Stuck Between Two Worlds: Having a Brain that is Half Autistic and Half Neurotypical

We often talk of Neurodiversity in terms of a binary between Autistic and Neurotypical when in reality it is much more complicated. We all know Autism exists on a spectrum but commonly assume if someone is on the spectrum, they are one side of a binary line, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum while if someone is neurotypical they are on the other side of the binary line. We assume autistic people’s brains work one way regardless of where we lie on the spectrum and neurotypical brains work in a different format, similar to the difference between a PC and a Mac. People often say being Autistic is like “Having a Mac brain in a PC world.” However, I believe from my own life experience that this is not true, that you can actually have a brain that is both. This is like having a brain that is sometimes a Mac and sometimes a PC in a PC world. While this ability sounds like a good idea in theory, in practical effect it creates other challenges.

Michael Gilberg, Esq.

Michael Gilberg, Esq.

I was not diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until I was 18 years old, and even then I resisted the label for a number of years, feeling like most children that age; I didn’t want to be disabled, I just wanted to be “normal.” The truth is as we all know there is no such thing as normal, especially when it comes to the areas of Human Behavior. As time went by, I grew to accept my diagnosis and understand it better. As I have written before, I had a challenging childhood and never felt like I quite belonged and growing up was always a bit of an outcast. That however is a story for another article on another day.

Like most people on the Autism Spectrum I have often felt isolated and out of place in many social situations. I have experienced the loneliness and isolation that many people with Autism experience. Many of us on the Autism Spectrum do find that sense of community with others on the Autism Spectrum as well as neurotypical friends who are accepting and understanding, and of course I have had this as well. However, I noticed something else interesting going on in my own life.

When I have taken Autism inventories or rating scales I routinely score just over the “autistic” line as autistic but barely so, while many others I know will score as “more” autistic for lack of a better term. There are many traits common in Autism I have routinely found I do not have such as sensory issues, I do not stim or engage in repetitive behaviors, and I do not have the common autistic special interests (trains, sci-fi, weather) or any really special interest that would be considered an autistic interest or outside the mainstream or one with the trademark level of intensity. I also have never had communication deficits and have had people comment on the fact that, for someone on the Autism Spectrum, I am amazingly self-aware and perceptive of what others think about me. I do not have any problem understanding facial expression or most non-verbal communication and I do generally have empathy for others. However, I have struggled with social relationships, emotional regulation, and can be sometimes inflexible in my thinking though I do not have the rigidity or need for sameness traditional in Autism.

This has led to me often feeling as isolated in the autistic world as the neurotypical world. As I have stated like many on the autism spectrum I often have been in social situations where I feel out of place or have had difficulties because of social skills issues with neurotypicals. However, in many situations with other groups of Autistics I have also felt out of place especially when I have found them acting “strange” to me viewing them in a neurotypical context. I was taught years ago by a cousin who is also autistic that I had what she termed “Aspie superiority,” where I acted superior to some other autistics I felt were more challenged then me and have had to learn to not behave this way and be more understanding. I had come to realize I was acting in a way that many neurotypicals do towards autistics. What I realized was I felt too “normal” in much autistic company and too “autistic” in neurotypical company. I felt I was trapped between two worlds and could only describe it as having a brain that was half autistic and half neurotypical.

As time has gone by, I have learned to both be more accepting of others and help others be more accepting of me. I have made friends who are both Autistic and Neurotypical and learned to sometimes use the challenge of being stuck between the two worlds as a strength not a weakness. I have found that while being half and half as I stated creates a number of challenges it also creates opportunities for me to be a bridge between the two worlds. It gives me the ability to understand how neurotypicals think and use that to teach them to be more understanding of autistics and likewise to teach autistics how to behave in a way that will allow them to get by in a neurotypical world.

What my own life and experiences have taught me is that we need to stop thinking of Autism vs. Neurotypical as two different ways of thinking but rather as part of a larger continuum. Instead of viewing neurology as a continuum of Autism vs. neurotypicality in a binary, we need to view it all as part of a larger continuum since so many of us have a mixture of autistic and neurotypical traits and ways of thinking.

Michael Gilberg is a Special Education Attorney representing families and Self-Advocates and can be reached at michaelgilbergesq@gmail.com or http://www.michaelgilbergesq.com.

12 Responses

  1. Fred Carpenter says:

    Having an IQ between 70 and 130 is “normal” and specifically, an IQ of 100. Having two eyes, two ears, two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet, ten fingers, ten toes, and one nose is “normal.” Being easily brainwashed and influenced by groupthink and conformity is “normal” and these days, claiming that there is no such thing as “normal” is “normal.”

