Hang on – don’t (understandably) snarl just yet; keep reading. 🙂 This is not yet another ignorant “everybody’s somewhere on the spectrum” battle-cry.
This is a variation on the “turning the tables” theme. Showing the world at large that we’re not so disordered… or at the very least, that the “rest of the world” is a little disordered, too. Whichever floats your boat.
Just bear with me; you’ll see .
Since Small Talk Sucks(TM), I’ll jump right in, analyzing the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum “Disorder” and turning the tables as promised.
(A note before I get going – this is not meant to lump all neurotypical people and slam them all or anything; from here on, when I say “neurotypical/NT people”, “neurotypicals/NTs”, or “neurotypical/NT society” in this post, I’m referring to the non-autistic world at large, made up of the collective “regular” masses, and speaking about the societal “average” in very general, broad terms. So, it’s not meant to be taken personally.) 🙂
Let’s start, logically, with Part A of those diagnostic criteria for autism, known as “The Triad of Impairments”. (I’ll only cover A and B, because the other parts aren’t applicable.)
Neurotypical (NT) society is impaired, too. They just don’t realize it.
Part A reads: “A. Persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication as manifested by all of the following:”, proceeding to list the three prongs of impairment.”
A1 – Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
NT members of society interact with each other, at least on the surface. But do they actually exhibit social-emotional reciprocity, or are they merely going through the motions, masking a true impairment? I’ve often wondered (even before realizing my place on the autism spectrum) if people actually engaged in true reciprocation, or if they were simply better at hiding their inability to do so?
Is “normal back-and-forth communication” in short snippets of superficial information all that desirable? Or would it be more helpful if the conversationalists dove into greater detail from time to time?
When they share their interests and emotions, are they really sharing them? Or are they cherry-picking soundbites that show the world a Likeable Them? Are they simply better (relatively speaking) at “putting on” the “right” emotional “skin” or launching the “right” emotional script than we are? Might their true responses be more similar to ours than anyone realizes, except that they’re comparatively better at pretending or “acting the part”?
Do they really share their interests? Or does their small talk (or other conversation) focus more on bonding over a lower common denominator (such as sports, current events, celebrities, etc) that they know through their experience will be shared by the majority of other people?
NT society frequently fails to respond to social interactions, too. One frequent example: I’ll actually work up the guts to glance the direction of a passing person and actually say “hi”; the person might glance directly at me, but fail to say “hi” back. I know there’s a plethora of reasons for this – hearing impairment, preoccupation, etc, but it’s such a common phenomenon that I begin to wonder just how “reciprocative” the rest of the world is in turn.
A2 – Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
“Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction” can swing both ways, too. NT society likes to use a lot of sarcasm; depending on the person, the sarcasm could be expressed with a deadpan (calm, detached) expression. They could be making a joke, and it could even be totally funny. But let’s face it: there’s a communicative disconnect between the words they use, the meaning they intend, and the facial expression that accompanies them. This example would slam-dunk fit this part of the criteria. The only reason this particular behavior isn’t called out as a “symptom” of abnormal behavior and considered pathological is that the percentage of people doing it is so high.
A3 – Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
I have my doubts about NT society here, too. Of the in-person friends that I’ve lost contact with, all of them have been neurotypical; none have been on the autism spectrum. (That’s simply a numbers game.) The same goes for other neurotypical people I know, though; if they’re older, then most of their friendships have dissipated and disappeared, like the sun over the horizon at twilight. The concept of having lost touch with friends, or neglecting/failing to make new ones, is pervasive among my slice of humanity, even for people who aren’t on the spectrum.
I often find NT people also having problems adjusting their behavior to fit their surroundings; my brother-in-law stays glued to his laptop, even at family gatherings. Restaurant patrons gaze into their mobiles as though they’re mesmerized–even if they’re accompanied by other people. It’s ubiquitous among NT society.
