Do Animals and People with Autism Have True Consciousness?
Reading to animals can help children with autism Once she was able to get her anxiety in control, a beautiful relationship with her dog, Mika. This is another connection between autism and animals: autistic people have mostly simple emotions, too. That's why normal people describe us as innocent. Some philosophers think animals are not conscious because they do not have When I was a child I had to learn the difference between cats and dogs. .. difficulty an animal has with association across the senses of vision, hearing or touch.
Darcy home that she wanted to give him away. She was sick for 3 days.
She said her heart felt too full of love for Mr. Darcy and it scared her. To ease her stress and help her accept Mr. Darcy as a new family member, here is what we did: Darcy out of her room at night so as not to disturb her sleep. She found his surprise nocturnal visits anxiety provoking. Did not involve her in any cat care until she felt comfortable.
Added a job for her to do for the cat very slowly and gradually. We have tried supporting Mr. Darcy while she has tried to hold him. She is used to having him sit in her lap now. Developed routines with Mr. Involved Julia with vet appointments one year after we got Mr.
These appointments have gone very well. Darcy and involvement in the Story PALS program, Julia was able to start volunteering with confidence at a cat charity two afternoons a week this fall. She uses her reading skills from the PALS program to read aloud to cats who need socialization. They sit around her when she reads, some with paws on her shoulders; others sit in her lap. She does some light cleaning of the cat areas but does not feed or brush the cats, although she could do both now.
Julia needs no support when doing this job other than help with getting a cat that escapes out of the room. Iris Grace from the UK has autism. Her relationship with her cat Thula has helped her to come out of her shell.
Thula does everything with Iris including sitting with her while she paints. There is more research being published every year on the benefit of animal assisted intervention and autism.
- How Animals Benefit Individuals with Autism
Autism Awareness Centre believes that education is the key to success in assisting individuals who have autism and related disorders. For example, a guide dog for the blind has to be able to recognize an intersection in a strange city. Guide dog trainers teach the dog to generalize intersections by training the dog on many different types of interactions. If the dog was trained only on intersections with traffic lights, it may not know what to do at an intersection with no lights.
Low functioning non-verbal people with autism have the same problem with generalizing. If the nonverbal person with autism is taught only at home to not run across the street, he or she will obey the rule at home but not at grandma's house.
To generalize the non-verbal person with autism has to be taught not to run across the street at many different places. My visual thinking for forming concepts is more complex. I use visual thinking for understanding concepts that are more complex than road safety rules.
To understand how different parts of the brain are connected, I think about how the structure of the brain circuits is like a big corporation. I have been in many large corporate offices so I have many pictures stored in my memory. Neural circuits between different specialized areas of the brain are like different departments in a corporation connected by phone and computer lines.
Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys
When a brain is damaged, some of the communication lines between departments are cut. The Chief Executive of the brain is the frontal cortex and when the frontal cortex is damaged, the different brain departments no longer work together in a coordinated manner. Do people who never learn language as a child have true consciousness?
This person had no education as a child and worked as a migrant laborer. Like a person with autism, he learned nouns first and his thinking was totally concrete and visual. She then describes observing several deaf farm workers who had never learned ASL who communicated in elaborate pantomime.
They acted out their experiences of being chased by the border patrol. They took turns acting out their stories in great detail.
Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys
After the farm worker learned ASL he still never fully understood why people went to church and what an illegal alien was. Understanding these things requires complex use of language. He visualized that the border patrol green uniform man chased him away from the land of plentiful food and good jobs back to his homeland of little food.
He had no concept of unjust or just, he just wanted to figure out the rules and avoid the green men. He never really understood why the green man kept chasing him.
He did not understand God but he understood that a green work permit card had great power to repel a green man and make him stop chasing him back to Mexico. He did not know why the card had its power.
The fact that his work permit card was fake was beyond his comprehension. I would say yes. This man had normal emotions, communicated with facial expressions, did a variety of jobs and understood that work such as picking apples, got him money that he could buy food with. When he was a child, he knew there was something important in the books the other children used in school but he had no understanding of what printed words were. When he finally acquired language he would use single words to summarize his life.
The word "green" had great significance. The great forces in his life were green; there were green men, green cards and green cars with green men in them. Money and the crops he picked were also green. They had a special place for their collection of green cards and they treated them like "gold. Thinking with the Subconscious I finally figured out that what FREUD called the unconscious is the part of the mind that people with autism and animals think with.
