Being Ordinary is Genetic – It’s Not Your Fault!

The book “The Autist’s Guide to the Galaxy – navigating the world of ‘normal people'” is written for neurodiverse people living among neurotypicals. Through facts, interviews, tips and tests, Clara Törnvall, diagnosed with autism in adulthood, provides the reader with insight into the world of ordinary, neurotypical people.

Do you find it difficult to speak your mind, perceive details or find things that truly engage and interest you? Do you struggle in situations where others are silent? Do you use your imagination to reinterpret what others are saying? Do you live with a constant fear of being excluded from social communities and often worry about what others think of you? Do you think that most people mean something else than what they are actually saying? 

If many of these statements are true for you, the risk is high that you may be neurotypical. The definition of a neurotypical person is a person without ADHD/ADD or autism.

Research shows that about 90% of all people fulfill the criteria for the neurotypical syndrome. But being normal, common or ordinary is not something that you choose. It has biological causes and very little to do with upbringing or childhood events. 

Being neurotypical is not a mental condition per se, but rather a brain profile, a way of functioning in the world. There is no medication to cure it, and the condition is often lifelong.

Am I being ironic when I’m changing the perspectives?

A little sure. But there is something here, isn’t it? As an autistic person, I genuinely believe that the neurotypical way is not the only way to be a human. Just because they outnumber us does not automatically mean that their way of life is superior and more desirable.

Allowing the autistic person to be the norm for a while is revealing.

Because, by changing the perspectives, we expose how neurodiverse people are described. Constantly deviating, often problematized. Someone who “struggle” with things and “need support”.

But if two people misunderstand each other, why is only one considered in need of support? 

The simple answer is that the norm is adapted to the majority. If a behavior is common in a population, it won’t be classified as a disability since almost everyone behaves in the same way. 

Most neurotypicals assume that everyone functions the same way as they do. But the misunderstandings that can arise between autists and neurotypicals are not solely the autist’s responsibility.

How ordinary people are wired?

I’d say roughly like this:

Group dynamics. Neurotypicals are often preoccupied with belonging to a group or being part of a context. They strive for consensus and pay a great deal of attention to what other people think. This makes them less resistant to peer pressure.

Automatic camera. The neurotypical brain filters sensory impressions and places them into predefined categories. Much like an automatic camera programmed for holistic pictures.
That is why they perceive the context first and the details later. They notice the haystack but miss the needle. This makes them miss important details or liable to draw premeditated conclusions.

Sensory Insensitivity. They can hang out in loud, chaotic, brightly lit environments with disturbing odors and eat food with strange textures. And wear uncomfortable clothes without being the least tortured by it.

Subtitles. When neurotypicals communicate verbally, they assume that the words mean more than what’s actually being said. For them, what’s said is part of a global context.
That is why, when talking to others, they often expect additional, hidden messages. This makes them vulnerable to over-interpreting what neurodiverse people feel or mean. 

Ambiguity. Neurotypicals often struggle with being direct or speaking in plain language. They can therefore become inexplicably angry, perhaps if you as a neurodivergent person have missed some hidden signal that they claim was “implicit.”

Difficulties expressing needs. Neurotypicals struggle with “telling it like it is” and expressing what they want to say without making verbal detours or paraphrasing.
That’s why they may claim that you “should have seen or sensed” how they felt or reacted in a certain situation or that you “should understand” that they are sad without them even telling you this. 

The intent of a conversation. Neurotypicals don’t always talk primarily to convey or pass over information. Sometimes they talk just to establish associations between perceived positive values. Also to show support for others or evoke a sense of group cohesion. Or just to feel that they exist.
Their verbal communication can therefore lack content, be vague and contradictory, making it quite difficult to decipher.

Lying. Neurotypicals don’t only think it’s normal to lie. Not only do they lie to themselves, but they also expect others to lie to them.
They often say that it’s wrong to lie, but clearly, they don’t really mean this. A certain kind of lie is accepted because they are considered necessary. And if you lie to create a positive effect it apparently doesn’t count as lying.

Arbitrary agreements. Neurotypicals often talk about “unwritten rules” for social interaction these are rarely consistent and change all the time depending on the situation.
Since they have no problem with transitions or adjustments, they are allowed to change agreements without being considered unreliable.

Neurotypical language

A small glossary of the neurotypical language:

“Well then.” or “It was nice to see you” can mean:
-> I want to end our conversation.

“We should meet soon and have a coffee/lunch” can just as easily mean
-> That they will not contact you.

“Tell me EVERYTHING!” – They don’t mean everything. They mean:
-> Summarize what happened and focus on the most important, funniest, and most surprising.

“How are you?” From which perspective and compared to when? thinks about the autistic person and wants to give an honest, exhaustive answer. It’s not necessary. Just answer:
-> Good, you? This phrase is more of a sound than a genuine question.

“I hear what you’re saying.” Not primarily a confirmation that they are listening, but more a way to move on. It means something like:
-> I disagree with you and don’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I would like to suggest…” or “It would be great if you could…” Just plainly means: 
-> Do this!

“I was surprised that you…” Equals: 
-> You are insane.

When they say: “You didn’t have to.” It does not mean that they don’t want the gift, but rather
-> that they are equally grateful and embarrassed about the attention.

Oversensitive neurotypicals

Finally, as a neurodivergent person, do you often get that you are “oversensitive”?
Well, neurotypicals are too.

Here are just some of the things that neurotypicals are oversensitive to:

  • You don’t participate in the conversation.
  • You use the wrong tone when speaking.
  • You don’t want them to touch you.
  • You don’t want to eat certain foods.
  • You wear earplugs or headphones among people.
  • You stim openly.
  • You don’t follow the same traditions as they do.
  • You question their authority.
  • You correct them when they say or do the wrong thing.
  • You tell the truth when you shouldn’t.
  • You give too many facts that they didn’t ask for.
  • You ask them to be quiet because their talk overwhelms you.
  • You ask too many questions when they express themselves unclearly.

So, is it impossible for neurotypicals to change?

Can’t they learn to mask to relieve autists a bit? 
Yes, they can. The problem is that they often lack the motivation because there are so many of them. They simply don’t need to. There are exceptions, but they almost always have autists in their families. 

But don’t despair! Most of them do their best. And autism is complicated and difficult. We must give them some time. And continue to remind them of their own characteristics.

Clara Törnvall is an author and journalist. Her latest book “The Autist’s Guide to the Galaxy – navigating the world of ‘normal people'” is available in Swedish and will be released in English on July 30, 2024.

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