Autism: A Lack of the I-function Essay

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Autism: A Lack of the I-function

In the words of Uta Frith, a proclaimed expert on autism, autistic persons lack the underpinning "special feature of the human mind: the ability to reflect on itself." ((3)) And according to our recent discussions in class, the ability to reflect on one's internal state is the job of a specific entity in the brain known as the I-function. Could it be that autism is a disease of this part of the mind, a damage or destruction to these specialized groups of neurons which make up the process we perceive as conscious thought? And if this is so, what are the implications? Are autistic persons inhuman? Which part of their brain is so different from "normal" people, and how did the difference arise?

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((3)) Tests have also been designed in attempt to diagnose the disease decisively. One of these is the Sally-Anne test, in which autistic children usually show an inability to understand the perception of another child in a scenario or to understand that she could believe something false. ((4)) Another test involves two flashing lights. Autistic children will look at a light if it flashes, but other children will show a tendency to move their eyes toward a new light while autistic children will not. ((3))

Observation of the behavior of autistics makes it clear that they do interact with their world and understand certain aspects of it to a degree. However they often appear intensely focused on one perception or sensory experience and are unable to integrate multiple factors of emotion, intention, or personality in the way most people do. As a result of this inability to perceive order in all of the circumstances of their environment, they often find themselves in a world that seems very chaotic and random.

Jennifer Kuhn hypothesizes that many of the symptoms of autism are defense mechanisms stemming from a feeling of helplessness to control a situation. ((3)) Rats, when they are forced to jump at one of two doors that are randomly chosen to open unto food or stay closed and hurt the rat, will always pick the same door. (Lashley and Maier, 1934) Thus the repetitive behavior of autistics,
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