Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Neuronormativity

I took some training today on preparing for and managing change. I filled out their survey and told them that the course was fine and aligned with everything I understood about how people think and behave, but it should be labelled as "neuronormative." That is to say, it assumes everyone is neurotypical and speaks of human beings as though minds come in one flavour.

"Neurotypical" is a word used by the autistic community to describe people who are not autistic. I am not autistic, but I think my brain works more like the brain of a person with autism spectrum disorder than like the brain of the majority of people out there.

You can see the DSM-V criteria for austism spectrum disorder on autismcanada.org if you'd like to follow along. What's tricky is that diagnoses are behaviour based. There is no examination into what causes the behaviour. I do have deficits in social-emotional reciprocity. I have definitely abnormalities in eye-contact in conversations. I flip between hyper- and hyporeactivity to sensory inputs like a switch.

Eventually you get to "D" which tells you I certainly don't have a disorder:
D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
As a wise person once said to me, "You have a drinking problem if your drinking is causing you problems." I have a job, a few friends and an engaged family. I manage.

But there is this sneaky "C" in there:
C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
Not to sound obscenely boastful, but I don't really do "exceeds my capacity." I'm not the best at everything, and I certainly make a lot of mistakes, but I've never really been in a situation where I felt all that stretched except beyond very short term problems.

Part of this is engineered, of course. When I took the University of Waterloo's Descartes math test in my last year of highschool I answered enough questions to get 60 and then left because I didn't really want to do it in the first place. I got my 60. It's quite possible that if I had banged my head against those other questions for two-and-a-bit hours I had left to write the test there would have been some that I just couldn't solve. I certainly wouldn't have gotten 100 in any event.

When I raided in WoW I raiding with my friends who I enjoyed spending time with rather than raiding with the best guilds in the world. I don't think I would have actually been good enough to raid with the best guilds in the world, and I certainly couldn't put in the time commitments anyway, so it wasn't really an option. I never put myself in the position to fail at that, though.

So I've avoided doing tasks which would properly rank me among others in the top 1%.  I guess my ego doesn't want to be bruised by finding out that I'm really only 1-in-10,000 good at something rather than 1-in-1,000,000 good at something. I mask that with aloofness quite well.

But if I am 1-in-10,000 or 1-in-1,000,000 in affecting ordinary human emotions, or even just 1-in-10 that's pretty much good enough. Most of the time I have the brain cycles to consciously think about how often I am looking someone in the eye when I am talking to them and look away in a thoughtful manner at regular intervals. Most of the time I can remember to put on a happy or at least a serious-but-not-grim face when interacting with co-workers. Unless I want people to think I look sick, in which case they do - I'm honestly not sure what I even do to accomplish that.

My introduction to autism was through a friend who was reading Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is kind of an autistic community leader, and one of the most articulate people in explaining what it is like to autistic to others. She is also a proponent of animal welfare and a professor of animal science, and she has a remarkable ability to tell what animals want and design improved ways of interacting with animals. This is not an uncommon trait among people who have autism, it is much easier to get along with animals than with humans.

Humans are animals, though. Sometimes I wonder if I essentially fit in with those one the autism spectrum, it's just that my affinity for animals extends to people. That appears to be the best description of my brain that I can muster at the time being - the name I can give to the thing which doesn't have a name.

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