How far can autistic culture develop without excluding neurotypical people? (2011 redux)

How 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.

related: Does Christmas Miss the Mark?

related:  Christmas Scene from Tommy

on 12/22/11 in featured, Society | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. David Reed says:

    As amusing as it is to comment on Lili’s point four years after she made it, the belated reply supports my case…

    I am a gestalt learner, and it often requires massive quantities of time for the light bulb to completely go on for me, especially in highly complex social scenarios. I usually get the “thin slice” right away, but assimilating the entirety takes time. Sometimes a decade later, I’ll “figure out” why a particular interaction or series of interactions didn’t go as expected, usually in an unrelated flash. Oh!

    Without immersion amongst NT gatherings (and the concomitant mental bumps and bruises) during the first 30 years of my life, I would not have been equipped to prepare my children for a better life amidst that chaos and complexity that the NT world seems to be.

    It has taken the past thirteen years of rearing three children on the spectrum to solidify in my mind that I’m not NT… but I finally figured it out. =) I always knew my brain worked differently, but at age 40, I have learned some new vocabulary and words to describe what “differently” means. It’s helped a lot to work inside a company where at least 50% of the employees are not NT, whether they know it or not…

    Unless we’re collectively going to head off and form a new colony and breed a new species of only folks with autism, Lili’s right. We need to find ways to make the best of a comingled existence with our NT brothers and sisters.

    In the meantime, I’m glad that I’ve found Shift to confirm that my family and I aren’t quite as unique as we might otherwise think we are. Thanks to everyone at Shift.

  2. Lili Marlene says:

    Your comment is interesting David, but I’m not sure that the point that I tried to make in this piece four years ago is the one that you’ve read in it. Being the only non-normal person in the room at a social occasion, or percieving that one is the only different person in the room, is a situation that I lived in for much of my childhood and youth, and although it does force one’s self at times to try to figure out what is going on around, it is a terribly lonely situation and very early on the main effect, in my case at least, is that one finds social situations unrewarding and one loses interesting in socializing in general. Maybe my memory is horribly skewed or damaged, but I can honestly say that in all of my youth I can only recall one social occasion in which I found talking with a “peer” to be interesting, a meeting with a bright and well-read girl who had since moved to a different high school. My best friend at the time was a girl who I now know has a pervasive genetic syndrome that is in some ways similar to autism, and had an IQ at least 30 points lower than mine. There are so many different differences that can alienate and divide people: gender roles, intelligence level, relative wealth, education, caste, religion, politics, ethnicity - to divide humanity into NT and autistic categories is too gross a simplification in the year 2012, but it does open up exploration of some differences that aren’t obvious. I know that my mind is not different in the same way as other outsiders, but still we seem to fit together in ways that work for us. Perhaps we just miss out on the automatic feeling of belonging that the majority seem to assume and feel for each other, and perhaps this leads us to look for more real and authentic connections, which take a much longer time to find and explore.

    My thinking has changed a lot since 2007. I stopped using the term “aspie” years ago and I’m now considering abandoning the notion of “autistic” altogether, in light of the fact that a lot of the scientific research that has underpinned the concept of autism and AS appears to be biased at best or just rubbish. In 2012 it is no longer anywhere near good enough to to lump a diverse group of people into the category of autistic or non-neurotypical. We need to understand in what way each of us are different from the standard model. I’m a synaesthete with unusually good visual perception in some areas, so that’s a clue about me, but what’s my label? How about you? Do you fit an existing label, or do they need to invent one for you? 2012 is the year when we should all insist on real answers and real explanations, because “autism” is just a bunch of highly-paid profesionals fobbing off families who seek and need a real explanation and real guidance, and if appropriate real treatments and interventions. I do take myself so seriously, don’t you think? Happy New Year David.

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