Episode: Michelle Dawson on Autism and Atypicality

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Michelle Dawson on Autism and Atypicality

Perhaps no one else in the world more appreciates the challenges facing a better understanding of autism than Michelle Dawson. An autistic herself, she began researching her condition after experiencing discrimination at her job. "Because I had to address these legal issues and questions," she tells Tyler, "I did actually look at the autism literature, and suddenly I had information I could really work with. Suddenly there it was, this information that I was supposed to be too stupid to work with." And so she continued reading papers - lots and lots of papers - and is now an influential researcher in her own right.

For Michelle, the best way to understand autism is to think of it as atypical information processing. Autistic brains function differently, and these highly varied divergences lead to biases and misunderstanding among typical thinkers, including autism researchers.

In her conversation with Tyler, she outlines the current thinking on autism, including her ideas about cognitive versatility and optionality, hyperlexia and other autistic strengths, why different tests yield wildly different measures of IQ among autistics, her 'massive bias' against segregating autistics, how autistic memory is different, why sometimes a triangle is just a freaking triangle, and more.

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