Autism Spectrum: The Benefits of a Rich Internal Life
People who are different somehow are often subjected to unpleasant treatment. Sometimes very harsh treatment. Social isolation. Bullying. Discrimination. Unfortunately, people on the autism spectrum can often find themselves in these unpleasant situations.
Many now-famous people have found themselves in very dire situations, suffering treatment or circumstances which might easily have left them forever emotionally scarred if not dead.
One such man, Viktor Frankl, imprisoned in Auschwitz for several years during WWII, was fascinated by his own and others’ ability to survive conditions which should have killed them.
“Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life…” Frankl concluded, would often survive, even if they seemed more fragile emotionally and physically than other men.
In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl credits their survival to an interior sphere of intellectual stimulus to which they could retreat.
This brings to mind the biography and now, movie Unbroken. Cast adrift on a raft for weeks with no food or water, Louis Zamperini and his pilot survived. Both credited their survival with intellectual discussions and debates which took their minds off their plight. They were also able to devise ways to catch fish (rarely) and capture drinking water from the occasional rainfall.
Also, the story of Nelson Mandela, (movies, Invictus and Long Walk To Freedom) a man who endured unthinkable punishment in prison under the Apartheid system of South Africa. He had a dream to live for; to see his people live freely in their own country.
While most Aspies or high-functioning autism spectrum individuals will never live under conditions as dire as these, it is encouraging to know that interior intellectual lives have meaning and value.
It is important to learn to cope socially, to hone our social skills to the point where we can move freely in our societies with confidence. However, nurturing that rich interior life can help move us through periods of suffering.
Frankl says also that people who had an unfinished work that only they could complete, people who had a dream to fulfil, and people who had someone else (a loved one) to live for, also found reason to endure.
Frankl notes that unavoidable suffering gives a person a unique opportunity to express his finer self in how he/she manages or bears his suffering.
Please note that Frankl is speaking of unavoidable suffering. To suffer when it is avoidable, Frankl maintains, is mere masochism.