not even by Thaksin Shiniwatra's face that looks like the American Mr. Bean with the complimentary autistic smile that is abnormal as his uncalled for statement.
Romy Sabaldan, Davao Beat
Candidates' disabilities should not prevent them from getting hired. But, at the same time, we are all affected by our experiences. And if I am ever put in the position of casting my vote in the hiring of a midcareer candidate with no previous record of tenure -- especially if he or she seems ... well ... just a little bit odd -- I might, like Bartleby, prefer not to.
Mikita Brottman, Chronicle of Higher Education
Kristeva turns from this Platonic dismissal of sensation to the case of autism, a psychological enigma that allows her to posit the existence of another cave, one that is, as she puts it, 'more profound and inexpressible than Plato's'.
Mark A. Cheetham, Elizabeth D. Harvey
Like autistic children, who do not seem to hear, or see, or feel their mother's presence, we have become blind to the psychic presence of the living planet and deaf to its voices and stories, sources that nourished our ancestors... (Ralph Metzner)
Laszlo Horvath
...nothing in our culture allows racism to be curbed since our entire cultural movement goes in the same direction... a frenzied differential construction of the Other nd of a perpetual extrapolation of the Same through the Other. An autistic culture...
Jean Baudrillard
Economics students at the Ecole Normale Supérieure... circulated a petition noting "a real schizophrenia" created by making modelling "an end in itself" and thereby cutting economics off from reality and forcing it into a state of "autism".
I am not suggesting than yogis are clinically autistic; we are only relatively autistic as compared to Shri Mataji's fully understanding personality.
While I share the skepticism toward the use of mathematics in capitalist economics, the label Post Autistic Economics is anti disabled.... some prejudice motivates labeling of an economics that is problem with a disability.
Doyle Saylor
It will be based upon a reading of narrative-based representations of autism in literature, film, television and print media, as well as a reading of the place of the condition within the wider cultural context of the modern period.
Stuart Murray
Sexual autism is a complex in which an individual finds that they cannot enter a lasting romantic or sexual relation due to the way that they approach romantic or sexual interaction... Please note that "sexual autism" isn't a classified psychological disorder... I'm just trying to invent it as one.
Dave Fische
In the past few months, it has become fashionable among smart metropolitans to use the term autistic as a catch-all to denigrate any but the most socially adept men. And it's always accompanied by a snigger. It's in the media, it's at dinner parties, now it's at a party conference. Somehow it's acceptable and clever though those same smart metropolitans would never refer to someone physically maladroit as spastic. My son cannot help who he is, what he was born with. The most I can do is make him feel good about himself. But how can that ever be possible if, when the time has come, he's already heard the term autism used by people who should know better as a cruel joke. It is fodder for the playground bully. And it will eat away at the self-esteem of any autistic child or teenager able enough to understand that it is an insult.
Sophie Coles, Times Online
'Autistic'... must mean abnormally behaving, as in egocentrism, and acceptance of fantasy rather than reality... One would have to look long and hard to find an adjective that would better describe the state of economics in general...
George M. Frankfurter
I am writing as the parent of a high-functioning autistic boy, to urge you NOT to use this word in a metaphorical way, especially since such metaphors perpetuate the early twentieth-century idea of autism as a form of schizophrenia.
Humanist Archives, Humanist Discussion Group
The first kind of approach with systemic consequences is what might be termed autistic power politics. That is, a self-regarding concern for the perceived needs of a state (often generated by internal problems) without concern for the impact on others.
Christopher Hill

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