After nearly a year of being in a pandemic, I have spent most weekdays and some weekends writing extensively about autism. This has had two effects. 1) Sapping my ability to continue doing so as if it is not getting stale for me. If my attempts at sounding conversational feel forced, please bear with me! 2) Forcing me to reflect on some uncomfortable realities about being outnumbered by neurotypicals. Namely, the double standards by which people are judged depending on how their brains work.
We’ve established that being in a minority is hard. When your communication style is different from the majority, it can feel like you have to push yourself twice as hard just to achieve the same things. When your experiences and struggles fall outside of the so-called norm, you have to fight to make yourself heard and hope that some people will listen.
There are constant misunderstandings between neurotypicals and the autistic community. I have heard it said that these things work both ways, which makes it even. I disagree. Misunderstandings do work both ways, but when one neurotype heavily outnumbers the other, and is therefore deemed “normal” and “right”, that does not make it even. Let me explain.
When neurotypicals don’t understand autistic people, it is because autistic people are complex and confusing. When autistic people misunderstand neurotypicals, it is because we are bad at understanding people.
When neurotypicals struggle to show empathy towards autistic people, it is because autistic people are unemotional and robotic. When autistic people struggle to show empathy in a neurotypical way, it is because we lack empathy altogether. NTs have spread so many stereotypes, described autism purely based on how autistic people come across, and shamed autistic people for not behaving in a neurotypical way. Those of us on the spectrum often feel our own and other’s emotions profoundly, and spend much of our time trying to learn how to connect with neurotypicals, yet we are the ones who apparently lack empathy.
When neurotypicals can’t read autistic body language, it is because autistic people are bad at displaying body language. When autistic people can’t read NT body language, it is because we are bad at reading body language.
When neurotypicals are unable to predict how autistic people will behave or react, it is because autistic people are unpredictable. When autistic people are unable to predict how NTs will behave or react, it is because we are bad at predicting people’s behaviour.
Many neurotypicals are only willing to bend so far to understand autistic people better, and are quick to alienate anyone who is different to them. Meanwhile, most of us on the spectrum have experienced constant pressure to adapt to and make sense of other people’s social expectations, yet we are the ones who are deemed bad at communicating.
I hope it goes without saying that these are criticisms about attitudes towards autism, not an attack on neurotypicals. I will always be grateful for people who listen and try to understand. Meanwhile, fellow autistic people, if there are any crucial points that I have missed, please let me know!