Neurotypical Syndrome and the Double Empathy Problem
May 2, 2021 9:03 AM   Subscribe

The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical first identified Neurotypical Syndrome in 2002. A condition characterized by "preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity," this life-long disorder is complex and has no known cure. Will Rogers goes into detail about some of the hallmarks of Neurotypical Syndrome. Fortunately, recent research into the double empathy problem has revealed new ways in which we might learn to accommodate individuals with this condition.

(Links 1 and 2 are parody. Explanation of the humor.)
posted by brook horse (23 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
 
I lol'd at the title and the website is even better.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Thank you very much for sharing these links. I'm benefitting from the author's perspective and I would never have found them myself.
posted by rpfields at 10:22 AM on May 2


Explanation of the humor.

Thanks, I guess. I was so hoping this was all true! (Although -- Will Rogers? Must be a different one.) And then I was trying to recall which it was, the Myers-Briggs for ISNT. Finally, the truth revealed itself.
posted by Rash at 11:28 AM on May 2


Allism has long been a puzzle with no obvious solution. Why do allistic people (or, as they prefer to be called, people with allism) behave the way they do? We are fortunate that so many brilliant autistic scientists have devoted their careers to unlocking the mysteries of these strange people who live among us.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:56 AM on May 2 [38 favorites]


This is quite good, thank you for the post.
posted by panhopticon at 11:59 AM on May 2


We are fortunate that so many brilliant autistic scientists have devoted their careers to unlocking the mysteries of these strange people who live among us.

The highlight of my scientific career was discovering that allistics don't actually want to know how you're doing when they ask, "How are you doing?" Truly a breakthrough moment in our understanding of the condition.
posted by brook horse at 12:06 PM on May 2 [43 favorites]


"Allism has long been a puzzle with no obvious solution. Why do allistic people (or, as they prefer to be called, people with allism) behave the way they do? We are fortunate that so many brilliant autistic scientists have devoted their careers to unlocking the mysteries of these strange people who live among us."

This has to be a quote from the future.
This is the cutest thread today
posted by firstdaffodils at 12:37 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


The highlight of my scientific career was discovering that allistics don't actually want to know how you're doing when they ask, "How are you doing?"

And you can end most interactions just by saying, "I'm fine, how are you?" and then just go on your way. No muss, no fuss. Allistics respond very well to scripts, I've found.
posted by LindsayIrene at 12:48 PM on May 2 [32 favorites]


These are great links; thank you for posting them, brook horse. I’m going to pass them along to my colleagues—there are a bunch of us reflecting on our teaching practice and reading up on universal design for learning, and these will be good additions to our reading list.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:59 PM on May 2


There is no known cure for Neurotypical Syndrome.

However, many NTs have learned to compensate for their disabilities and interact normally with autistic persons.

posted by doctornemo at 2:46 PM on May 2


The highlight of my scientific career was discovering that allistics don't actually want to know how you're doing when they ask, "How are you doing?" Truly a breakthrough moment in our understanding of the condition.

One of my favorite new vocabulary words the last couple of years was phatic.
posted by thelonius at 3:02 PM on May 2 [6 favorites]


I've been working on pushing past my allistic limitations by experimenting with innovative ways to respond to phatic cues. Early results show that tone is much more important than specific phonetic content. For example, when asked "How are you going?" I've seen results from responding "Blng, fnks" that are completely indistinguishable from those achieved with "Good, thanks" provided only that I intonate the former the same way I'd usually intonate the latter.

This works on dogs as well. Alfie will sit when I tell him "Hnnt!" as long as I get the tone right.
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 PM on May 2 [6 favorites]


It bothers me that NT people are fragile and often can't adapt to a world that doesn't cater to them, and their strange limited expectations. It seems like they default to being upset.

I mean so much of what NT people say to each other seems to be about signaling membership and station in an arbitrary hierarchy or proactively soothing people so they don't grow angry. It's appeasement. And it's not according to who needs soothing, it's consistently the same people who benefit, those at the top, who get the most benefit, and those at the bottom, who do the most work and put in the most effort, the least. People often genuinely don't know how to help others, because they spend so much time considering how to do this appeasement, and very little time or effort towards actually dealing with problems.

It doesn't seem very logical or fair. I am not happy about this situation, nor am I optimistic that things will get better.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 12:41 AM on May 3 [11 favorites]


allistic people

You mean it's not OK for me to shout 'normie!' at these people in the street any more?
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:33 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]


"I'm sorry to tell you ma'am, but your son shows clears signs of being basic."
posted by bonehead at 5:41 AM on May 3 [10 favorites]


This will probably not be a popular opinion but speaking as someone who is very much not neurotypical himself (chronic mental illness and severe head trauma is an interesting cocktail), I kind of hate this discourse to be honest. I love the double empathy idea and I firmly believe that non-neurotypical people (myself included) have every right to exist as themselves in society without fear, but some of the traits being discussed here actually are maladaptive in a society where the vast majority of people do not have them. I understand the appeal of framing it as society's fault for not being more enlightened, and in a lot of cases that's totally correct, but sometimes neurological difference really is an actual barrier to dealing with "normal" people (who like it or not are, again, the vast vast majority). I don't think it's ever okay to position neurotypical people as somehow being morally better or more correct in an objective sense, and I don't think it's right to say that anybody "shouldn't" be the way they naturally are, but I don't think it makes sense to say that these labels somehow refer to completely value-neutral tribes either.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:15 AM on May 3 [9 favorites]


OverlappingElvis, I'm curious what traits you would identify as actually maladaptive, and why, if you're willing to share. I can't really comment more specifically about that idea without knowing what traits you're talking about in specific.