Where does that leave those of us on the spectrum? Compared side-by-side, do those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum really behave all that differently? Are the electronic-staring non-autistic people any more socially engaged? Are autistic people really all that impaired?
Do members of NT society really have a genuine interest in their peers? Many years ago, a gathering with a new significant other (quite the extrovert, that one; the relationship didn’t last). There had to have been about 20 other (also extroverted) people there, all seated along the same long table in a reserved-for-the-occasion section of a restaurant. I had never in my life met people more superficial than they. They reminded me of news media: devour a topic for eight seconds, spit it out, and move onto the next, having completely forgotten the previous topic, no matter how joyful or tragic. Nothing made an impact on these plastic people.
And yet, this is considered “normal”. It’s considered “OK”, or even “ideal”. But the emptiness was overpowering. Is there indeed really nothing wrong with this?
Part B of the diagnostic criteria reads: “Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities…”
I think NT society has some points to answer for here, too.
B1 – Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (such as) simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases.
NT people have their repetitive motor movements and idiosyncratic phrases, too. Comedy routines have long incorporated jokes about TV remote controls and channel-flipping. Conventional women lament about a husband’s radio station scanning. Witty catch-phrases are sprinkled about regular conversation.
B2 – Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (such as) extreme distress at small changes, … rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals….
If we were to take a magnifying glass to NT society (and if NT society in general were honest with themselves), it would become obvious that many NT people exhibit a lot of these signs, too.
People can’t function without their coffee (ADHD and adrenal fatigue notwithstanding). That’s a routine. So is the concept of dessert after a meal. So is hurrying home to watch the news every night. For some, so is going to church, even if they inwardly detest doing so. So is going out with friends on Friday nights, even if they don’t exactly feel like it.
Despite the fact that US city freeways are jam-packed, they insist upon taking those congested routes, and if the traffic becomes so unbearable that they’re forced to take an alternate route, they usually drive like jerks. Are they really all that distressed at the prospect of being late for work (the still-crowded streets at 9AM would suggest otherwise), or could their behavior be due to an exaggerated irritable response to suddenly having to change gears?
Rigid thinking patterns, too, are present in the NT population. The back-and-forth political rhetoric, fundamentalist religious persuasion, even the stubborn supposedly-“causal” connection between vaccines and autism despite an army of evidence to the contrary–these could all be considered examples of rigid thinking within the NT world. So are conventional views about employment, family structure, dating “rules”, and other concepts.
It’s funny that the diagnostic criteria for the autism spectrum even dares mention greeting rituals, because the NT custom of shaking hands is the most obvious (and least rational) example of a stereotyped, repetitive greeting ritual I’ve ever seen. In the 21st-century, mostly-non-weapon-carrying world, it’s a completely unnecessary gesture, and yet – it persists.
B3 – Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (such as) strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests.
It’s also ironic that the self-appointed and largely-accepted “experts” on autism (who are almost exclusively NT) had the gall to associate this characteristic with the autism spectrum and imply that it’s somehow normal, with a negative flavor.
NTs are notorious for this, too; the difference is in the details. NT society is obsessed with physical attributes, celebrities and socialites, and a handful of professional (and a sprinkling of college/university) sports. In the US, it’s American/NFL football, Kim Kardashian, and big-busted/blonde/blue-eyed females in unrealistic body proportions. In parts of Asia, it’s white facial makeup. In Latin America (and parts of Europe), it’s European football/soccer. In the UK and Canada, it’s the Royal Family (of all of the mass preoccupations, this is likely the most understandable for me).
If NTs can be preoccupied, obsessed, and intensely interested in various subject categories, then why can’t we? Just because I’m interested in biochemistry or music theory, and another Aspergian/autistic person is interested in computers, and another in anthropology, and another in genetics, how does that make us “pathological”?
