Those who have attended one of my Asperger's Syndrome workshops may well remember the 'boomerang exercise', where I ask two audience participants to describe to one another what the item is and what it is used for. Normally, if two participants speak and understand the same language, such a task should be easy, but one is taken out of their comfort zone when I say that one of the participants has to imagine that they are an extra-terrestrial visitor to Earth, and don't know any human languages or social gestures. The task is then made substantially harder when one can't use language, but the other can. Participants often describe how they find the experience both confusing and frustrating. but this is how it can sometimes feel like to be a person with Asperger's Syndrome.
Similarly, as a Vulcan working within a human crew, Mr Spock experiences similar confusion in recognising and interpreting the many shapes and forms of communication in non-verbal form which are often also just as invisible to many people with Asperger's Syndrome, including eye-contact and facial expressions. Like people with Asperger's Syndrome, to be able to function socially among Earth people, Spock finds he has to learn their non-verbal social cues by observation as they aren't natural or habitual as they are to the Earth people with whom he shares a starship. In this way, people with Asperger's Syndrome are almost like 'actors', learning non-verbal social cues from practice.
|Spock with his human mother, Amanda|
When we think about it, that we have ways of addressing and recognising each other, names, and in some cases titled hierarchy, is simply only human convention. Equally confusing in making sense of non-verbal communication for people with Asperger's Syndrome can be unawareness of what their own non-verbal presentation, which could possibly result from any sensory issues they may face in a social situation or anxiety triggers. Anxiety triggers that a person with Asperger's Syndrome may experience in a social situation could involve being worried about how they are being perceived by others around them, or perhaps from frustration of not being able to understand or relate to certain topics of conversation.
|The original Star Trek crew meet Sargon|
Looking at the energy without substance form in which Sargon exists, one can't help wonder what shapes and forms in which extra-terrestrial life may exist. Could it be possible that there is intelligent extra-terrestrial life that doesn't have a 'face' as humans would recognise, but has cognitive ability and/or syntax? Unfortunately, distances across space, and more crucially time, means that there is only a very remote chance that projects such as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) could succeed within a human or extra-terrestrial time frame. For instance, an extra-terrestrial civilisation may have died out by the time radio messages beamed from Earth reach the planet it inhabited. Similarly, humankind may well have died out long before any radio messages sent by an extra terrestrial civilisation reach Earth.
|Pattern of message beamed towards star cluster M13 from the Arecibo Radio Telescope, Puerto Rico, 1974|
Such out-of-synch development also raises some interesting questions about autism and Asperger's Syndrome in later life, for both people on the autistic spectrum and others around them, including their families or next-of-kin. To help service providers prepare to meet the needs of chronologically older adults on the autistic spectrum, with funding from Autistica, Newcastle University, is inviting potential participants, including people on the spectrum themselves as well parents, relatives, carers etc. to be part of its Adult Autism Spectrum Cohort. More information on this much-needed project can be found at http://research.ncl.ac.uk/adultautismspectrum/