In a new paper challenging common assumptions about autism, scholars from various disciplines have offered their comments and insights. The paper, titled “Being vs. Appearing Socially Uninterested: Challenging Assumptions about Social Motivation in Autism,” argues that behaviors associated with autism, such as low eye contact and repetitive movements, are often misunderstood as a lack of interest in social interaction. The authors, Nameera Akhtar and Vikram Jaswal from the University of California – Santa Cruz, assert that individuals with autism actually desire social connection and engagement. The paper, published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, drew extensively on personal testimonies from individuals with autism to support its ideas.
The article highlighted several key points made by the authors and the scholars who engaged with the paper. Autistic individuals believe that low eye contact can help them focus and enhance social engagement. Similarly, repeating phrases, even if not immediately understood, may be a way for autistic individuals to connect with others. Repetitive movements provide comfort for autistic individuals and should not be dismissed as mere stimming behaviors. Autistic people want social and romantic relationships, despite the challenges they may face in creating or maintaining them. The paper also shed light on the frustration expressed by autistic individuals when their behavior is misinterpreted, leading others to assume they prefer to be alone.
While the majority of scholars endorsed the paper’s approach and perspectives, some expressed concern about downplaying differences in autistic cognition and social motivation. They called for more systematic research on autistic perspectives regarding social engagement. Autistic scholars were also involved in providing valuable input on the study, further emphasizing the importance of including autistic voices in understanding autism. Inclusion and understanding, the scholars noted, require both autistic and non-autistic individuals to learn about each other’s social goals and signals.
Overall, this paper challenges prevailing ideas about autism and highlights the importance of considering the desires for social connection and engagement among individuals with autism. It emphasizes the need for more research and the inclusion of autistic perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of social motivation in autism.