Autism is Lindy, autistic thinking has been conserved in history

(via) The Lindy effect is a concept that the future life expectancy of some items or concepts  such as technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy. My idea of Lindy comes from reading Nassim Taleb, who expands upon the writings of Beniot Mandlebrot who described an effect of a deli

Lindy is a deli in New York, now a tourist trap, that proudly claims to be famous for its cheesecake, but in fact has been known for the fifty or so years of interpretation by physicists and mathematicians of the heuristic that developed there. Actors who hung out there gossiping about other actors discovered that Broadway shows that lasted, say one hundred days, had a future life expectancy of a hundred more. For those that lasted two hundred days, two hundred more. The heuristic became known as the Lindy Effect.

Perhaps, it can be best thought of via example eg that butter is more Lindy than margarine and that olive oil is a very lindy cooking oil of our times.

Lindy is not really meant to be applied to perishable items. Nonperishable are Lindy. Ideas, technologies and institutions.

So… I think autistic thinking has been Lindy over the ages. Why might this be the case?

Autistic thinking tends not to follow the dominant social consensus thinking of the time, I also argue, autistic thinking can importantly lead to radical breakthrough where you have leaps of understanding that perhaps typical thinking would not demonstrate.

Rates of ASD diagnosis in the US are around 1 in 65, with New Jersey as high as 1 in 45 and between 1 in 50 to 1 in 100 a likely typical range in Level 4 countries.

If you look back 70,000 years there’s evidence that early man, Neanderthal man looked after his disabled siblings into old age..


Anecdote suggests that autism and autistic thought has been present in human society for hundreds of years, while both environment and genetic factors both plays roles I find it noteworthy that nature and its Darwinian forces seemingly have conserved autism and that autistic thinking might be Lindy.


If  there is some aspect of autism that is Lindy why might it be so?  I might be entirely wrong but let’s go a storytelling...


Why might that be…?


Autistic thought tends not to follow the crowd of “herd” thinking or social pressure or social learning.


These traits can be incredibly useful.


Think about any paradigm shift in thought which requires ideas outside of normal.  A non-autist has social pressures and social learning that an autism might not.


An ice age has set in.  On the one hand, you need tools and weapons to hunt.  You need social communication to co-ordinate large groups of people. You need leaders of those groups.


But, you need inventors to create tools which are different to the status quo.  If everyone hunts the mammoth in only one way and that way stops working, you need someone who can think differently and sees a solution not because “we’ve always done it this way” but because there’s a way that makes sense to autistic thought that non-autistic thought can’t reach easily.


The rest of the human society, maybe the leader of those small ape-like human groups, can see the value in these different autistic thinkers who have ways of seeing and answers to problems the “herd” can not solve.


Maybe I go too far to suggest that this different thinking is treasured.  


But if the autistic way has been treasured for tens of thousands of years, perhaps that’s one explanation for why is survives in humans today.


And with estimated rates of 1 in 100 (and rising) with close to 1 in 45 in New Jersey being diagnosed on the spectrum, is this an argument for autistic thought being Lindy - and for why we should still treasure our autists and their way of being.

Naoki Higashida. Autistic Voice.

Naoki Higashida’s examination of his autistic world, its hopes  and hazards; its joys and tears; its insights and confusions; Naoki sheds a profound and revelatory light on the autistic mind.

Required reading for autism workers and those interested in the area. Everyone really. These two books The Reason I Jump (which I blog about here) and Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida trans David Mitchell & Keiko Yoshida.

"“Why can’t I speak? How come I’m the only one who can’t do it? How I used to agonise over these questions as I watched the other kids doing all kinds of things effortlessly that I’d never be able to manage, not even if I spent my entire life trying.

Every time, I just wanted to break down and cry. I stuck with my regular primary school until fifth grade –age eleven –but it had become so physically and mentally exhausting by that point that I transferred to a school for children with special needs.

My feelings about the move were ambivalent, and remain so. In one sense, it felt like I was running away and, once there, it took me a whole four years before I found a path to my authentic self. On the other hand, until then I had never observed a class in a special needs context and I was surprised by the big differences between classes there and the education I had been used to. While I was conflicted about the ‘special needs’ label, the kindness I encountered from both teachers and students –unthinkable at my previous school –took the edge off my unhappiness. There, I was no longer a ‘problem case’ but just a regular student. Some students were more capable than me while others had more severe challenges, and for the first time I realised how many neuro-atypical children existed in the world.

The school for children with special needs afforded me the freedom to be what I was, but it became less a place to receive an education and more a place to think about my autism. Time passed without my really doing a great deal. The classes were, in theory, tailored to each student’s disability profile, but in practice the teachers had enough on their hands just handling the students’ routine requirements. Some students were ‘long termers’ who had been there since first grade, while others, like me, had transferred in from regular schools because it was thought they were better suited to a school designed for special needs.

Looking back, most of my classmates seemed to enjoy their days at school without any complaints, but I still wonder if they all believed that this was the place they truly belonged? That said, my new school was a place where neuroatypical students were at least free from bullying or ignorant tellings-off. The school taught me the importance of being able to accept assistance and of being respected and valued by others.

I learned that we all have a right to live as a human being should live, and that happiness is attainable whether we have a disability or not. I saw a future path leading first to a high school for students with special needs (to which my new school was attached) and then to a work-centre for people with disabilities. I resolved to increase the range of things I could do without assistance, to work at becoming as independent as possible and, to the best of my ability, to avoid inconveniencing others. I thought that any aspirations outside this future were unrealistic because I was now where I belonged. I consigned any memories of my previous primary school to ancient history.”

There’s more from the BBC on it being book of the week here.  There’s recent (July 2017) article from David Mitchell in the Guardian talkingabout autism and his wish list.

And I have written previously about Naoki’s first published book here.