There’s a new TV drama about an autistic boy with eerie powers. More:
Tonight sees the launch of Touch, Kiefer Sutherland’s show about a father whose non-neurotypical son turns out to be able to predict future events. This comes on the heels of Alphas, which also gave us Gary, another person who appears to be on the autism spectrum but who has the ability to see hidden energies. And the notion of autistic people as savants or special fixers has been around forever.
Why do we create these fantasies about autistic people having superpowers?
Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” They call this Clarke’s Third Law. I think we’re dealing with something similar here. Kids on the spectrum sometimes have especially pronounced natural abilities as a result of their neurological wiring. Musical and mathematical autistic savants are the obvious examples, but there are others, like Michael Burry, the doctor turned investor, whose Asperger’s gave him the ability to focus like a laser on analyzing fine print in financial statements, such that he became extremely rich from foreseeing the subprime mortgage crisis when no one else could. This may have looked like an ability to see the future, but it was actually the result of the ability to see more deeply into patterns, and make predictions based on an empirical analysis of the data.
A minor example from my own experience. My son, who has a very mild case of Asperger’s, has acutely heightened senses. For example, he can hear sounds that you and I can’t hear. Once, back in Dallas, I was in the kitchen making a sandwich, and he was at the other end of the house. He heard me bite into it, and came in asking if I could make him one with peanut butter. If you didn’t know that this kid had extraordinary hearing, you might have thought he had psychic intuition. I can sometimes do this with smell; I have such an acute olfactory sensitivity that I can sometimes tell where people have been by the aromas lingering around them — aromas that others can’t pick up.
Maybe then there’s an Autism Corollary to Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced neurological sensitivity is indistinguishable from having superpowers.”