How far can autistic culture develop without excluding neurotypical people?

not_engagedHow far can autistic culture develop without excluding neurotypical people?

For many years I have been married (to the same guy).  It’s obvious to me that we are both on the autistic spectrum, even though neither of us are diagnosed and we are not as autistic as some other aspies appear to be.  There are also family members who are either aspies or have autistic traits, but most do not acknowledge that they are autistic.  Over the years there have been many opportunities to enjoy social events or relationships in which no neurotypical person is present, and I can say that in a number of situations there is a characteristically autistic way of doing things, which I would not describe as inferior or compensatory or incomplete.

One example would be Christmas celebrations.  An all-autistic Christmas Day can be substantially different to a regular celebration in a number of different ways, and in some ways more satisfying and less stress than a typical neurotypical Christmas for me personally.  I can remember the content of conversations that I have had at aspie Christmases years later, probably because these conversations were quite lengthy and meaningful, while the chatter from NT Christmases past seems to have gone in one ear and out the other.  I’m not claiming that there’s anything essentially pure or utopian about AS social life or relationships.  Aspies always have many annoying traits, and are just as capable of being an arsehole as any NT is.  I’m not saying I dislike NTs, in a prejudicial way, or don’t want to be around them.  I just find that the way they socialize and conduct relationships often doesn’t suit the way my mind works, and they appear to (most understandably) not have the slightest understanding of how things are from our point of view.

I’ve found that even one lone NT among aspies in social situations, or an NT in a mixed relationship, may assume the role of the instructing the aspie in interpersonal matters.  The aspie or aspies may be viewed as uncultured, inexperienced, unconfident, deliberately unfriendly, argumentative or in some other way incorrect in behaviour.  From that point things may go nowhere for the aspie, or downhill fast.  The autist is forced into the position of having to explain or defend their habitual ways, but who can be bothered doing that in a situation or occasion in which one is supposed to be enjoying one’s self?  The autist may be perceived as being even more argumentative or self-obsessed if he or she tries to explain their own position.  This is not an environment in which one can experiment with doing things differently and discover what does or does not feel right.  In this kind of situation it is so much easier to pretend to be having a wonderful time while looking forward to spending time in the future in solitude.

Lili Marlene’s How far can autistic culture develop without excluding neurotypical people? first appeared on January 21, 2007, at Incorrect Pleasures and is reprinted here with her permission.  The original posting sparked an exchange of comments also worth revisiting.

on 04/26/10 in featured, Society | 7 Comments | Read More

Comments (7)


  1. Lili Marlene says:

    That is the perfect photo for this posting.

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    I love the photo too — nicely done Mark. :)

    As for the question posed by the article, I expect that when autistics become a larger part of the population, it’ll be like other cultural shifts in the past. Although people outside the group may not be excluded by design, they are likely to feel uncomfortable and out of place as different customs develop. They’ll have to learn to deal with it, though, just as they always have expected autistics to do.

  3. Mark Stairwalt says:

    Thanks, both of you. :-) Lili Marlene, I like this post intensely; I’m happy you feel I got it right.

  4. Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS, and Aspergers are all disorders defined by theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD).

    They are not “cultures”.

  5. Mark Stairwalt says:

    Your firm grasp of the obvious is noted, Harold. Likewise the limitations of either/or thinking in the discussion of autism have been examined at length recently on this site. Restating your position is not the same as advancing it; on the other hand, I appreciate your attention, as it seems to indicate you feel we are advancing ours.

  6. Lili Marlene says:

    Mr Doherty, I believe that homosexuality was once regarded as a disorder and was once in the DSM. But these days we talk about gay and lesbian communities and cultures. You’ve stated the obvious, so I figure that gives me licence to inflict a painfully obvious counter-argument.

  7. Jiheishou Daigakusha says:

    Harold, you’re right when you say that Autistic Disorder is described in a medical journal. However, Neurotypical Syndrome/Disorder is described in more! You, unfortunately, have Neurotypical Syndrome.

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