If one thinks without language one has to have sensory based thinking. I think in pictures, a dog may think in smells.
Animals recognize other animals and people by voice. Even specific vehicles can be recognized. Sensory based thinking is true thinking. Perhaps language blocks access to the subconscious. Research with patients with frontal temporal lobe dementia, a form of Alzheimer's disease, indicates that as the disease destroys the frontal cortex and the language areas of the brain, talents in art and music emerge MILLER et al.
Many of these patients had no previous interest in art or music. To use my corporate office analogy, removing language provides access to the "art department" and the "music department" of the brain. The chief executive offices in the top office building are removed along with the legal department.
This may also explain savant skills in autism. Research with normal people has shown that it is possible to gain privileged access to primary brain areas. Disabling the frontal cortex with a magnetic field will cause normal people to gain some savant skills in drawing Fox I am able to use visual thinking in a more symbolic way to understand concepts in neuroscience. Brain scan research in autism has shown that autistics have direct access to the picture department in the brain.
They excel at the hidden figures test. When they are put in a brain scanner while doing this test, only the visual part of the brain is activated RING et al. In a normal person, many parts of the brain in addition to the visual area are activated. In my lectures, I often show two picture slides to symbolize- this research. The brain scan of the autistic person is like a bright little cabin in a snowy dark wilderness and the brain scan of a normal person is like a bunch of lamps in a lamp store.
In the normal person, it is difficult to tell which brain area is activated specifically for the hidden figure test.
The activity in the visual part of the brain is lost among all the other activated areas. Maybe this is why the normal person does more poorly on certain visual tasks. The other parts of the brain may interfere with visual perception. My Own Experience Thinking with the Subconscious Below I describe how I may be directly accessing what most people would call the subconscious.
In the following description of how I avoided a car accident, I explain how I used thinking in pictures to make conscious decisions. This example illustrates a level of consciousness that may be in some ways similar to consciousness in higher mammals.
The near-accident occurred in fairly light traffic on a sunny day while I was driving to the airport on Interstate Highway 2S. Cruising along at 70 mph in the southbound lane, I suddenly saw a huge bull elk running full speed across the northbound lanes. I knew I had to react quickly to avoid hitting him. Instantly, three pictures appeared in my mind. Each picture represented the end result of an option available to me.
The first pictures were of a car rear ending my car. I knew from experience that slamming on the brakes could cause this. The next picture was the elk smashing through my windshield. From my understanding of animal behavior, I knew that swerving or any sudden sideways movement of my car might cause the elk to stop or slow down. The third picture was the elk passing harmlessly in front of my car.
In this picture I saw what would happen if I gently applied the brakes to slow down. These pictures were like the picture menus one can click on an Internet web page. They appeared in my mind one at a time, but all within one second. This was enough time for me to selectively compare the options and choose the slow down gradually picture. I immediately calculated the elk's trajectory and speed coming across the highway, and my speed and position in the southbound lane and began to slowly apply the brakes.
This choice prevented me from being rear ended, or having the elk crash through my windshield. The conscious choice was a visual process without the use of internal verbal dialog. At the moment I became aware of the elk crossing the northbound lane, I resisted the urge to make a panic response and slam on the brakes. In just seconds, I evaluated the three pictures in my mind. To use computer jargon, I conducted a basic cost-benefit analysis of the options.
After running a quick video like simulation of the elk passing harmlessly in front of my car, I simply clicked a mental mouse on the "slowing down gradually" picture. I made a conscious choice from visual simulations played in my mind. In another mishap on the highway, my ability to make a conscious choice was overridden by sudden panic.
I was driving along a section of straight level highway on an icy night when a sudden gust of wind caused the car to skid. In this situation, I did not have time to make a conscious decision. Conscious behavior can only occur when there is time to think, whereas instincts, reflexes and simple conditioned responses take over when there is no time to think.
For example, a grazing animal suddenly being attacked or chased by a lion relies on instincts and reflexes. These behaviors may not be completely conscious. However, when an approaching predator is far away, an animal has time to decide on the best evasive action.
