Dec 09, 2011 8 Share

Dear Neurotypicals


The author on stairway surrounded by clutter and holding videotape in his mouth.
Photo by Jeffi Holman

Dear Neurotypicals,

Question: How many Aspies does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer: Did you know that in 1880, Charles F. Brush formed the Brush Electric Company, and installed the first complete electric arc-lighting system in Wabash, Indiana. Wabash was the first American city to be lit entirely by electricity. Wait, what was the question again? 

Asperger Syndrome has recently captured public imagination. We are portrayed in popular media as lovable, stiff, and humorously awkward caricatures. This does us a great disservice. While often gifted, we are, in fact, a difficult breed. We tend to upset people, and are typically regarded as selfish, eccentric, and arrogant. Did you see that movie "The Social Network?"

In 1944, Hans Asperger described a group of children sharing similar characteristics, including  “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements." These characteristics may offer intellectual advantages, but they tend to piss people off.

We do not choose to appear insensitive to the feelings of others; we have difficulty understanding and relating to them. Our lack of affective expression may bother you. Trust me, we are just as bothered by your all-consuming, unfathomable emotions.

Are you confused, bored, and annoyed by our lengthy, one-sided discussions of our special interests? Do you believe that we flaunt our intellectual abilities in a deliberate attempt to make you feel inferior? Are you incapable of keeping up with our restricted passions and wealth of factual knowledge? Well, that is precisely how we feel about your emotional expectations. Your ever-shifting feelings, which demand our constant attention and understanding, are baffling, bothersome, and boring. They make us feel uncomfortable and inferior.

We know we are not always easy to get along with. Neither are you. Don't limit us by reducing us to stereotypes. We are individuals. Autism is a bit like the Kennedy assassination—the closer you look the less you know. If you're hip, you will learn to dismiss labels and stereotypes and expect the unexpected. If you're square, you will keep chasing an elusive solution to a problem you can't quite define. Einstein said, "If you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough." Can you explain autism simply, without resorting to Rain Man comparisons? I didn't think so.  Don't try to understand autism, try to understand us

Autism may be accompanied by wonderful gifts, but we can't all be lovably eccentric savants. We do not mean to appear uncaring or arrogant, any more than you mean to appear flighty and irrational. Please, do not judge our nature. Accept us as we are. We are not malicious sociopaths, incapable of love. We are not hysterical mental infants. We’re just wired differently.

We are autistic. We are not occasionally autistic, we are always autistic. When we seem to be particularly levelheaded, caring, understanding, and socially poised, it is only because we are trying very, very hard. Social adaptation is not exclusively our responsibility. All of us must work together to better understand one another.

In reality, there is no standard autistic or neurotypical mind. There are as many minds as there are individuals. No two human beings are exactly alike—that is the beauty of the human race. We are like snowflakes. People have a natural tendency to classify and categorize, but every snowball is nothing more or less than countless beautifully unique snowflakes, clumsily lumped together for strength and durability. When the snowball fight is over, the warmth of the sun returns all of us to our wonderful, original state of fluid diversity. 

Accept our differences ... and we will accept yours. 

With deepest, yet oddly and infrequently expressed affection,
John Scott Holman

 




Comment Options

Anonymous

This is the best thing I've

This is the best thing I've ever read about autism! I've blogged about my differences in the past, but this puts my writing to shame.

Anonymous

Can you say anything without

Can you say anything without creating absurd stereotypes and cutesy albet false emotional faces? Where's the real aspie inside?All I see is someone who has been tanked up enough that his mind can't seperate lucid imaginings from reality.

Anonymous

Abundant emotion!

I really enjoyed your article. I found myself nodding a lot, especially at the part where you pointed out that when we're doing OK socially, it's due to a monumental effort. However, I do have one nit-pick: not all of us are the logical, unemotional type. Far from it. Actually, I've always had immense difficulty controlling my emotions because they were so strong that I didn't know what to do with myself. They just all came bursting out at odd, or as NTs would say, "inappropriate" moments. Even when I'm around other Aspies, I feel like a bit of a minority within a minority: an intuitive, touchy-feely artistic type among staunch literalists who like comic books and quantum physics. One thing that I do have in common with just about every other Aspie, though, is my lifelong struggle to understand the waxing and waning of social activity: it hurts my head. There's simply too much trivial detail to keep track of when I'd rather be spending my time alone at home writing music. Regardless of specific interests, what we all have in common is the aut- in autism; it is the same aut- as in the word auto, which refers to the self. So autism is really self-ism, or being lost in your own head. But I enjoy my inner universe. :-)

Zuckerberg may or may not be

Zuckerberg may or may not be autistic, but the portrayal of him in "The Social Network" is a very good example of the social difficulties faced by many "arrogant little professors," as Asperger characterized Aspies. Remember the scene where Zuckerberg and his girlfriend break up? I think that is a far more accurate reflection of Aspergian social difficulties than those seen in a movie like "Adam." Does that mean all Aspies behave like Zuckerberg? Of course not, but I've know MANY who do. I want people to know that it is impossible to accurately represent the entire autism spectrum because we are all individuals with unique challenges and abilities.Thanks, John Scott Holman

Anonymous

Autism stereotypes are dead.

It needs to be said "The Social Network" is just one more example of an autism caricature as well. There is no telling if Mark Zuckerberg is autistic, and there are clearly not millions of Mark Zuckerbergs walking around.On that subject, it doesn't matter if he is. When people didn't know what autism was, a bunch of comparisons to Einstein/Newton/Bill Gates/whoever helped raise awareness. These arrogant comparisons have outlived their use. It does not matter if insert-celebrity-here has Asperger's-- we get the idea.The biggest awareness tool we have now is, like John is doing, putting a real face on autism. The acceptance of autism can be advanced by communicating with people and telling them what the world is like for you: "No, I'm not like Einstein. (Do I look like an Einstein?) Actually, life is kind of like this for me..." And the real bonus points: "What is it like for you as a neurotypical?"

Anonymous

Read carefully

He just quoted him, didn't say he was autistic. Not everything about Einstein was brilliant. He was bad at math and didn't know how to relate to others. He was a great theorist but I wouldn't say he was the best physicist. Alot of physisticts have had Asperger-like characteristics it's hard not to categorise them. Even physicists today give off that impression. By the way I disagree with that quote.  

Anonymous

Where exactly did the author

Where exactly did the author mention that Einstein was autistic. I don't see that once.  He did say they can't all be savants. You should reread the article. I think you missed the point.

Anonymous

Cliché!

"Can you explain autism simply, without resorting to Rain Man comparisons?"Can you explain Asperger's syndrome without mentioning Einstein? We're not all brilliant scientists I'll have you know.