The level of interest is the same; actually, our level of interest is more manageable, because we don’t usually feel compelled to foist our latest inventions, creations, analyses, or other forays into our subject matter on a helpless NT, but somehow, their interests dominate the news broadcasts, periodical magazines, newspapers, even social media and search engines (Facebook actually asks me if I’m watching the Spurs game tonight, and they have created functions which are dedicated specifically to the sharing of sports scores).
How is our detailed knowledge of computer programming languages (for example) more “weird” and somehow “wrong”, but following Paris Hilton’s every move is not?
B4 – Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (such as) apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement.
I redirect the spotlight back on the NTs in this area, too. I might be “hyper-reactive” to sensory input. But by comparison, wouldn’t a “regular” NT, then, be hypo-reactive?
I might indeed find the world to be an overwhelming onslaught of irritating stimuli.
Obscenely bright LED billboard signs display alternating, flashing, jarring, attention-grabbing messages and images, without so much as the courtesy of a dimmer night-time setting.
Crowds of people donning mobile phones with their volumes cranked up to their maximum volume prove just how social they are Every. Single. Time. Their mobile. (Constantly.) Chirps/rings/etc.
Over-sensitively-calibrated car alarms go off for no reason at all, blaring and honking until their owners find a clue and turn them off. TV and radio advertising uses full-spectrum compressed audio and more flashing, jittering imagery.
If I find the cumulative effects of these stimuli irritating, maybe that’s simply a sign that my nervous system is healthy and working the way it should be. I dare say that if, by contrast, one doesn’t find that irritating and overwhelming, their nervous system is dull.
And what’s this about excessive touching? I constantly see NT people touching objects. Items on store shelves have been manhandled such that I’ve taken to choosing the items that sit behind other items and thus, haven’t been handled as much. They don’t stop there, either; they touch other people, including complete strangers.
And yes, there is indeed a visual fascination with lights and movement in the NT world. The fixation with the concept of “bling” (and blingy objects) proves my point, as they simulate the “lights” part of the sentence; when a sparkly object catches light in simultaneously differentiating amounts, it has the same effect as looking at lights. Even a mobile phone case can be a showcase for bling.
The Tickle-Me-Elmo craze of 20 years ago in the United States is an example of an obsession with movement, as are motion-sensored gadgets of all kinds, right down to Christmas ornaments that move and make noise.
There seems to be this notion that the autism spectrum is a “disorder” that needs “treatment”. People are scrambling to eradicate it.
Well, guess what? NTs aren’t so “perfect”(ly free of these characteristics), either. They have them in some way, too. As I mentioned before, the only difference is that we’re hugely outnumbered; they’ve got the upper hand. Their strength is not that they’re “normal” and we’re “missing something”; it’s simply an odds-ratio; there are more of them than there are of us.
But if we look at it through a certain lens (which, I admit, is very specific, and either very narrow or very broad, depending on your perspective), then it becomes possible to entertain the idea that many of human nature’s idiosyncrasies might just be that: human nature, and not necessarily a reason to smack down the autism spectrum community/population as “wrong”.
So, I’ll ask again: where does that leave those of us on the spectrum? Compared side-by-side, do those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum really behave all that differently?
I’m not going to deny that in general, the majority of us report experiencing life differently.
I’m not going to pretend that we have it easy, or that we fit in or that our lives aren’t challenging or downright difficult.
I’m not going to ignore the giant chasm that often separates us from the rest of the world (even when we’re walking among the people in that world).
I’m not going to claim that we don’t need acceptance and support.
All of those statements are true, and this post is not an attempt to change that, or peoples’ attitudes toward those truths. It’s not meant to make light of our situation and the struggles we face. It’s not meant to minimize us or marginalize us.
The goal is actually the opposite.
I’m simply trying to say that everything the autism field “experts” (again, mostly comprised of NTs) accuse us of, also likely holds true for them, despite their ignorance of that concept…
….which means that maybe we’re not so “defective” after all. Which means that we’re valid as people. Which means that we’re simply Different, Not Less.
That is all. ❤
(Image Credit: Android Jones)