The Care and Feeding of your Aspie Uncategorized

Care and Feeding of your Aspie: Part 20 – What IS neurotypical, anyway?

The following is a piece of satire and is intended to be read as such.

I have spent a lot of time researching my condition in an effort to understand what is really going on with my life. Almost every book I have read on the subject of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum disorders has started out with a chapter titled: “What is Autism”, “What is Asperger’s Syndrome” or “What is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?”

Awesome… Let’s define it… Ironically enough, none of these introductory chapters has ever gotten it right. I have gotten to the point where I skip these chapters as they are pretty much meaningless… I have the diagnostic criteria seared into my brain.

[The following is from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM IV]
Diagnostic Criteria for 299.80 Asperger’s Disorder

I. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
       A. marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial 
           expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
       B. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
       C. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people, (e.g.. 
           by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
       D. lack of social or emotional reciprocity
II. Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
       A. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is 
            abnormal either in intensity or focus
       B. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
       C. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex 
            whole-body movements)
       D. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

III. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

IV. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (E.G. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)

V. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction) and curiosity about the environment in childhood.

VI. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.”

I ask you… How often do you see THAT in the first chapter? Never… Not once… Well… I did ONCE, but that was a manual for mental health professionals. But never will you see any beginner’s guide, parent’s guide, idiot’s guide or book geared to the public that will do anything more than spout comforting fluff and emotional platitudes about how it gets better.

THAT.
IS.
WRONG.

Seriously… It’s just wrong.

It doesn’t get better… It doesn’t get easier. If anything, as the Autistic mine develops, it gets harder. Take the terrible twos, and add Autism. Take the teenage years, and add Autism. Take 18 and add Autism. Take school, bullies, love, hormones and the difficulties of becoming a social creature… and add Autism.

So… the first chapter of this book should really be “What is Neurotypical?”

It’s kind of like that. Pain in the ass to work with,
but at least it’s stable and works hard. 

Neurotypical is a term that gets bandied about any Autism website, community or meetup. They throw it out there like everyone should know what it means… on an instinctive level. This is probably a new word for you, even if you’ve been reading this series. The word is used, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to people who are not on the Autistic Spectrum. It’s a mish-mash of the words “neurologically typical.” We often shorten it to the abbreviation “NT.”

Originally, it was used to refer to someone NOT on the Autistic Spectrum. It has evolved to cover anyone who doesn’t have atypical neurology. In other words – it is: anyone who is not Autistic, Dyslexic, Dysporaxic, Bipolar, or ADD/ADHD. Recently, some have pushed for the term “Allistic,” which has the same meaning as neurotypical. The concept has been embraced widely by the Neurodiversity movement and the Scientific Community. Technically, you can be allistic and still be neuroatypical, even if you aren’t autistic.

How can we tell if someone is Neurotypical? I mean, who are these NTs… how can you tell if someone in your family might have the dreaded condition referred to as Neurotypicality?

First off, it is very likely that one of your family, or someone close to you is an NT. They make up 99% of the population. This means that, LITERALLY, they are everywhere. It is EXTREMELY likely that you know NTs and you almost certainly have one in your family.

While no diagnostic test exists for the NT condition, it is fairly easy to spot one… Once you know you are looking for. Keep in mind however, these are sweeping generalizations. ALL NTs, just like Aspies, are different.
Inability or Unwillingness to Take Words at Face Value
Due to the nature of NT society and communication, they have been trained to accept the fact that everyone they encounter will wear these masks. Therefore, when you tell them, “Due to the fact that I will have Asperger’s, I will probably offend you.” They cannot accept it. When you tell them that, “I meant what I said, nothing more, nothing less.” They cannot accept it. If you hear the question, “What did you mean by that?” and it was not a complex mathematical, linguistic, physics, cosmological or quantum mechanics concept, they are probably NT. Move on, no matter how many times you say, “I meant exactly what I said,” they will not believe you. If you attempt to clarify by asking which word was the one that they need help with and they get offended, they are probably an NT.

Touching
NTs like to touch. They enjoy all sorts of intense, casual, inappropriate and uncomfortable touching. This physical contact is used to greet, identify, groom, and dominate. They are a bit like infants in that way – they experience the world through their sense of touch. It may be odd to be hugged by someone that you don’t know, but roll with it. Remember, they can’t help it. They are simply wired differently than you and I.

Double Speak or Confusing Communication
NTs are trained from birth to wear masks. To be true to one’s self is considered uncouth or rude. As such, NT communication can be a frustrating minefield. Try putting together an outfit that you KNOW looks horrible. Then go ask some NTs what they think. If they are not familiar with your condition, they will, without a doubt, tell you how great it looks on you. They are so mired down by the concepts of politeness and kindness to others that they are completely and utterly unable to give a straight answer without years of training in Aspie-NT communications. As such, while wearing this outfit, you will be able to identify them by their commentary of “Looking good!”

Chatting
The most telling trait of NTs is their desire to chat or make small talk. In spite of the seeming meaninglessness of small talk, it serves a VERY specific purpose to the NT brain. It is a repetitive ritual for them that eases them into the depths of social interaction. If you TRULY want to make an NT comfortable – it is best to humor them and participate in this ritual to the limits of your tolerance. With time and patience, it is possible to lure your NT into a sense of comfort. Once they are in this level of comfort, they will possibly move from chatting into in depth and comfortable conversation.

But what IS Neurotypical. It is a flawed wiring of the brain and the mechanisms of neural function that leads a person to be or desire many of the following.

  • normal – and if they are not normal, an intense desire to be so.
  • fashionable
  • one of the “in crowd”
  • popular
  • thought well of
  • rich
  • famous
  • surrounded by friends
  • like bars
  • like concerts
  • like the mall
  • like music festivals
  • like crowds
  • have no volume control
  • engage in social mask wearing
  • middle of the road, part of the status quo. 
The NT mind is one that is saddled with the simian instincts to be a group creature. Studies of group dynamics have shown that they are, with a few notable exceptions, unable to engage in truly individual behavior until prompted to do so by an outside stimulus or another person in their community group. (The words community group engender an extremely fluid concept that literally changes from moment to moment). 
As studies have shown, the NT mind is unable to process all of the information thrown at it, allowing them to process a PORTION of the data that they experience and are immersed in. 

As this video demonstrates, they are unable to process the full imagery of a simple 640×480 video. Imagine how much information must be discarded for them to take in the world around them. While information overload can dazzle the Aspie senses, can you imagine what it is like to be restricted to such a minuscule trickle of information.

Imagine the emotional and mental drain of the masks they wear. To have to CONSTANTLY animate muscles that are weak on tone must be exhausting. Further, to be plagued by a constant series of “Micro expressions” seems horrible to me… I cannot imagine the weakness one must feel to have the emotional impact of everything said, every event and thought play out across their face.

The lack of hyper-focus and special interests must be an emotional suck hole as well. Imagine, if you can, the ability to become… bored. The lack of constant cycling, thought and joy that a special interest brings. Imagine having to search for something to do. Imagine having to involve others just so your mind didn’t idle – urging you to do something… ANYTHING… imagine having to imbibe alcohol to shut it off.

All of this, and more, is what it is like to be an NT. It sound horrible, and I am sure it is. But we need to remember something when dealing with the NTs in our lives. They can’t help it. They are wired differently than us, and while they envy many of our traits, they are doing the best they can. They need the same love and compassion that we all need and crave.

So, be kind to your NT. They are a special flower in your garden. If you can see past their neurological differences, you can foster a potent and rewarding relation ship for yourself… And them.

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