Visiting the World of Autistic Adults

Our consciousness develops through everyday social interactions with other human beings using others as mirrors to understand ourselves. Autistic people are often self-described as a neuro-tribe in emphasizing distinctive neuro patterns different from typically developed people. It is in this context that autistic individuals offer the ultimate mirror to think through the nature of our consciousness. Eiko Ikegami has a decade of experience visiting people with disabilities, represented by their avatars within the virtual world of Second Life.


Based on digital ethnography, Eiko and her research team attempt to approach the world of autistic adults. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of complex developmental disorders characterized by impairments in communications. However, it is known that high-functioning adults with ASD are attracted to computer-mediated communication. The researchers have turned themselves into digitally embodied figures called “avatars,” to observe a group of adults with ASD who are active as avatars in the virtual world of Second Life. Using a method of digital ethnography, they approach the complex and enriched worlds of autistic awareness.

The ongoing project seeks to clarify the three aspects of autistic experiences— sensory-perceptual experiences, mentalizing experiences, and social experiences—through voices of autistic people in virtual worlds. In doing so, we critically examine philosophical and neuroscientific discourses on the natures of our awareness in the mirrors of autistic experiences. 

In 2017, Eiko Ikegami published the book Hyper-world (NTT Publishing, Tokyo) in the Japanese language, which captured the attention of NHK TV to produce a documentary film about her research. More detail, please see:

1. Eiko Ikegami (Winter 2011). Visualizing Networked Self: Agency, Reflexivity, and the Social Life of Avatars. Social Research, 1155.
2. ハイパーワールド:共感しあう自閉症アバターたち (2017: NTT 出版)

Acknowledgments: This research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, and an Investigator Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Robert Proverb

Stephanie Currier