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.
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.