In my novels The Birdcatcher and Skol, and in The Shyness Guide, I’ve said that I think shyness and autism are both usually natural. I’ve also suggested that, in some people, they may be connected.
This perception of them isn’t supported by any research as far as I know. But when I was a boy and acutely shy I was also autistic according to any criteria. To me the two always felt like one thing, and they still do. Because of that, I still think they should sometimes be considered together.
But shyness is common and autism is rare, so doesn’t that suggest that they aren’t related? Well, keep in mind that shyness numbers are usually the result of self-reporting.
Ask yourself this – if there was no negative perception of autism, and if people were better acquainted with the broad range of traits assigned to it – the sense of aloneness, the lack of innate social skills, etc – and if they were invited to decide themselves whether they are autistic, would the numbers for autism be so low?
Yes, if people were asked to self-assess themselves for autism I’m sure there would be a lot more autistic people.
If you doubt me, go to the website Wrong Planet (www.wrongplanet.net), a busy site devoted to the concerns of people on the spectrum. Read the daily forums there and you’ll find that many contributors to the site haven’t been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s. They take part because they think they belong there.
Many of the discussions at Wrong Planet closely resemble the discussions you’ll find in the forums at shyness sites like Shy United (www.shyunited.com), or Social Phobia World (www.socialphobiaworld.com) the site for people with ‘social anxiety disorder’. The Wrong planet people talk a lot about shyness, and they understand it.
But the possibility that shyness and autism are related is more complicated than it first sounds. I give it 26 pages in the The Shyness Guide, and I don’t think I’ve exhausted the subject yet.
If you’re interested, here are links to a free PDF abridgement of The Shyness Guide that includes those 26 pages ( in “Part IV – Autism and Shyness”):