The other night, I was reading a novel set in the middle ages. In that world -- and in the worlds our ancestors lived in up until the Industrial Revolution and in some cases even later -- communities and expectations were very different from those of the modern world.
Most people lived in one town, and knew almost everyone they met. Casual conversations with strangers were the exception rather than the norm.
There were few foods available, and the variety was very limited. No trips to the TexMex restaurant, take-out Chinese, or out-of-season veggies.
There were few bright lights, loud noises or unexpected sensory assaults (except, perhaps, on the nose!). In most places there were few occasions for coping with crowds, getting lost, or finding oneself among strangers.
Daily routines were, in fact, routine - and transitions were few and easy to remember. Many people were unlettered, and those who did receive an education were generally tutored either privately or in very small groups. Most boys (girls are another story) went through apprenticeships rather than lectures. Jobs tended to be hands-on, and conversation skills were far less of a requirement - particularly on the farm, at the forge, in the field, at the loom, and so forth.
At home, families lived together; no one was expected to just go away, build or buy their own home, and run it entirely on his or her own. People without money stayed with their parents until and unless they married; people with money hired servants to manage a great many daily routines. In fact, people with money often hired servants to help them get dressed!
Reading about this very different world, I wondered how a person with autism would fit in. Granted, a person with profound challenges, lack of spoken language, self-abusive behaviors and the like wouldn't fit in easily anywhere or at any time... But I suspect that a person with high functioning autism or Aspergers would find such a life much easier -- and find that their differences were far less of a hindrance.
I'm not advocating a return to the pre-industrial, misogynistic, bigoted world of yesteryear! There's plenty to dislike about the ignorance and illness of the ancient, medieval or even renaissance world.
But I do wonder whether the world we've created is best for us as human beings. How important is it to be able to manage a constant diet of novel experiences, sensory assaults, verbal barrages and hourly transitions? How critical is it that we learn to live all alone, handle every aspect of life independently, and interact constantly with strangers whom we'll never see again?
Is it possible that we have created a world in which any sensitivity or difference looks like incompetence or over-reaction? Have we developed a culture that specifically excludes a very significant proportion of its members?
Just thinking aloud here... wondering what your thoughts may be?