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Autistic archetype

Their strengths and deficits do not deny them humanity but, rather, shape their humanity.

Grinker, 2010


Where did autism begin? And if you think back to Leo Kanner or Hans Asperger around 1940, think again! And if you say it was Bleuler who first mentioned the word autism from a clinical point of view in 1908, keep trying! One thousand nine hundred and eight?! So there was no autism before that? And how did it appear? Isn't autism a neurodevelopmental disorder? And isn't autism a multifactorial disorder involving genetic and environmental factors? And if it involves genetic factors, wouldn't they already be present in the human species even before 1908? There are many questions. There are few answers. And those that exist seem to be scarce to help in this understanding - Where did autism begin?


But perhaps it can be important to be able to go back. Just like when someone doesn't know where to start and is told - Start at the beginning!


When we think about autism. What autism is, how it expresses itself or how it has evolved. We are most of the time very constrained by a rather small amount of time. And it has not been enough to think about what it represents for all of us. Even because it will be fundamental to have the active participation of autistic people in Society and in the construction of culture itself, so that we can all say better what we think and feel about autism. And also because of this, it is fundamental that we can walk towards the beginning, and therefore the name autism archetype. And if we think about Jung's contributions about archetypes, maybe we can ask what is the psychological heritage of autistic people? That is, what is the psychological inheritance resulting from the experiences of thousands of generations of human beings in coping with endless daily situations?


When we consider how diverse and interdependent past societies must have been we cannot help but wonder whether diversity itself might have been important in some way in our evolutionary success. Different people bring different skills and talents and can find different solutions to problems that

threaten survival, and it is not hard to see that any prehistoric group with a range of varied talents could fare better than one in which all are similar. More than that, while so often we focus on a (neuro)typical person when considering our evolutionary history, perhaps the relationships between people can be more meaningful.


Let's see, in the image accompanying this text, we can see an adult male person, and who from his appearance we deduce may belong to one of our ancestors. His name is Ötzi. Or at least that is the name they gave him. He is the ice man from the South Tyrol museum in Bolzano, Italy. The data collected from Ötzi's mummified body states that he died around 5,300 years ago. We would be living in the Upper Palaeolithic, more precisely between 30,000 and 8,000 BC, according to the references to the different periods.


Quite a few years later, more precisely in 2019 an article is published which states that in Italy it is assumed that there are about 600,000 autistic people. No, I am not saying that Ötzi is presumably autistic. However, and despite the fact that we have been talking about autism for about 90 years. Mainly as a clinical and diagnosable entity. What is certain is that there have been known references to autism for longer than that. And no, I am not referring to ancient Greece. I'm even wondering about the existence of autism in a period similar to the one Ötzi lived in.


That's right, not least because the autism genes are old. Not just old, but very old. They are older than fish, older than insects and even older than ocean sponges. In fact, many autism genes are older than multicellular life itself. Genetic research argues that autism occurs early in human evolutionary history, at least 8 million years ago. The genes for autism appear to be part of the evolution of the monkey and human genome, or their ability to adapt, present due to other cognitive advantages that autism confers and mitigating costs. Autism has a long evolutionary history. And the genes associated with autism have been argued to have appeared in monkeys, as they are also implicated in the expansion of the monkey and human brain. As such, studies in genetics present data showing the existence of a proliferation of genes associated with autism relatively late in human evolution, some time after 200,000 years ago. Furthermore, uniquely human copy number variations (CNVs) at 16p11.2 are associated with autism, which are likely to be unique to modern humans as they arose in the last 183,000 years.



How would autistic people have been treated in ancient societies? And what role did they play in the evolutionary processes of the human species?


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