Sunday, December 7, 2008

Myths and Misconceptions about NTs

Neurotypicals... that mythical creature that lives on the other side of autism, where life is easier and communications flow...

From what I've read, autistics seem to have put NTs on a pedestal. Whether this is because they feel so poorly about their autism, or because they've read too many glittering stories about NTs, I don't know. But I am here to shatter the mythos!

Myth 1: NTs are good at relationships.

Fact: Go into a bookstore. Go to the self help section. Do you notice that the vast majority of books are about how to have a good relationship? Know why these sell so well? Because NTs suck at relationships. They might have different problems than autistics do, but I'm not sure they do. It all comes down to crappy communication and unrealistic expectations.

Myth 2: NTs are natural communicators.

Fact: Everyone learns to communicate. Most people are taught very poor habits from parents with very poor habits. Almost all couples therapy comes down to learning better communication. Most disputes between friends and family: poor communication. The reason kids have trouble learning: poor communication (on the kids and teachers and parents parts). The reason people get hurt feelings and feel so alone: poor communication.

Communication is a skill. One that has to be learned and practiced. A lot. There are classes on it, but most people take away how everyone else messes up, not how they can do better, so even then, people don't automatically learn good habits just because they went to class for it!

Myth 3: NTs understand the Social Code.

Fact: They don't usually even know there IS a social code. Just for fun, go out and ask someone why they do *insert social rule here*... They won't know why. "You just do. That's how it works." They might blindly follow the rules, because they have mirror neurons and all those other wacky things that make them capable of catching on to these subtleties... But understand it?? Nope. Not likely.

This is why they aren't often able to smoothly transition to another culture or accept new frames of reference. They don't realize they are following a program spoon fed to them since birth. They assume that this is how they are, this is how the world is, and anything else is very confusing. That isn't understanding. That is rote memorization.

Myth 4: NTs do not miss body language.

Fact: Go back to the self help section. Look at how many communication books have chapters about, or are entirely about, non verbal communication. Some people have a knack for it. They are more likely to get into jobs that require that knowledge. Even more people can pick up on it once it is pointed out to them. Most people just don't pay that much attention to it. They have the skills needed to do it, but they aren't interested.

That's right: autistics spend all this time and energy learning to communicate, only to go out into the world and realize that most people don't give a damn. To some extent, I think autism's deficit is more that we care that we are lacking skills, not the lack of skills themselves.

Myth 5: NTs have an easy time making friends and getting jobs.

Fact: There are a lot of lonely people. Watch television and count the ads that zero in on people's loneliness: do this and you'll have friends. Buy this product and people will like you. Call this number and chat with someone who will like you. The ads wouldn't be successful if people didn't feel alone! Surf the internet and count the ads and sites that do the same. The vast majority of people feel cut off and alone. This goes back to the poor communication. They might have a lot of acquaintances, but very few people have real, close friends that take away the isolation.

There are a lot of jobless folk out there. Ignore the current depression we are in. At the best of times, there are still unemployed. Almost everyone I know dreads interviews. Most people aren't certain how to do resumes or fill out applications correctly. In fact, books on every part of the hiring process fill the self help section next to having good relationships.

Myth 6: NTs understand emotions.

Fact: People are taught from early youth to shove emotions inside. To not look at them or feel them or use them. People act like petulant toddlers their entire lives because of this.

Most people are swayed by their emotions because they've never bothered to really look at them. This is why those ads work! This is why communication doesn't occur. NTs are terrible at emotions. They translate all their emotions into something easier for them. Many people like anger, because it can fuel them to achieve things. So they turn every emotion into anger. Some people make everything into sadness so that they can be pitied and get attention. Some people just shove it all inside and have a heart attack.

Very few people have the balls to deal with emotions, understand them, and use them effectively.

Myth 7: NTs have empathy and social mores.

Fact: NTs want people to think they have empathy and social mores. To not show proper emotions or make the right words shows that you have not been properly programmed and do not fit correctly into society. I'm not sure people even expect anyone to actually feel anything. They just need the appropriate words and face changes to show that they are well programmed.

This is where autism comes into effect. We can't be correctly programmed because we are missing a lot of the files and architecture to do it. So while we are not feeling any more or less than the average person, our reactions show our lack of appropriate programming and that is a danger. Those programs are what keep people from unleashing anger inappropriately and, if Freud is to be believed, is the only thing that keeps us all from turning on one another in primal fury. So it makes a bit of sense that a lack in programming is going to make the other folk nervous.

The differences in autistics are not in the actual communication or comprehension. It is in the innate ability to learn it. We can learn a lot by rote - but it shows. A rehearsed line doesn't flow like a natural one would. It isn't our lack of mores, it is our inability to be programmed with them. It isn't that we miss body language, it is that we are lacking the skills to pick up on it.

An NT missing body language is only missing a few specific cues... or doesn't understand what a certain set is about. It is usually cultural - they just weren't raised with people using those, or paying attention to those. Not catching most of it is a different story.

There is a tendency to make a big Us Versus Them out of Autism Versus NTs... but that just isn't realistic. We're on a vast spectrum. They're on a vast spectrum. There are tons of overlaps. We simply have a different neurological set up than they do.

They aren't great at communication. They don't get most of what confuses us either. They just have enough context that it doesn't bother them. That is why they won't answer our questions about why and how it all works. They aren't being mean. They really don't know. They don't care. They are able to work within it without having its borders defined. We can't see any of it, so we can't find those borders and need it all explained.

The differences are small, but vital. There are certainly differences between ASD and NT. If not, there wouldn't be any autism. Or any NTs. But we're all just people, all confused, all trying desperately to find a way to be happy and survive. Turning it into us versus them is counter productive and hurts everyone.

It is simply a lack of understanding creating fear, and that fear creates a need to herd together against another herd. It's all very silly.

Hopefully we can continue finding and disspelling the myths about NTs until we are all comfortable enough to interact with them. It isn't their fault that they have filters and mirror neurons that limit their abilities. We have to be patient and accepting and help them to help us.


sadunkal said...

This is pretty cool stuff. Weird that your blog isn't more popular. :)

Abifae said...

Thank you!! :)

I really need to post more often but then I find I don't write as well :p Quality over quantity, doncha know.

I've been told I should do things like Twitter if I want it more popular but I dunno what I think about that other than ew.