Daily Archives: July 15, 2006

Survival situations


I’ve had several people inform me recently that they want to cure people of being autistic because they want them to be able to handle survival situations in which they’re alone in the middle of nowhere or something and need to handle assorted aspects of survival.

Those situations are not all that common, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I think many autistic people, even autistic people who have trouble in conventional situations, would not have as much trouble with those situations as people assume. I don’t actually think, by the way, that most non-autistic people could handle a situation like that. Nor could many autistic people. But I know some things about myself that might contradict conventional wisdom on this matter.

In a survival situation, I would be constantly triggered into actions, and I would probably take whatever actions I needed to take in order to survive. If I were dumped out on the street or in the middle of the woods, there’s a lot I wouldn’t necessarily understand intellectually, but I think I would be in a position to take care of myself more than people would imagine by seeing me in my apartment.

In an apartment, there is nothing that triggers my body into action the way it would in those situations. There’s no feature of an apartment that makes it pressingly immediate to use a toilet or a refrigerator (when I first moved into an apartment I used everything from the floor to the front yard). Given that the majority of what I can do is based on stored knowledge that I can’t deliberately access but situations in the physical world cause me to access, I am indeed very incapacitated in an environment that does not lend itself to my strengths. I frequently need food set in front of me to trigger “eating,” water to trigger “drinking,” toothbrush handed to me to trigger “brushing teeth,” and many things just flat-out done for me.

Put me in a situation where I have to find my own food and water, go to the bathroom on the ground, possibly move around a lot in response to various threats, look for or set up shelter, and so forth that sets me up so that all the stored information is triggered and I’m getting very little information that is telling me to do something else irrelevant to survival, like, say, blog or stare at blocks.

Basically, if you put me in a survival-type situation for a month, I might be more likely to be healthy at the end of it than if you put me in an apartment with no services for a month.

I remember hearing several news stories about autistic children who were thought to be “too severely autistic to be aware of things like this” who survived for a long time when lost in dangerous areas of various kinds, until someone found them. It’s even rumored that the Wild Boy of Aveyron was an autistic boy who had survived a failed infanticide.

While it’s the case that many autistic people, as well as many non-autistic people for that matter, would not survive in those situations, I’m not totally sure that it’s the ones people would think. I know that if you dump me into a situation like that I’m far more likely to look competent than if you dump me into the situation I’m in now. Not that I don’t prefer the situation I’m in now, but that you have to take autistic learning styles into account when deciding what we might or might not be capable of.