A Kantian theory of the Sensory Processing Subtype of ASD
Castro, Susan V. H. 2019. “A Kantian Theory of the Sensory Processing Subtype of ASD.” Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 6 (1): 1–15.
Immanuel Kant’s theory of imagination is a surprisingly fruitful nexus of explanation for the prima facie disparate characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), especially the sub-spectrum best characterized by the Sensory Integration (SI) and Intense World (IW) theories of ASD. According to the psychological theories that underpin these approaches to autism, upstream effects of sensory processing atypicalities explain a cascade of downstream effects that have been characterized in the diagnostic triad, e.g., poor sensory integration contributes to weak central coherence, which in turn contributes to difficulty participating in a back and forth conversation. To see why Kant’s theory of imagination might be useful, consider that ASD is neither a sensory disorder nor an intellectual disorder per se. Cognitive dysfunction is a common comorbidity of ASD, not a characteristic of it. If we exclude sense and intellect, what’s left? According to Kant, imagination is a synthesizing faculty that mediates between sense and understanding. It does so by transforming intuition from the canonic and vital senses. The uses of imagination include our spatially formative, temporally associative, and communicatively affinitive production, where affinitive production includes sympathy and fantasy. Imagination is thus the faculty of sensory integration, embodied subjectivity, empathy, mindreading, and social cooperation. The wide range of how autism presents and how it is experienced can thus be understood in terms of the atypical development of specific functions of imagination. Kant’s theory of imagination provides a new perspective on how to organize our understanding of autism at the psychological level, one that makes sense of how some of the disparate characteristic phenomena of autism are systematically related and which might lead to novel predictions, research targets, or intervention recommendations.