Ecological-enactive account of autism spectrum disorder

Synthese 201 (2):1-22 (2023)
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a psychopathological condition characterized by persistent deficits in social interaction and communication, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. To build an ecological-enactive account of autism, I propose we should endorse the affordance-based approach of the skilled intentionality framework (SIF). In SIF, embodied cognition is understood as skilled engagement with affordances in the sociomaterial environment of the ecological niche by which an individual tends toward the optimal grip. The human econiche offers a whole landscape of affordances, and situated individuals respond to a field of relevant affordances. An important part of SIF is an ecological-enactive interpretation of the free energy principle and predictive processing. Predictive processing accounts indicate that in ASD too much precision is assigned to prediction errors. Autistic persons depend heavily on current sensory information and less on prior beliefs and cannot attune to stable regularities. To reduce uncertainty, they over-rely on routines, strict habits, and a familiar environment—a predictable ecological niche they construct. I argue that skilled intentionality gives us the framework from which to analyze the autistic field of affordances. Autistic patterns of affordance-related bodily states of action readiness are only sensitive to very specific solicitations in the environment and achieve optimal grip in well-known situations. Autism is to be understood as a disorder of bodily normativity. Taking this approach helps us figure out what neurotypical people can do to attune their environment in order to scaffold the needs of autistic individuals by redesigning the landscape of affordances.

Author's Profile

Janko Nešić
University of Belgrade


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