I would also push back on your "vast majority" comment and direct you to research on the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP), which has shown that these traits exist at a subclinical level in a significant portion of the population (lowest estimates are 5%, highest estimates are 23%). That said, even if that weren't true, current estimates place autistic adults at 2.2% of the United States population. That's a prevalence equivalent to or higher than transgender individuals (0.39%), Deaf individuals (0.22%), Chinese-Americans (1.5%), Native Americans (2.4%), and many other cultural groups we recognize have attitudes, values, and behaviors that may differ or even create conflict with the "vast majority" and yet still deserve to be respected. (US numbers because that's what I have on hand--but I'm sure similar math can be done with any other country.)

Society works because we learn to interact with people with traits different from our own. How we decide who has to adapt and learn about those differences is a question of power. It is certainly easier to decide that everyone should adjust to what the "vast majority" experiences, rather than the other way around, but I disagree, as do many individuals working to overturn all sorts of power structures instituted by the majority.
posted by brook horse at 11:25 AM on May 3 [16 favorites]


I'm not really interested in making this about me, or in having you label me as an oppressor, but here's one example that stuck out for me from the "Neurotypical Syndrome" article:
The majority of neurotypicalistic people tend to laugh when nothing is funny. In addition, these people may talk and laugh loudly and make other kinds of unnecessary noise.
Etiquette around laughter and standards of humor vary widely across places and times, but as far as I know they exist across all human cultures and I believe they are naturally evolved behaviors that serve important social functions, and being unable to access that in the statistically "normal" way can be and is a huge limitation for people living in a socially constructed world.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:35 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Thanks for that example. I'd like to note that that section is, to my read, about "inappropriate" laughter, not humor in general. Autistic people have access to many forms of humor, and both employ and receive them successfully. The specific described behaviors are "courtesy laughter" (laughing when it isn't funny) and loud laughter. There are plenty of ways to access humor without those specific manifestations.

But that aside, the central idea seems to be that autistic people have a statistically abnormal relationship to various social norms. This is true, but this does not mean that it has to be a barrier. I have a statistically abnormal understanding of tone and expression. This is not a barrier to me because I make a habit of regularly checking in with people about how they're feeling and what they mean, and my friends and family know to state things directly to me. It is only a problem when a neurotypical refuses to tell me what they mean/feel because I should be able to tell from their face/expression.

Many cultural groups relate to social norms in ways other than the statistically "normal" one and function just fine. Especially now that we are acknowledging diversity and educating the majority so that they do not immediately judge people who interact with social norms differently from them. Autistic people are asking for the same courtesy. Our social norms are different from allistics, but that does not make them inferior, nor does it mean we need intervention to force us to assimilate into the majority's norms. Particularly given the "vast majority" is not so vast when you include all the other people who are not autistic but "gel" with autistic social norms, including many people with ADHD, the aforementioned BAP, and just everyone who prefers their social communication quieter, more straightforward, and less assumptive.
posted by brook horse at 12:45 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


I experience phatic discourse as a means of discharging personal energy to make a gateway for shared energies. I experience myself as a container for energy I share as I direct. It seems to me many people are overwhelmed by being and failure to understand how it works. So, in an agitated state surrounded by the misunderstood energies of others, and yet drawn to them by existential physics, people make small talk, preparatory to drinking it all away, so they can find someone with a solid, similar interest. While others who are energy fluent hang on to their weeping guitars, or make more organized noise, along to the guitar notes and rhythms. "Five to one, and one in five, no one here gets out alive."
posted by Oyéah at 2:42 PM on May 3


As a person on the spectrum, this isn't funny. It's not funny because 'ha ha autistic people don't have a normal sense of humor' it's not funny because it seems to be a long setup for a joke whose punchline is "I'm allowed to be an asshole because i'm autistic".
posted by kzin602 at 3:33 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


LindsayIrene: And you can end most interactions just by saying, "I'm fine, how are you?" and then just go on your way. No muss, no fuss. Allistics respond very well to scripts, I've found.

I have trouble with such scripted rituals. This leads me to suspect that I may not be quite allistic enough for them.
I tend to have trouble with the scripted 'How are you?', which is something that I fortunately don't hear on a regular basis because we don't do that in the Netherlands.
Some alternative replies that do work for me are neutral things like 'Same as always' and 'Oh, you know, ups and downs' which most people seem to be able to handle, and can feel more true to me at times. If you say these in a light tone, they generally go over well.

There is an exception that can happen if you are talking to people with a less than firm grasp on English. They tend to expect the standard 'Fine, thank you, how are you?' in reply, and will sometimes repeat the question until they receive the correct answer.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:10 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I always used to say “Tired. You?” People apparently thought oddly of me, which I found out after years of saying it. I got used to lying instead. Then 2020 hit and everyone is saying it.

I was ahead of my time, I suppose. Funny thing is that now with stay at home orders, my life has improved drastically, and I can finally answer with “I’m fine” or “I’m good” honestly!
posted by brook horse at 5:53 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


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