Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Life with Neurotypicalism: A Reversal

I have neurotypicalism (NT).

Today I am letting you into my world.

I have a mild form of it, though. I'm able to analyze critically and, at least for brief moments, pursue or monologue about interests other than socialization. I'm also able to sometimes notice small details in things. Researchers at the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical say that most people with NT have Normal Personality Disorder (NPD) and vice-versa. (Actually, they say it the other way around, but whatever. Oops - that's an NT "catch phrase." Communication problem.) I don't have Normal Personality Disorder, hence I'm considered "high functioning." I'm glad I'm not low functioning.

NT runs in my family. Everyone in my family has it too. Most of them worse than I do. It was quite a crazy experience growing up with that. Raging emotions everywhere. The littlest things would set each other off. I wasn't set off as much by a lot of them, especially when it came to the rigid rituals of "politeness." I'm lucky I'm not more severely afflicted. I'm not sure if I would be able to function in the world otherwise. I certainly wouldn't have been able to land myself a good autistic boyfriend - I would have driven him absolutely crazy were I lower functioning, having Normal Personality Disorder and other common complications.

The Triad of Impairments, according to the diagnostic criteria published by Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, are social impairments, communicative and imaginative impairments, and restricted interests.

The social criteria don't seem too bad...if they were to diagnose me as a child it would probably be (1) and (3), maybe (4) sort of but I mostly only played with my little sister.

My strongest communication and imagination symptoms from childhood were probably the overuse of imaginative irrelevant activity, and repetition of catch phrases (mostly in adolescence, though I still do it sometimes - e.g., adopting "kick ass!" from South Park as an expression of happiness when something went my way, and using "The Bomb" a lot in high school to refer to something I really liked.) I'd say that I relate to these symptoms more than the social ones, though in traditional Neurotypicalism the social ones usually get more weight - you need two of those, but only one of each of the others.

I have a good deal of problems with limited interests and sensory impairments as well. Especially the lack of awareness of parts of objects. It's really frustrating when you're staring at a set of wallpaper, and you start to "fill in the blanks" in it and see ghosts...I've heard that's common with NT, seeing things that aren't really there, but when I talked to some Aspies about it, they said that it actually didn't sound all that NT...but the really NT part was wondering why the hell I saw different sets of patterns in two sets of wallpaper that looked EXACTLY the same. It took me, like, 20 minutes to figure out that the wallpaper that had different patterns from the rest of it was upside down. It's hard living without that fine detail perception, being only able to see how those pieces of wallpaper were the same.

I also tend not to notice, or care about, small changes in my environment. People with NT are extremely lax and out of it sometimes. We're really off in our own little world, like Temple Grandin says. Most of the people she works with have NT, so she had to study it, to understand why people couldn't see things that were obvious to her and to the animals she worked with.

And stereotyped body movements...well...it turns out NTs do have them, but only in very small amounts and in very limited ways. Anything beyond this, we don't care for, or it weirds us out. The little ones we do, though, we can tune out easily.

My senses are very weak. I'm not sure if they've always been, but they've been that way for a long time. I don't feel the pain of shirt tags most of the time, or fluorescent lights, and I have almost no desire for deep pressure. When there's chaos I can usually deal with it or space out. I have no strong texture preferences for my food. I can eat just about anything as long as I like the taste. My autistic boyfriend, on the other hand, has a much more refined sense of texture and will not eat the foods that just felt wrong to him as a child.

And my Theory of Other Minds isn't always very strong either. My communication breaks down sometimes when I've made a TOOM misjudgment and put myself under stress. My boyfriend is actually very affectionate - he always enjoys it. I'm not as much. Sometimes I get bored of it. But for a long time, I assumed that his wanting it all the time meant that he needed it, and that if I denied him - it was only mild affection after all, like holding hands and cuddling - I would be too cold for him. I also thought that he'd want "more." 'Cause I assumed he'd be like a guy with NT usually is. After a while, cuddling isn't enough for them. But I'm not ready for "more" yet. So I was getting all anxious whenever he wanted to cuddle, and trying to deny him a little but not too much, and I was communicating too indirectly, not saying "NO" when I needed to, just saying "not now" or saying nothing, just making a grunt and a gesture. And then a few minutes later he'd ask again. And what's worse, I even repressed my own need to say NO, thinking that I shouldn't have it because it's not normal for a person to not be open to hugging (but since then, other NTs I've talked to have reassured me that it actually is normal sometimes), and started nagging him about little things instead...acting just like my sister who has a more severe form of NT! I knew then that something was wrong. I talked to people about it, and realized what I needed and that I needed to say it directly. Everything got better after that.

I still wish I had a better TOOM. It's really hard to understand how my boyfriend thinks and feels and senses things. I have to ask him so many questions, and even talk about things to my friends and have them come up with questions to ask him.

Sometimes I wish that I could be cured. Other times, I'm happy to be able to change activities very quickly, experience the "pseudo-simultaneous awareness" described on ISNT as a common comorbidity of neurotypicalism (sometimes it's interesting and helpful to feel like I'm processing two emotions at the same time when I'm really just feeling one and rememberin the otehr), and to be relatively insensitive to nagging irritants like tags, fluorescent lights, different food textures, hair-washing, and nail-clipping.

I think those of us with high-functioning neurotypicalism can contribute a lot to society, if we're given the proper accommodations, like not having too many details to keep track of, and jobs where our flitty attention and dull senses are assets or at least not major deficits. People with low-functioning neurotypicalism, however, are known to be dangerous and violent - bullying, neglecting, and even killing autistic children, and softentimes other neurotypicals as well. It would probably be a good thing if LFN were cured.

Note: this post was inspired by an autistic blogger's rant about autism communities where the constituents buy into the mainstream theories too much and see themselves in terms of their "symptoms."

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