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On Talking With Neurotypicals

On Talking With Neurotypicals

Trying to talk with neurotypicals can be a real pain. We all know what often happens, right? Confusion and misunderstandings. Sometimes even hurt feelings. Let’s be honest: It’s practically impossible to talk with neurotypicals, even about the simplest things, without offending them in some way.

We autistics tend to be extremely and precisely logical. Neurotypicals? Not so much. They claim to like logic, but their version of it is usually so cockeyed, convoluted and mixed up with emotion that it can’t accurately be called logic at all. The bottom line is this: They just don’t think like we do, and we don’t think like they do. Almost all the difficulties we run into when we try to communicate with them arise from that one simple fact.
But we want to communicate with them, don’t we? It would be nice if we could at least make a better job of it than we usually do. Perhaps honesty (or the lack thereof) is the biggest problem. We like to be straightforward, to tell the whole truth as we know it, to say exactly what we mean as clearly as we can.
Neurotypicals, to put it politely, have a far more nuanced understanding of honesty. For example, they almost never say exactly what they mean; they like to imply, to suggest; they’ll often leave out the most important part of a message and say the part that matters least of all. Sometimes they’ll even say the opposite of what they mean. In other words, they like to speak in a kind of code, a code we’re somehow supposed to figure out. It’s as though they want communication to be as complex and difficult as possible.
We tend to interpret statements as either true or not true; neurotypicals apparently believe statements can be both true and untrue at the same time! If questioned about the accuracy of a statement, for instance, a neurotypical might answer (maddeningly) that it’s “true in a way.” They especially like to make use of subtext, a level of meaning beyond the literal. To decipher subtext, to have any hope of understanding what neurotypicals are really trying to tell (or hide from) us, to discover what they might actually be thinking and feeling, we need to pay attention not only to what they say (the text) but also to everything else (the context): why they’re saying it, how they’re saying it (and what they aren’t saying). Pay special attention to their faces, particularly to their eyes: where their eyes are looking, and the “look” in their eyes.
Reading a neurotypical’s eyes is often the key to unlocking subtext. And when we’re doing the talking, we should be careful not to focus too much on the explicit meaning of what we’re saying, because in so doing we may inadvertently imply something that offends them. Saying the right thing is always the right thing to do, of course, but sometimes saying the right thing requires a little dishonesty. Telling the exact truth can in fact be the worst thing we can do, like when it hurts a neurotypical’s feelings. Not only is this just a wrong thing to do in general, it also gives her or him the perfect opportunity to turn around and use that same harsh standard of honesty on us. And sometimes, well, it’s just better to keep our big mouths shut.
Let’s say we go to a yard sale being run by a mean greedy old man that nobody likes very much (he doesn’t even buy girl scout cookies!). He’s having the yard sale because he’s selling the big house he just inherited from his uncle, who was also mean and greedy. We spot a ceramic figurine, one we just happen to know is worth a hundred dollars or more but that the mean greedy old man has priced at fifty cents. Should we be truthful and tell him the mistake he’s making?
Hell, no. Snap up that deal. Because while it’s okay to be honest, it’s a mistake to be too honest.

When Neurotypicals Attack Part I

So far we’ve been talking about ordinary neurotypicals (typical neurotypicals), perplexing and annoying perhaps, but usually relatively harmless. Unfortunately we occasionally run into a completely different kind. The only thing we can say for sure about this other type of neurotypical is that something very serious seems to be bothering them. Best guess? They’re tormented by doubts about whether, deep down, they’re okay.
Neurotypicals of this sort are frequently obsessed with status, with winning. They will, for example, often view even the most innocuous social interaction as a contest. Such individuals may try to take advantage of our tendency to accept whatever people tell us as the truth by claiming to be our friends, when in fact they’re really just trying to put something over on us. Be alert and pay attention to what neurotypicals do, not just to what they say. When we see people claiming to be our friends behaving in unfriendly ways, we’ll know they’re not really our friends at all. They’re dirty rotten liars.

When Neurotypicals Attack Part II

What should we do when neurotypicals insult us? Insult them right back, correct? But wait, what if the real purpose of their insult was to make us unhappy? You know, angry, confused, embarrassed, sad, etc. In that case, the only thing retaliation accomplishes is to let them know they’ve succeeded. No, the best way to respond to an insult of this type is to simply demonstrate that it has failed to make us unhappy. Sometimes even just a smile will do.

In Conclusion

Conversing with neurotypicals basically requires us to just accept and acknowledge that they’re (often) much more adept at communication than we are. If we want to communicate with them, perhaps the best thing we can do is to try to accommodate them.
Learn the art of saying what’s true, but not completely true; be trusting, but not too trusting; be precise, but not too precise; be logical, but keep in mind that it takes more than logic to live fully in the world. Pay attention to funny feelings, for instance, for often these are of far greater importance than serious ones. Funny feelings allow us to glimpse (to us) an almost magical realm, one where logic and emotion cease to be two separate things and become two elements of a single thing; where communication can occur without words, and where understanding may be achieved by some means other than by direct conscious thought.
We’ll never be as emotional as neurotypicals, of course, but it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind just how important emotion is to them. And when, because they’re not perfect, they do something we don’t like, overlook it if possible. Because maybe then, when we do something they don’t like…
Illustration of colored-in shapes created by a field of intersecting lines, in a rainbow of colors.
Drawing © Mariah Burley

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