  2. Kevin Do-Tran says:

    Thank you so much for this. I often feel like my personality is a salad, a weird awkward mix of extroversion and introversion. There are a lot of autistic traits that run in my family. I feel like I’m either like my grandpa (an actor, extremely communicative and empathetic), or I’m like my grandma (detail-oriented, cold, logical, math genius, socially awkward, no filter, “unempathetic”). I remember scoring 25/50 on an online autism test, with 26+/50 being the requirement for suspected ASD. This is an extremely promising topic that requires research for sure.

  3. PATRICK STEVENS says:

    It’s good to know there’s others who feel the same way as I do. For me it’s the theory-of-mind stuff that works out neurotypical, yet I can’t keep track of what’s being communicated to me and respond to it “in real time” and neurotypically

  4. Rua says:

    I’ve never been diagnosed but relate alot tp this article and some of the comments

  5. Erika says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m 17 and just got diagnosed. It’s nice to see that it wasn’t only me who had trouble accepting the diagnosis. I think you’ve taken my unclear thoughts and put them into words that make sense to me as to why I might be feeling overwhelmed.

    • gary c richardson says:

      Thanks for your explanation of autism—-I knew I was different—only diagnosed less than 10 years ago—that was a great relief—-able to tell folks known all my life why I been different—-still not really accepted—-found if I keep my mouth shut—quickly pass the conversation on—ask questions about person I am with—never give an opinion—-I get feeling of acceptance—-It is work—not fun—find excuse to leave group quick—-but find people dont run when I show up—–wud love to be neurotypical—-last 10 years been better– I-life for me has really been trying—-at least now I can stand in group—laugh when they laugh—copy some expressions—-still work— cud not do all time—-again—its great to finally know why I am different—80 in Sept.—-Yea! Gary

  6. Tabita says:

    Is it even possible to be half Aspie? medically

    • Ray says:

      Thank you for writing this. I can relate to a lot of your feelings about feeling both too neurotypical to be autistic yet also too autistic too be neurotypical. Although I will say that being lonely and socially isolated alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re autistic. Nor does having trouble regulating emotions, or having rigid thinking. Plenty of neurotypicals also have those issues. Is it possible maybe you ‘mask’ a lot of your autistic traits in order to try to fit in and appear more neurotypical? That can also cause a lot of people to either not be diagnosed till their later in adulthood or even reject an early diagnosis because they don’t come across as having the ‘typical’ behaviors or profile of an autistic. A lot of times, we can also mask to the point without even knowing it, which adds to the internal dissonance of feeling out place in both neurotypical and autistic circles.

    • Ray says:

      Medically, there’s no such thing as being ‘half Aspie.’ You’d most likely be considered as being on a higher-functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

  7. L says:

    Thank you for putting this up, I am just trying to be accepting and discovering of my autism and just wanted to understand where I am. A good read for me to channel my unopened voice.

  8. Ryan Maxwell says:

    Hi, Michael! Thanks so much for explaining this. I have thought for about 5 years now that I am somewhere on the ASD spectrum, but I haven’t pursued a diagnosis because I was afraid that I’d be taking resources from those who really need it when I don’t really need it. However, after reading your experiences, I think I might be in the same boat as you, having some neurotypical and some neurodivergent traits. I know I am extremely adept at reading non-verbal communication but tend to easily misunderstand verbal communication. I also have trouble with taking things said too literally, so jokes often go over my head until explained to me.
    I also have suspected ADHD and a suspected anxiety disorder which I have not been able to get diagnosed, yet, so I know those probably obscure some of the issues I might otherwise have more strongly as a neurodivergent person. For instance, I also don’t have stimming issues or touch-based sensory issues (I do have an irrational fear of falling, loud sounds, bright overhead lights, and too many separate sounds going on at once, so I have some other sensory issues), and while I had special interests as a kid (obsessively reading medical textbooks between ages 8 and 11; obsessing over one specific music artist as a teen, and now a different specific music artist as a young adult), I don’t have much of that issue, now that I’m in my 20s.
    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing and I definitely hope that more research into this is done in future.

  9. Bronwyn says:

    Thank you! This exactly describes my husband. I was the one who recognised autistic traits in him, but he hasn’t been diagnosed formally, I was worried he’s not autistic enough to register on the spectrum. But it’s definitely there in our daily lives. The struggle is still very real.
    But interestingly, I found this article while searching for anything that exists between neurodivergent and neurotypical for myself. I would call myself a sympathiser without actually having autism.
    I get overwhelmed by crowds, I love order and routine, I’m very often quite socially awkward, but in researching autism to learn more for the sake of my husband, I feel that where I am doesn’t make me autistic.
    This article has helped me understand that on that binary line, my husband would register on the high-functioning autism side, and I would probably register just over that line on the neurotypical side.

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