This was inspired by the book “Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness” by Remi Yergeau.
The double empathy problem, so named, is the title given to the seeming appearance of deficits in communication in Autistic people. The double empathy problem states that Autistic people do not have a deficit in communication, but instead a different style of communication. Effectively, communication breaks down when attempting to communicate across neurocognitive styles. The different communicative styles do not combine well, and the predominant neurocognitive style oppresses the neurodivergent person by assuming a deficit.
Could this breakdown in communicative style arise from something called Zeno’s paradox?
Zeno’s paradox, more specifically, Zeno’s paradox of plurality, states that if two objects have the same attribute in common then we must assume them to be the same thing. In the same way, we can reverse this and say that if two similar objects have any difference, then we must assume them to be different things. Essentially, there is no such thing as the many, only the singular.
If we apply this to Autism and the double empathy problem, you can start to see where the problem arises. Non-Autistic people observe important differences between themselves and us as Autistic people. They then assume that we must be entirely different from themselves.
If Autistic people are assumed to be entirely different from non-Autistic people, then not only can we not have a commonality in the existence of our own culture, communities, minds, thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but essentially we can’t be people. This, I believe is where communication breaks down. Why we are assumed to have a communication deficit.
This paradox objectifies the Autistic person, and removes their agency. Therefore, why is it important to communicate on our level? Why learn our experiences and opinions? Does one listen to the opinions of a pencil? After all, if Autistics are reduced to an object, not part of the collective humanity due to our differences, then what can we possibly say that will be of importance to the human experience?
If we want to be listened to and heard, we need to escape Zeno’s paradox. We need to demonstrate our humanity. We need to demonstrate our personhood.
Until we succeed at such a cause, we will continue to be second-class citizens.
3 thoughts on “The Zeno paradox of autism: Is this the root of the double empathy problem?”
A very interesting and well articulated commentary on a very complex and painful predicament. A great read.
That is very interesting David. I can see exactly what you are saying and it totally makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing the ideas you are exploring in a straight forward way for everyone to read and understand.
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