When the world becomes too real: a new explanation of autistic perception
Autism is most well known for the way that it affects how a person interacts and communicates with others. But autism can affect behavior in other important and debilitating ways, such as in an intense desire for sameness and in sensory systems that work too well or not well enough. Researchers have largely overlooked these so-called sensory symptoms but their prominence in forthcoming diagnostic criteria calls for systematic investigation and explanation. In this talk, I suggest that the sensory and other non-social symptoms in autism might be caused by important differences in what an autistic person expects about incoming sensory signals and therefore how they interpret their significance. Within a Bayesian framework, I propose that attenuated Bayesian priors – hypo-priors – may be responsible for the unique perceptual experience of autistic people, leading to a tendency to perceive the world more accurately rather than modulated by prior experience. I further consider how hypo-priors could help explain the range and idiosyncrasy of sensory sensitivities and their difficulties dealing with new experiences.