12 November, 2010

12. Bird brains

The classic example of impaired "social skills" in people with "Asperger's" is a person who constantly talks about their favorite subject, and doesn't notice other people's boredom or discomfort. I will explore this by presenting two people who like to talk differently.

Tobias likes to receive a lot of information at once, or give a lot of information at once. When talking to Jake, Tobias will try to talk about his favorite subject, roadkill, and doesn't notice that Jake is indicating he is bored, which he is showing by checking his watch, sighing, and trying to change the subject.

Jake likes to joke around and talk briefly about various subjects. He will ask Tobias how he is doing, then switch the topic to his own family and friends, then just as quickly make a joke that he hopes Tobias will laugh at and build on. Jake doesn't notice that Tobias finds all the agitating and confusing, and is expressing his feelings by humming, rocking around, and constantly changing the subject back to roadkill.

Jake and Tobias have different brains, but they're both acting the same. Neither person is observant about how the other person might be feeling; neither puts forth the effort to have the kind of conversation that the other person might like.

However, if a professional observed Jake and Tobias and wrote a report, the report would be about how Tobias couldn't relate to the "typically developing" or "neurotypical" Jake. Jake kept trying to have a give-and-take conversation with Tobias, but Tobias wasn't having it. The professional might even conclude by saying what a nice person Jake is for being friends with someone like Tobias.

But in fact, even if Jake is being "nice" by wanting to be friends with someone different from him, they're both failing each other in the same way. This is why I don't like the words "neurotypical" or especially "typically developing." People plug those words in to be politically correct, but if they still are framing interactions between "typically developing" and "special needs" people this way, then the words they really mean are normal and defective.


  1. This is interesting. I can see what you're talking about here.

    I'm sort of in between John and Tobias. I mean, I don't like to be talked at, but I think I like to go on and on and on. Though I think I mostly don't do that in real life. So I guess I like to monologue, but I don't like to be the monologee. Which is not only a neologism, but is probably hypocritical of me. Except I don't really monologue in real life anyway.

  2. I don't think it's derogatory to call myself (or others) atypical. It's accurate, I'm in the minority in terms of how my brain works and how I relate to the world, and I've never thought of "typical" as being some really value-laden term-- it's better than, like, "undamaged." Whereas "defective," to me, carries connotations of badness, wrongness, and incompetence, "atypical," contrasted with "typical," just connotes oddness or unusualness. And I...like that. Also, "neurotypical" gives me a simple, non-cumbersome, neutral way of saying "people who aren't developmentally disabled or autistic or bipolar or epileptic or learning disabled or ADHD and don't have some other sort of brain-based disability I forgot to list, either."

  3. I don't care what terms disabled people use. I just don't particularly appreciate professionals using supposedly neutral terms like typical, when they do not have a neutral relationship to their disabled and non-disabled subjects or students or clients.