Iris’ ability to read other peoples inner thoughts and feelings seems like a an impossible paradox considering that one of her key “handicaps” as an autistic is that she does not experience emotions herself. But this apparent paradox is resolved upon closer reflection. Among “normal” people, (also called the neurotypical), interaction, such as conversation, is accompanied by subtle automatic emotional cues given off and picked up almost subconsciously. Since this subtle exchange is happening for the most part below the level of articulate awareness, it’s more like feelings given off and picked up rather than words. However, the fact that the appropriate feelings are picked up means that there is actual information being transferred, in other words each person is learns the other person’s feelings just as if they were expressed in words. From a communications engineering perspective this is not so different from reading each others’ minds. Now, in the case of Iris, the reason she can’t interact in this fashion is not because she can’t pick up the other person’s emotions, but because she doesn’t have emotions of her own that are automatically given off in response. Instead, when she picks up these emotional cues she has to categorize them, put names to them and store them in her memory banks for use in her “acting normal” behavior lists. In other words, what she does is read the other person’s feelings and translates them into words. I believe it is this skill, which she developed in order to “be ordinary”, that enables Iris to “read people’s minds”. And it is this that helps her see what is actually happening in communication among people.
Here is Iris, the lady in red in front of the white cabinet, holding forth on the art of communication.
Three different reader reviews of the Norwegian edition of A different childhood:
FASCINATING This book is the author Iris’ own retelling the experience of growing up as an autistic, and this at a time when the diagnosis autism was not known. The focus of the book is on what it is like to be an autistic, and how their mental life differs from another person’s. The book is not abstract or hazy, but returns continually to amusing and engaging stories – together with a backdrop and family filled with warm and interesting figures. The book is also interesting in that the author’s depiction of her everyday experience as an autistic crosses the border between the normal and the supernormal, between every day and supernatural phenomena, such as astral projection and mind reading, which she experienced as what she as a child called the “real reality”. A good book, I think, and I recommend it for all who wish to extend their understanding of how fantastic the brain is and can be, and how much that (possibly?) lies hidden in our minds. And, of course, invaluable for those who want insight into autism.
BORING This was book I had great expectations for because of my work with autistic children. It was recommended to me and I figured it had to be a very good book. It could have been a good book. But the language is so bad, repetitions are unending, so the book could have been half as long with just as much information. Then you could maybe absorb everything that was said. I got discouraged when I was reading, thought I’d never get through it. Iris Johansson should have gotten help to improve the book with things like sticking to first or third person. It was exhausting when it changed even within a paragraph. This was in other words not a good reader experience. The story was great, so it is disappointing that the publisher didn’t do anything with the structure of the book.
A FANTASTIC BOOK I can as an autistic myself testify that this is a fantastic book. I notice that another reviewer finds the book boring and thinks the publisher should have helped Johansson more. But the reader ignores the fact that Johansson writes as she is to show others how an autistic thinks and functions. I can also see that to the outside the book may seem boring, with repetitions, etc, but that is an irrelevant objection. It is not a literary work, nor a textbook. It is an autobiography, and is not meant to entertain. A rewrite would have diminished its objective.