Autism and Intersubjectivity
Todd Oakley (Oakley Evolution Lab, University of California - Santa Barbara)
In this talk, I review some of the major theories of autism and then present some new conversational data from an English speaking autist, ‘S’ and the Serbian speaking autist, ‘N’. These new data are based on a joint attention protocol in which S and his companions watch videos and then discuss them. A tentative claim I wish to advance is that autism is best characterized as a perturbation of primary intersubjectivity skills that produce ripple effects in the development of the communicative skills enabled by secondary and tertiary intersubjectivity. More specifically, the data lead presented reveal both dysfluencies associated with deixis, cause-effect relationships, and a paucity of spontaneous co-speech gestures. At the same time, both subjects demonstrated fluent discourse management skills, such as turn taking and back channeling, and the subject ‘S’ relies on his companion’s gestures for contextual cuing.
The data presented offer an occasion to speculate on the general nature of autism, viz. Kanner’s autists develop a third-person perspective vis-à-vis interaction instead of the normally first-person viewpoint, suggesting that the widely influential Theory of Mind approaches to autism have the etiology of ASD entirely backward.