An Ethnographic Look at Non-Autistic Disorder (NAD)

Warning: Satire.

Taking standards of “normality” and measuring non-autistic behavior and characteristics against an autistic norm turns the tables a bit, and should make us wonder against whose norm are we deciding what is aberrent and a “problem”?

Non-Autistic Disorder is prevalent in our society, estimated to be approximately 90 percent of the population. Troubling deficits in communication, physical movement, and adherence to a herd mentality stifles creativity and individuality. There is no known cure, though millions of research dollars have been appropriated to help change “this population” into something that is a lot less like the way it is.

Non-Autistic People …

  1. May often lie. Examples include “you look great!” (even if the individual looks dreadful) or “I’m fine, thanks” (when not fine) or using a justification for lying by differentiating between a “white” (good) and, presumably, a “black” (bad) lie – and, at this point, we wonder why the “black” lie is apparently so much worse than the “white” lie and how this may have its roots in problematic racial relations and privilege and why nobody considers that.
  2. May often ask for “the truth,” but then become defensive, confused, or even angry when receiving it. Often shows refusal to engage in topics of substance or gravity, demonstrating a clear preference for a superficial, fairly pointless approach to conversation frequently described as “small talk.”
  3. Often insists on performing pointless rituals and interactions that appear to serve no purpose other than fulfilling an unspoken expectation that they be said, such as asking “how are you” and expecting no other answer than “I’m fine” or “good” – and becoming noticeably uncomfortable if someone actually responds with precisely “how she is.”
  4. Insists on frequent and sustained eye contact (we call it “staring” and it’s rude) during conversation, and levy allegations of rudeness or disinterest for those who do not participate in this “communication ritual.”
  5. Insist that “staring at people” is rude.
  6. Can exhibit frank contradictions in statements or expectations, and then be confused or resistant when the contradiction is pointed out.
  7. Dogged insistence and marked inability to be creative by using or placing objects exactly and only for the purposes for which they’ve been told they are to be used, such as a dining table and chairs in “the dining room,” a TV and sofas in “the family [or living] room,” and a bed in “the bedroom.”
  8. Refusal to fully engage the expansiveness of the language by reliance on a vocabulary that can be woefully inadequate and imprecise, such as using the word “scared” to describe a reaction to something that may range from mild unease to uncertainty to disconcertion to panic to sheer and unmitigated terror.
  9. May engage in ethical “double-standardry” (neologism alert) and not see the irony, such as denigrating character flaws of dishonesty on one hand, then, on the other hand, stealing copy paper from the office or not being entirely honest on tax returns.
  10. Lauds the process of “multi-tasking,” inexplicably believing that doing many things at once is both time-saving and performing the job or task completely and with full attention.
  11. Can tune-out external sounds and stimulus, such as being able to hold a phone (or real-life) conversation in a crowded and noisy room. This is truly a super-power and, as such, can be a litmus test to identify the non-autistic.
  12. Appears to enjoy using the phone to chat to people.
  13. Will often send off a “quickie” email without scrupulously reviewing it for content and perceived tone (as a result of #14). Can also have a tendency to merely brush aside the inevitable gaffe of the typo or content oversight that can horrify or appall autistic people.
  14. Frequently mistakes ardor or candor (from autistics) as aggression or anger and will often respond, somewhat sanctimoniously, with disapproval and an accompanying lecture about “tone.”
  15. Exhibit a frequent inability to express their feelings honestly, especially in what they call “social” situations. Examples abound, but a particularly illustrative one is disliking another person but being unable (or unwilling) to state “I don’t like you” directly to that person and instead continue to pretend to “like” that person in subsequent encounters.
  16. Have a strange insistence (obsession?) with showering and wearing deodorant and insisting that everybody else shower and wear deodorant. Every. Single. Day.
  17. At social events, feels most comfortable clutching a drink; otherwise, seems unable to know what to do with the hands (we would suggest stimming, but non-autistic people don’t seem to be able to get the hang of it).
  18. A clumsiness with, or inability to perform, stimming.
  19. Can exhibit unusual tone, rhythm, loudness, or rate of speech, such as concomitantly increasing the volume and pitch of the voice in a crowded room or restaurant to the point that everybody is shouting, or excessively using a rising inflection at the end of sentences … ? — like, everything said is expressed as a question? The latter is more common among non-autistic women, especially in gatherings with other non-autistic women.
  20. Can spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what to wear on a given day and whether one item of apparel “goes with” or “matches” another, or whether it is “fashionable.” Who or what decides the code that constitutes what is eligible to be fashionable is unclear, but it may involve internet sites or magazines featuring excessively thin people with strange and intense expressions wearing improbable garb.
  21. May expend enormous effort on trying to involve everyone in a project to avoid the potential for hurt feelings of exclusion. While this can be admired in one respect (after all, intentionally hurting the feelings of another is spiteful), it can result in endless deferral (the appointing-a-committee-on-committees-for-review-of-the-committee conundrum). When there are things to be accomplished there seems no point in involving those who don’t want to do it – or can’t do it. Rather, the direction is clear: the job has to get done. The primary (and perhaps only) preparatory work is to identify who can and will do it, assign the task, and get on with it.
  22. Often exhibits the Alice in Wonderland Phenomenon: not meaning what they say and not saying what they mean. This can be enormously confusing, and involves the expectation that another person will be able to guess or mind-read or pick-up-from-the-clues what is actually meant behind the words.
  23. Tendency, especially at social events for non-autistic women, to say flirtatious things or act in a coquettish way without any intention of actually wanting an actionable result from these words or actions. Moreover, the enactors can even respond in shock or outrage if an unexpected reaction (such as an outright proposition) occurs as a result of their flirtation. This is very confusing and, at its base level, could be considered “two-faced” or intentionally misleading. The rationale for this behavior is unclear.

Obviously, this list is intended in the spirit of satire – and perhaps not even intended that harshly – to make a social point. On what that point rests, however, is a basic indifference to difference.

What do I, as an autistic person, care if non-autistic people enjoy chatting on the phone or asking “how are you” or spending time deciding on what to wear, or following fashion, or behaving in a certain way at a social event – if that feels comfortable and good to them? Why do I care if they want to take paper from the office and then complain bitterly about corporate theft? If small talk is important and gives them greater enjoyment from life, what business do I have to critique or denigrate it as superficial and shallow?

Go ahead! Clutch that drink at a social event. Use an inflection at the end of your sentence. Spend countless hours being inclusive and making sure everyone’s feelings are OK before moving forward on a project. If those are the things that seem normal and right to you, and they’re not impacting my life too terribly, then what right do I have to comment on them, especially in a way that is nothing short of a denigrative put-down?

We autistics ask for the same consideration. To those who slam our stimming as aberrant behavior, who seek to police our “tone” when we are being blunt and direct, who place us firmly and squarely in a category of “not normal” that, subsequently, needs fixing and correction – we say, please don’t. Consider instead giving more than mere lip service to concepts such as neurodiversity, the strengths found in difference, acceptance, and looking beyond the surface to discover something deeper. Strive to say what you mean and mean what you say. We can strive to better appreciate, if not understand, your need to account for feelings and your actions that are apt to confuse us.

When faced with the default, choose another perspective. A different perspective. Consider that if we are unable to participate in your preferred mode of communication or action or event that there may well be other ways we can contribute just as effectively.

In like spirit, we must strive to consider the same. And, if we can do that, we may all be surprised that despite our differences it’s possible that we are not so fundamentally different after all.

Photo by Sherise VD on Unsplash