Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Nourishing Song of Autistic Shrieks

A severely autistic kid, who I've never met, lives up the hill from my house. And for several hours per day, he blasts piercing owl-like hoots and shrieks down the hill. The volume is remarkable. When guests visit, they're startled when he launches his latest program. Are aliens invading?

You might think it would be hard to sleep, or write, or think with this as my sonic background, day after day, year after year. But it's not. You may have read my theory that, despite their inability to participate in empathy theater, autistic people are actually more empathic than normal. They're aware, and they care (deeply), but they couldn't imagine displaying the usual performative indicators. They're too busy caring to arrange expression and body english, and utter the clich├ęs, that make people seem caring. The supposed dysfunction of autism amounts to a seemingly opaque condition of utter genuineness. Being caring, they couldn't fathom how to - or why to - seem caring.

So while my neighbors hear disturbing shrieks of haunted dysfunction, I frame it differently. I hear singing; an effort to blanket the hill and all its inhabitants with exactly the sounds this person has decided we require for nourishment. And I trust him.


You might argue that I've simply "gotten used to" the shrieking. And there may be an element of that. But that, too, is a process of reframing. Reframing is the same thing as a shift of perspective, and perspective shifts via placement of attention. Attention is instinctively directed to the unfamiliar, and familiarity accrues with experience. We deprecate needful attention to things which previously have proved themselves harmless and unproductive (attention will always be rivetted by, say, frying onions or angry dogs, despite their familiarity, but the yadda-yadda fades into background). The unfamiliar is gradually reframed into mundanity.

I suspect that my neighbors never get used to it, because they've chosen to associate this sound with anguish rather than benevolence, and chosen to deem it a rude disturbance; a daily torment. Such instilled emotions are destined to be freshly triggered every time, attracting heightened, rather than diminished, attention. We distinguish our frying onions and angry dogs from our fading mundane yadda yadda via engrained patterns of emotional response. We frame internally, though we nuttily imagine that external factors frame us (very short poem, please give a quick read).

So the process of "getting used to" something is just another process of reframing. Our entire experience of the world, in fact, is the culmination of sequential framing shifts (an inner process that we project outward...remember the golden retriever!), mostly instinctual and unconscious, but, per my repeated urgings, also potentially volitional if you're playful enough to flex atrophied muscles. For example, by reframing a shrieking kid as a benevolent protector.

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