When I hit the patch of ice, reflexes took over and I lost the ability to make an appropriate response. No option pictures appeared in my mind which could be used for making a decision. Reflexively, I began swearing uncontrollably and jerking the wheel in the wrong direction ,as I was skidding off the highway. I had no time to recall what I had learned about steering into a skid.
My car ended up on the median strip and fortunately, my vehicle and I were undamaged. Some people question why I had three visual choices instead of just one. I think language covers up seeing the choices. This is due to my visual associative way of thinking. In everything I do, I see different choices as pictures on a computer monitor in my imagination, My thinking is not linear. I have learned by interviewing highly verbal thinkers that their thoughts are in language and they do not consciously see choices.
Language may be another layer of thinking which covers up the visual pictures. I have no purely abstract thoughts. I only have pictures. The "autistic type" of consciousness I used in both near accidents may be in some ways similar to conscious processes some animals use when they encounter danger. In other words, consciousness evolved as a means of allowing higher mammals to perform intelligent, adaptive responses to challenges in their environment.
Rather than always relying on reflexes, simple conditioned responses, or hard-wired instinctual behavior patterns, consciousness allows animals to make choices between several different options.
Although consciousness is important, instinctive, reflexive and simple learned behaviors are also important. The instinctive killing bite to the throat used by most predators, the reflexive response of a horse kicking at a predator on its heels, or the conditioned response of learning to avoid places that are full of predators, all evolved as mechanisms used for survival and may not require consciousness. Even insects can learn a simple conditioned response.
The questions of whether non-human animals have consciousness depends on what we mean by consciousness. Animals are probably conscious if you can agree that consciousness without language is possible. Orienting Response is the Beginning of Consciousness On Thursdays, the garbage truck picks up trash in the neighborhood next to where Mark stables his horses.
The moment the backup alarm of the truck sounds, all the horses turn and orient towards the sound. Like soldiers at attention, all the horses aligned their eyes, ears, head and body in the same direction. The orienting response is accompanied by increased heart rate, respiration and blood pressure.
When animals orient they switch from unconscious behavior to conscious. Both animals and people orient towards novel sounds. In the wild, animals orient and freeze when they hear or see something that might be dangerous. A deer that hears the rustling sound in the bushes instantly freezes and turns both its eyes and ears towards the sound. A deer will turn and face the noise before it flees. The orienting response provides time for the animal's brain to make a conscious decision instead of just acting on reflexes and instinct.
During the orienting response, the deer can decide to either flee or continue grazing.
How Animals Benefit Individuals with Autism - Autism Awareness
When I avoided the elk on the highway, I had time to make a conscious choice. But, when I skidded on the ice, there was not enough time to make a conscious choice. LIBET's research suggests that during the orienting phase the brain can consciously veto a response. In my own case, the first picture that popped into my imagination was the consequences of a panic response. The third and best response, which was the last picture to occur, required suppression of the reflex panic response.
To put it in more philosophical terms, the brain does not allow free will but it definitely gives you powerful abilities to veto certain responses. To exercise the veto power, there must be time to look at different possible responses. Research by Benjamin LIBET at the University of California has shown that the brain takes longer to process conscious awareness of a stimulus compared to an unconscious reaction to it.
If you touch a hot stove, an unconscious reflex controlled by your spinal cord has already pulled your hand away before you feel the pain. Conscious processing of incoming information takes more time than a simple response governed by a reflex. A zebra kicking at a lion is probably relying on reflexes, but a zebra that hears a far away sound which may signal danger has time to weigh his escape options.
Levels of Consciousness Brains become more complex when the phylogenetic tree is ascended. The brain expands and more and more areas are interconnected. Consciousness becomes more complex.
Being a visual thinker, I want to look at concrete things I understand such as comparing nervous system complexity between different species. LEDOUX maintains that conscious occurred in the animal kingdom when the cortex expanded and it allows animals to relate several different things at once. To be conscious requires flexible behavior.
I have to conclude that there are some higher language based conscious experiences that I do not have. There are books on philosophy that make no sense and the world of algebra is impossible for me to understand. A problem with discussing consciousness is that some of the discussion goes into abstract language based concepts I simply do not understand.
To define consciousness one must first define the word 'conscious. I think it is wrong to say that the term consciousness only applies to humans with language. When a person gets Alzheimer's, consciousness is one of the things they lose last. They are fully aware of losing their other abilities. Visual thinking is also phylogenetically old.