Today I feel like going on a road trip down Irony Lane.
First, I’ll lay down some basics.
Basic Tidbit 1 – Asperger’s/autistic people are said to lack empathy. Empathy, of course, in this case, generally refers to not being able to care about other people or think like they do; in short, we can’t view the world through “everybody else’s” eyes.
Basic Tidbit 2 – I often find myself making suppositions about the general neurotypical (NT) population.
Basic Tidbit 3 – In a recent post (“‘Everybody’s Like That’. No. You Aren’t”), I made the claim that NTs can’t understand what it might be like to be us; they have no clue what we experience.
Don’t I sound a little hypocritical right now? (Yes.) Here I am, making broad statements about the general NT world one minute, and yet, stating that no one can truly know what it’s like to be anyone else.
If you believe that’s a (more than?) a little hypocritical, I don’t blame you. There is, however, a potentially legitimate explanation. And I owe my awesome readers that explanation, so today, I’ll give it.
I encourage everyone who might be thinking this way to look again. It’s ironic, but not quite hypocritical. All of those Basic Tidbit statements can be true, if you bend the spoon like they do in The Matrix. All that’s required is to sit back, relax, dilate your mind, and (hopefully) enjoy…
My brain runs, and has always run, the Asperger’s/Autistic Operating System (AOS). It’s all I’ve ever known. I wasn’t born neurotypical and then just so happened to “turn” autistic one day. It doesn’t happen like that, of course.
I drew the 1-in-50-to-100 autism spectrum card. It’s mine to hold–and play–for life.
But look at those odds again. One case in 50-100 people. This means that if human behavior were equalized across the population (i.e., introverts and extroverts acted exactly the same, and one was equally likely to encounter any other person on any given day, then any person’s chance of bumping into an autistic person would be 1 or 2 out of every 100 people. This means that of my roughly 740 Facebook friends from all walks of my life, about 7.5-15 of them are on the spectrum. (Sorry for the eerie visual I probably created by mentioning “7.5” people…)
Now, let’s add a wrinkle.
The statistics are based on known cases, which are weighted heavily toward today’s young children. I hardly know any young children; my Facebook peeps are exclusively adults. That means that these 7.5-15 people who are on the spectrum probably have no idea that they are. Which means that, like myself, they’ve probably spent the bulk of their lives acting and masking. It would probably be tough to tell which ones are on the spectrum, but it’s likely that they’re probably the same ones who don’t go out much unless they have to, or they go out plenty but get inexplicably fatigued or irritated, or maybe they go out but don’t realize that it bothers them to do so. Maybe they have more spoons, more energy, balanced blood sugar, plenty of sleep, or other excellent resilience. They may also have other external (and potentially distracting) forces at work–small children to care for and interact with, older children involved in activities, or extra errands to run or family outings to make memories of. Thus, they may “look” like “everyone else”, but with an internalized twist.
But I would venture to say that most of them aren’t in a real magnanimous hurry to leave their homes and venture out into the obnoxious and unpredictable world. Rather, they’re more likely to be the ones at home, the ones on the periphery, the ones who fade into the background. And they like it that way.
This makes it a bit tougher to run into them on any given day. And given that I’m an extreme introvert, too, I’m a lot less likely to run into anyone else on the spectrum in offline life.
To connect another dot, this means that most of the people that I’m more likely to come across are probably neurotypical.
(And just think: how many of us would swear that one or both of our parents are/were autistic, but never got diagnosed? My own parents are semi-“suspect” (of being on the spectrum), and they’re self-described homebodies who don’t go out much for anything but groceries and appointments. So who else are they likely to encounter during the day, and who else who’s out and about is likely to encounter them when they’re perched contently and peacefully in their respective home-based working spaces?)
Now onto the next dot: this means that the world of people out and about on any given day is mostly neurotypical. For most people, the NT world is all they know, all that exists.
Advertising, news headlines, and trends are all engineered, as social constructs, by neurotypical people. The world at large is geared toward neurotypicality. Social norms and cultural customs are learned from neurotypicals and passed down through generations to everybody. If the syllables worked out, I would co-opt Madonna’s song “Material World” to “Neurotypical World”.
Which, to connect the final dot, means that an autistic person growing up anywhere on this planet spends their (our) lives observing neurotypical people. We are expected to adhere to neurotypical customs. If we dare question those sacred and highly-regarded customs, we don’t get a logically satisfactory answer; we’re usually met with a simple, curt, “because that’s just the way it is”. Nobody has all the answers; in fact, sometimes it seems like nobody has any answer.
So we improvise as best we can, closely and cautiously observing neurotypical behavior, neurotypical speech patterns, neurotypical ways of living.
We watch carefully. We often know more about them than they know about themselves. And we certainly know more about them than they know about us.
Which makes their statements “everybody’s like that” more than a little insulting. And unjust, unfair. And totally, 100% wrong.
They don’t grow up on the sidelines, observing us. They don’t study our behavior. They have no clue what makes us tick or how our minds work (that is, unless we educate them and they’re open to learning about it).
We spend more time (for many of us, most of our time) studying them under a microscope.
So yes, that’s what qualifies me to make my statements, such as those in the beginning of this post. I don’t know what it’s like to be NT, but I’ve spent my lifetime so far studying them more closely and in greater detail than they’ve ever done themselves.
It’s OK; they don’t know what it’s like to be autistic, either. Few of them even ask; they hit Dr Google, who answers with clinical pathological information from “reputable” “authorities” like Autism Speaks/$peaks and the CDC. Who among them searches for blogs and other resources written and developed by actually-autistic people? A few of them do (awesome!! Thank you!!) but sadly, they’re on the (tiny) minority right now.
Maybe someday that will change. Maybe someday I won’t have any reason to write posts like this. But as long as I have to, I will. But given the choice, I’d rather write about cooler things like how it’s no big deal to come out as autistic anymore. Or how the quests for cures have been enthusiastically abandoned.
Now that would rock the free world, wouldn’t it? 🙂
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(Imgae Credit: Joe Reimer)