Clown Fear and Neurotypes.

September 24, 2017


I don't want to brag, but I'm pretty hard to scare.

I have plenty of aversions, don't get me wrong. Bring velvet or jelly anywhere near me and the Deadly Hand Flap of Revulsion might get you an accidental slap. But deep-rooted, animalistic fear? Nope. Nada.

As a kid in the 90s I saw the vortex of fear that was whipped up by Stephen King's 'IT' (click here for more info). All of a sudden, the cocky bravado of the policeman's son on my street dissolved and I'd watch him walk down our street in a nervous flurry of steps, prey to an unknown predator.

I was far too young to watch Tim Curry's performance but old enough to be mesmerised by all the big kids in school crossing the street to avoid certain drains. So formative were my experiences that I can confidently say that that clown taught me the power of fear.

Looking back at any childhood memory I'm always surprised by how independently and objectively I viewed other children. Not a great deal had changed by the time I found myself fascinated by the reactions of fellow cinema goers a couple of weeks ago: shrieks, jumps, shudders, breathless anticipation and shielding their face. I enjoyed their reactions as much as the film itself.

As a recently-diagnosed 31-year-old woman I can't help but retrospectively analyse my childhood and adulthood through the clarifying prism of autism. The question remained:
"Why am I not afraid of this demon clown?"

I ran a little Twitter poll that night, pictured here: 

I'd had a pet theory that fewer autistic people would have a clown fear compared to their neurotypical peers. My reasoning was based on the difficulty many autistic people have interpreting facial expressions. As clown make-up exaggerates and confuses facial features, I predicted that autistic people would be desensitised to confusing faces.


Another factor I considered is that many of us avoid eye contact or looking at faces in detail whenever possible. This could lead to us having no, or not putting much weight into, formula of an 'average' face. I wonder if this means we are less likely to be affected by the ' Uncanny Valley ' effect.

From my VERY limited poll it seems to be even across neurotypes. Running a huge poll on the subject is a bit unnecessary for the purposes of my blog but I do think there is a point worth making here. If the survey was representative and people of all neurotypes have a built-in fear of clowns... Could we use this to help aid understanding of autism?

The example of the Clapping Game is something I have used with great results in the past, offering a brief glimpse at one aspect of autism.
(I've created a stand-alone post about the Clapping Game to follow this, for ease of sharing as a resource).

Could clown phobia be a small window into facial cognition problems autistic people face? I think, like the game above, using this anecdote would be a great ice breaker for those coming out as autistic and discussing their issues for the first time, or even on an awareness course. I believe it'd be of great use to those in emergency services who deal with autistic people regularly, to give insight into how to someone in distress, who already has challenges with facial cues, can be understood more effectively.

**Watch this space for my current project:
Autism Advocate Training - Hair and Beauty Edition 💅🏼💄💇🏾

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