All cats are autistic! Discuss.

Arguably autism is a false human construct and no-one has it. Call autistic kids something else if you want to label them because they behave differently to most others. If that’s true domestic cats don’t and can’t have it 😕 . You could label autistic kids poor communicators or anti-social instead. Autism certainly does not apply to domestic cats.

There is a joke going around the Internet that all domestic cats are autistic because of their behavioral traits. It’s a joke with a little bit of reality behind it. Some people genuinely believe that domestic cats show symptoms of autism. They are not suggesting that domestic cats are genuinely autistic but that they have similar behaviour patterns and deficits to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This is a wide range of overlapping neurodevelopmental disabilities as the experts call them. So, what are these behaviors?

All cats are autistic
All cats are autistic. Image:
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Is autism real or a convenient human construct?

The comedians on the Internet like to equate domestic cats with kids who are said to have impaired social functioning and communication issues. Kids with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) lack understanding of social cues such as body language and the tone of a person’s voice and can be unresponsive and like to focus on one item. There’s a long list of ASD symptoms which also include: lack of empathy, learning disability or difficulty, not engaging in play with peers, that almost in speech, deficits and language comprehension, avoidance of eye contact or poor eye contact, repetitive movements, social withdrawal and sleep disturbances. That is not a comprehensive list.

I am one of those people who believe that the surge in diagnosed cases of ASD in children is not because that more kids genuinely suffer from ASD in America or Europe than before but because the label “autistic” applies to more people because the definition of autism has been widened. It is a trendy diagnosis and it is trending 🙂 . The criteria to become an autistic person are much wider than before. And some people whose behavior is considered unconventional sometimes welcome a diagnosis of autism as it explains their behavior. It stops them being outsiders. That’s a shame. It would be far better if society accepted their behavior and was more fluid in deciding what was ‘normal’.

The labelling of kids as autistic is dubious. You could label an autistic child as a child who is a bit strange and uncommunicative but perfectly normal. That is because you might argue that “normal” is a wide spectrum of personal characteristics. Humankind likes to shoehorn people into categories and brackets. We like to label people with conditions as it helps us to explain the world. It gives us an element of control over the world which is somewhat chaotic.

But I personally am critical of labelling people with this condition because it can be life altering and it changes people’s perception of that person and how they relate to them.

Domestic cats are autistic?

Having got that long introduction out of the way, it is a myth and simply a joke that domestic cats are autistic. If domestic cats are unresponsive or poor communicators with humans it is because they speak a different language! They are different species of animal and therefore you can’t label them with a condition which only applies to the human species.

For example, one symptom of ASD that I mention above is a lack of understanding of social cues including body language. Domestic cats are very good at understanding the body language of other cats and, as it happens, they can understand the body language of people as well. Perhaps one aspect of domestic cat behaviour is somewhat like the behaviour of an autistic person: avoidance of eye contact or poor eye contact.

Domestic cats are known to not like to be stared at. When domestic cats stare at each other it is a hostile signal. But to be honest, humans often avoid eye contact or have poor eye contact but they are not diagnosed with ASD. It is normal behavior. So, the symptom of poor eye contact for ASD is rather poorly formulated. Maybe it doesn’t exist? ASD is a human construct. People who are labelled autistic could be labelled in some other way or not labelled at all. It’s indicative once again of the fallibility of this label of ‘autism’.

I suppose some people might say that the “cat crazies” are a symptom of autism. This is when domestic cat race about the place going crazy. It happens out of the blue. This is not autism! This is a bored cat with energy to burn. You can stop it by playing with them extensively or letting them go outside because the cat crazies normally apply to full-time indoor cats who are under-stimulated.

Doctors don’t decide if a boy has autism through a brain scan or some other scientific process. They simply observe behaviour, which can be highly subjective. What do they measure their behaviour against? Is there a norm? If there is a form of behaviour which is considered a ‘norm’ it is, in truth, very wide and indistinct without hard boundaries. But doctors who diagnose ASD measure their patients against artificially constrained behavior limits.

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