Neurotypicality

There is much to be learned about this whole question from isnt.autistics.org, where they start from the introverted point of view and use the term neurotypical as other groups use mundanes, goyem, etc. They define Neurotypical syndrome as

A neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity.
I'm a liberal, so I don't take the extreme view these people have. If there is an inoffensive, PC term that should be used instead of neurotypical, I'll be happy to use it. (Interiorly challenged?) Apparently the persons with neurotypicality place great importance on having a Theory of Mind (TOM)—that is, a belief that others have minds just as they do—and those who don't develop such a theory quickly enough get an AUTISTIC sticker slapped on them. Those who do have one don't have think about the unsettling possibility that others live in substantially different worlds. Some of us had the luxury of not being required to develop a TOM until we had enough evidence. As indicated, I eventually had given the world enough Turing Tests to conclude that there were other minds, somewhat similar to mine, but not identical. I still sometimes worry that I'm overestimating the similarities.

I suggest two possible consequences of the Neurotypical TOM: One is egalitarianism. Smart neurotypicals believe that everyone thinks as well as they do. My friend Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a warm place in his spleen for the Con Suite Elitist, who claims that nobody else can think. He sometimes further describes this individual as speaking in an uncomfortably loud voice and showing other symptoms reminiscent of autism. I've met a few of these, and I think of them as worse than me, but not all that different. My lack of a TOM makes me consider the possibility that sumbnall people think as well as I do. The evidence for the contrary theory is by no means conclusive.

The other neurotypical symptom is a metaphysics of presence, a belief in a unitary self that can be presented truly or falsely. I sometimes wonder if Holden Caulfield, with his fear and loathing of "phonies," has internalized a simplistic version, and thus sees any attempt to consciously influence how one is seen as phony. It seems to me that we all do a Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, as Erving Goffman would say.

Perhaps there is a more moderate version of this in the belief that "body language" is the real person, while words are fake. To me this is an evil and terrifying doctrine. I don't want to have the important part of a disagreement be in a "language" I understand about as well as farting and tapdancing, and in which I constantly give off messages that I do not perceive or control, but will be held responsible for. (I put "language" in scare quotes because body language, like animal languages, has words but no sentences: no connectives, no negation, etc.)

What is certainly true is that no one is likely to have a perfect TOM. In fact, all TOMs are, or should be, provisional, leaving oneself open to the possibility that people are more varied than one suspected.

I will also add a remark from a genuine and unquestioned person with autism, Temple Grandin: "What would happen if you eliminated the autism gene from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done."


Here I suggest an addition to the theory of neurotypicality:

Neurotypical Communications Disorder

Many neurotypicals have managed to get by without a very clear understanding of words by perceiving tone of voice and body "language." (An extreme example of this is the horse Clever Hans, who gave the impression of being able to do arithmetic when he was actually interpreting these codes). As can be seen from many Internet discussions, this leaves them differently abled for purely verbal communications. (Some try to use complex typographic imitations of the gestures they lean on in face-to-face meetings.) Perhaps we can set up remedial programs.