Autism: Use of the term ‘living in their own world’

I’ve always disliked the use of the term that autistics ‘live in their own world‘. I mean thinking back to the origin of autism it was first seen as part of schizophrenia, here’s information from Wikipedia (I know Wikipedia is not seen as reliable all the time but this information is from another source):

The New Latin word autismus (English translation autism) was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 as he was defining symptoms of schizophrenia. He derived it from the Greek word autós (αὐτός, meaning “self”), and used it to mean morbid self-admiration, referring to “autistic withdrawal of the patient to his fantasies, against which any influence from outside becomes an intolerable disturbance”.[213]

Now schizophrenia is a mental disorder where those can experience hallucinations and delusions which would culminate in the individual seeing and being in a different world. As it states above ‘withdrawal…to fantasies…influence from outside…intolerable disturbance’, this is schizophrenia but this is not autism. Autism isn’t about the individual being in their own world experiencing things that are not real. Autism can mean that individuals can experience different degrees of disconnect from the world around them but that does not directly mean that autistics are in their own world. I take a literal translation of the term ‘own world’. I mean the term ‘own world’ to me means that they have their own land and it could be made out of candy floss and chocolate and instead of walking on the ground you walk on the sky. So the best way I can find to describe an autistic’s connection to the world is a drama technique from naturalism dramatist Stanislavski and his concept of circle of attention. There’s a brief description from the BBC below:

Stanislavski believed that an actor needed a sense of isolation in order to produce a characterisation and avoid unnecessary tension. They needed to concentrate on themselves. This is the first circle of attention. Stanislavski referred to it as Solitude in Public. Beyond this, the actor might, in the ‘second circle’, be aware of the character he is addressing and in the ‘third circle’, the rest of the production. There’s no direct awareness of the audience in this. These circles of attention are achieved through focus and concentration.

Instead of being in their ‘own world’ autistics are in the first circle of attention where they are focused on themselves and do not concentrate on what is around them, again this doesn’t directly result in them being in their ‘own world’. But not all autistics are in the first circle, I’d argue that most are not in the first circle that they might be in the second circle where they can recognise things immediate to them but nothing else that doesn’t directly concern them. Then others depending on where they are in the spectrum might be in the third. Again the circles of attention is a spectrum like autism.

Another thing I don’t like about the term ‘own world’ is that it brings other phrases to support it, like when autistics say ‘we are living in their world‘. I feel that this phrase heightens the perception of autistics being ‘abnormal’, ‘alien’ or ‘unusual’, none of which I agree with. I use to feel like an alien until I started talking more freely about my autism and realising that others can feel the same way I do. It also makes it sound like we are invading in their (non autistics) territory. This world is mine just as much as theirs I may process some things within differently, like a noise that is quite common might aggravate and upset me but that’s my brain taking it in in a different way. What is most upsetting is that it is coming from autistics themselves and those who use this term, in my opinion, are creating an unhealthy separation between autistics and non autistics which is damaging to non autistics perceptions of autistics. It just continues to reinforce the difference between autistics and non autistics rather than also being able to focus on the similarities or the ways in which we can both learn from each other.

As we approach autism awareness months/week I’d love the use of ‘own world’/’their world’ to be slowly removed from our terminology when talking about autism, though for this autism awareness it might be a little unrealistic, but hopefully for the next. I feel it is an outdated concept that no longer serves a purpose and if anything it is holding the autism community back as non autistics will continue to feel that autism is something that is beyond their understanding because they will never understand ‘our world’. We don’t have a different world we have ‘our own interpretation of the world’. Just like my blogger name, AutiWomanDifferentBox mearns we think in a different box, we look at the world differently but we are humans who live on planet earth we breath the same air, walk the same ground. While autism is complex I don’t think it is not understandable just takes a bit of effort.

Everyone interprets words and things differently and I assume there will be a lot of people who don’t agree with this. I’d love to here your thoughts on this as I always love to here the opinion of others.

Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it. Peace out!

2 thoughts on “Autism: Use of the term ‘living in their own world’

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