Autism and Social Awareness

There is an interesting article on Ars Technica about a study done with people who have autism and their response to social pressure when it comes to charitable giving. You can see the article HERE. The conclusion of the article says:

So, it is clear that people with autism don’t increase their charitable donations when they are being watched. Why not? There are two potential explanations: first, they aren’t able to make the cognitive leap to understand how others form impressions of them, or second, that having a good reputation simply isn’t rewarding to them.

Although researchers aren’t yet sure why this phenomenon occurs, this is good evidence that disorders on the autism spectrum are characterized by a problem with theory-of-mind and social representations. We have a long way to go in discovering the neurological underpinnings and behavioral ramifications of autism, but it’s an important step in understanding the how the disorder works.

Having two boys on the spectrum, both diagnosed with Aspergers which is a high functioning form of Autism I could see where this might be true to a point. My boys are not really concerned with their reputation when it comes to things that don’t really directly effect them like giving money, etc. Where they do have awareness, however, is to social ridicule. They are concerned what others think if they think they might be embarrassed by it. For instance, they know when people make fun of them or when acting out in certain ways might lead to being made fun of because they have experienced it in the past. My son will only melt down at home or in a place where he thinks no one is watching (unless he is so angry he doesn’t care, which is another issue). They also will react after the fact to try to keep from being made fun of again or be in that uncomfortable situation. Where they struggle is with understanding something is off socially in the moment. They miss the nuances that so many of us naturally pick up and learn how to navigate. So in this particular article there is the nuance of knowing that how much they give would even have an effect on what people think about them that would be missed. Bring the idea up to them that how much they give might effect what that person thinks of them and just might increase what they gave in that moment because they do want to do what is expected of them most times.

Interesting stuff and it just shows that there are a lot of factors at play here. One thing I have learned from interacting with other parents with kids on the spectrum is how unique each child is. They may have the same diagnosis but how that diagnosis manifests itself can be different depending on the child. I’m glad research is being done and hopefully will lead to greater understanding.