Lisa Daxer is a 27 year old biomedical engineering major at Wright State University in Ohio. She also happens to be a person with autism. Her blog “Reports from a Resident Alien” is, like many people’s blogs, a series of stories about her day to day experiences. She also writes somewhat anthropological observations about how the people around her, who do not have autism, socially interact with each other.
She was interviewed on NPR recently, on their “All Things Considered” show. They have been doing a series called “The Human Edge”, which explores how evolution has made the human species so successful. The interview with Lisa Daxer describes how her brain, which works differently from the majority of people, has given her a unique opportunity to study how other people, who she describes as “neurotypicals”, interact socially. It is very different from the way she interacts. These differences make her feel like an “alien”, hence the name of her blog.
Lisa has compiled a list of things that she has learned are taboo to talk about. This includes talking about sex, about surgery, about “anything that happens in the bathroom”, or about death. She says she doesn’t entirely understand why these things are taboo topics, but has learned that they are. Her perception is that these kinds of topics irritate people in the same way that certain sounds or textures can irritate people who have autism. The specific observations about human behavior that Lisa writes in her blog, as well as the information in the blogs of other people who have a form of autism, together are providing a valuable resource to scientists who are interested in learning about how typical humans interact socially.
Many people who have a form of what is considered to be on “the autism spectrum”, have difficulty with social skills and social interactions. Nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, body language, eye contact, and facial expressions are something most people automatically pick up on from a very young age. Most people do not consciously need to think about practicing these skills; we just do them. Many people who have autism need to be specifically taught the same kinds of social skills that come naturally and automatically to other people.
What I liked best about Lisa Daxer’s blog is that it shows the reader that people whose brains work differently than what is often described as “normal” can still be intelligent, functioning, members of society, and have things of great value and importance to contribute. The observations about human interactions, from an “outside” viewpoint, teach us all quite a bit about how our social brains work.