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AWE & Autism

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

I am just starting the book AWE by Dacher Keltner. It was given to me by a long time client who I now call a friend, as well. She knows my work well and knows that I am in awe of my clients and our autism community everyday. Many have simply said that I am an intensely curious person. And now, I am curious about the emotion called awe and how it plays a role in Autistic lives.

Here is the book, in case you'd like to read along with me.

You can learn where to purchase it by going here:

You may be wondering why I am putting these two together: Autism and Awe. Well, the premise of this book is that you live longer and happier if you have awe in your life. As an Autism specialist , I aim to help individuals and families find happiness and peace in their lives. One of the things that I love to do is explore outside of the typical "autism based strategies" for guidance on how to improve my support to others. I feel that many of the autism based strategies fall seriously flat in their expectations of Autistic individuals' intellect regardless of their communication and sensory complexities.

The author describes awe as an emotion, which I (and many others) had never considered. A client and I discussed this earlier this week... that emotions are like colors, they are hard to describe and subjective to learn. Each color we each see can only be learned by seeing and experiencing the color together. He used the analogy of someone seeing the color red for the first time. One can tell that person that it is warm and bright but that wouldn't actually do it. The person could point out a red berry on a bush but the hues may vary from pink to red to even purple on the same bush.

"Emotions unfold in actions between people, enabling us, for example, to comfort someone in need, show devotion to a loved one, redress injustice, or belong to a community. ...these rich narratives from around the world could be classified into a taxonomy. of awe, the eight wonders of life."

Those eight wonders, or common experiences of awe, come from:

  • Other people's courage, kindness, strength, or overcoming

  • Collective Effervescence

  • Nature

  • Music

  • Visual Design

  • Spiritual and Religious

  • Life and Death

  • Epiphanies

As I contemplate these experiences of awe, I have to think of my clients' sometimes intense experience with each. I have had a client so enthralled with spirituality that he went into the study of theology and became intensely consumed with the details of his religion. I have had several clients who were so moved by music that they could indicate each tune in a playlist by composer and number at the age of 3 or play the piano by ear at early. ages. I have had other clients find such solace in the light reflected in dust particles that they were all consumed for sometimes hours.

Is autism the manifestation of awe in its rawest form? As some of you may know, I have always felt that the experience of autism in our world is trying to teach us many. things: how to be more in the moment, less rushed, more introspective, more...awe-struck.

Examples in the book offer that awe is experience when being captivated by nature (the sunlight through the trees that some "stim" out on) or music (being so enthralled that one can play or have perfect pitch at early ages) or be so overcome by the collective social experience (that it is too overwhelming to engage in too often or too much).

Wouldn't it be interesting if what we all strive for in our lives was the same thing we try to redirect or change in Autism...pure and unadulterated awe?


I'll be adding to this blog as I read this book, listen to other podcasts, and have conversations about Awe. Come along with me, if you'd like!

Barb Avila

37 views3 comments


I just discovered this inspiring book, and read it much too quickly. It was a new book in the library's collection, which meant two weeks was all I had. I'm intrigued by your connecting autism to awe, and will enjoy reading your reflections . Have you heard the term "awesomeism" used by advocates as an alternative to autism?

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Hadn't heard that version, and I also like it even more. "Awesome" has been so overused it's lost any meaning for me. Fortunately that word doesn't appear in the book on Awe Barb is highlighting.

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