Putting In The Effort

I’ve written before about how much I’ve been enjoying my sociology class, and that enjoyment has continued as the semester has progressed. There are only three weeks left of classes, and while I’m looking forward to having a break, I’m going to miss this one. The readings were well chosen, and we’ve had some great discussions about them.

I haven’t liked my psychology class as much, but I attribute that primarily to the structure of it as an online class, and to frustrations with the textbook. It’s also a little too basic, given my earlier familiarity with a lot of the material; a psych class in high school got me hooked on learning about how humans work, and it’s been a fascination for me ever since.

That’s mostly because explicitly learning about this stuff has really helped explain so many things that didn’t make sense to me intuitively. I feel like I’ve always been something of a social scientist, making observations, forming hypotheses, and testing out different approaches. Other autistic people have expressed similar feelings; perhaps the most famous is Temple Grandin’s description of herself as being “an anthropologist on Mars,” trying to figure people out. Many of us analyze our every interaction, looking to crack the code.

The thing that strikes me most about that right now is how much effort we put into this whole human interaction thing. And it really is a ton of effort: the amount of processing that goes into even casual social interactions can be exhausting, and the mental strain that results is often a big factor in autistic burnout. Plus the time it takes to get things “right” can easily lead to social anxiety, as the cumulative weight of failed interactions starts to add up.

So why is there still a pervasive stereotype that says autistic people are not interested in social interaction? Certainly, some of us aren’t; we’re a varied bunch, after all. But as a generalization, it falls far short of the reality, and I think the sheer volume of effort we put into every interaction gives an indication of how short it falls. And given that some new research shows that neurotypical people are less interested in interacting with autistic people based on superficial first impressions and social judgments, it’s past time we stopped placing all the blame for social difficulties on the autistic side of the interaction. We are putting in the effort. I think we should get some credit for that.

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Divergence and Diversity

There are two terms I sometimes see people get mixed up when talking about autistic (or otherwise non-neurotypical) people. Those terms are neurodivergent and neurodiverse (used as adjectives), or neurodivergence and neurodiversity (used as nouns). Others have explained the differences before, of course, but I wanted to walk through my own thinking on the matter.

Neurodivergent is used to describe an individual (or homogeneous group) whose neurotype diverges from what is considered typical. There are several ways in which to be neurodivergent: one might be autistic, ADHD, or dyslexic, to give just a few examples. Neurodiverse would then describe a group of people with a diversity of neurotypes represented.

So an individual would not be considered neurodiverse — she would be neurodivergent, and possibly part of a neurodiverse group. But if a group consists solely of individuals with the same type of neurodivergence, it wouldn’t properly be called neurodiverse. A monocropped field of some rare strain of wheat might be different from the norm, but it is still not a diverse ecosysem.

A similar distinction holds for the noun forms of the words: neurodivergence describes a particular neurotype that is different from neurotypical, while neurodiversity is created by the presence of multiple different neurotypes. So the former describes an individual neurotype, while the latter describes a group with more than one neurotype included (such as the human race as a whole).

As a brief aside into another language peeve of mine, it should become clear from considering these terms that not being autistic doesn’t necessarily make someone neurotypical; they could be otherwise neurodivergent. That’s the value of the word “allistic,” which explicitly means “non-autistic.” Neurotypical people are allistic, but not all allistics are neurotypical.

Actually, to pick a few more nits, it’s debatable whether any individual truly is “neurotypical.” Typical, like normal, is a statistical thing; the “perfectly typical” brain probably doesn’t exist in the real world, and certainly there are variations among people who would all be considered “neurotypical.” My therapist likes to use the phrase “more neurotypical,” which I think is more accurate, and I also like Luke Beardon’s references to the “predominant neurotype,” or PNT, in Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults. Treating it as simply that which is most common takes away some of the lingering associations with what is “normal,” which is usually a short step away from what is “proper” or “correct.” It still ends up being the baseline from which other neurotypes “diverge,” but at least it’s a step toward seeing our differences as part of a healthy, diverse human ecosystem.

Still Flowing

Well, it’s going to be another short-post week this week. I said last weekend that I expected this week to feel long, even though the workweek was short, but it actually flew by, and the weekend was no exception. I got almost everything done that I wanted to do, but now that it’s Sunday evening I don’t have a whole lot of brain space left for thinking up a blog post.

I’m actually really looking forward to Thanksgiving week, because my husband and I stay home, and it’s a nice long weekend to catch up on things. Things usually get hectic again after that, and now I’ve got end-of-semester stuff to look forward to, on top of holiday preparations, so…yay?

But for now, things are still flowing. Onward!

Water swirling down a waterfall and past bare rocks in late-afternoon autumn light.

Recharging My Batteries

…is not something I did this weekend. In fact, I need a weekend after this weekend, but I’m not going to get one. At least I do have this Friday off (for Veterans Day), so it’ll be a short work week, but I expect it to feel long instead.

I visited family this weekend, including going to a wedding reception for my cousin. I hadn’t gone to any family functions in a while, so it was good to see people (although everyone’s kids had grown roughly six feet taller, so I didn’t recognize any of them) but it was also very loud, the food arrived late, and everyone was very huggy. Focusing on conversations against a background of loud music and lots of other conversations took a lot of energy.

Overall, though, it was a really good visit — I got to spend time with my parents and sister, and the dogs were really well behaved. I even got some study time in, so I’m not too far behind my usual weekly schedule. I’m just wiped out now, after the three-hour drive home in a rainy drizzle.

Last week I was actually very good about being aware of my energy and anxiety levels, and postponed starting on a new work project that could have started on Thursday, because I had a lot of things to get done before heading out for the weekend. Of course, that project was postponed until tomorrow, so I can’t really take the same steps this time, but at least I did get a lot of things wrapped up before the weekend so they won’t be hanging over my head this week. Just the usual load of work, school, and personal projects — but I’ve gotten used to managing that, and I can find little ways to recharge as I go.

And that starts right now, with a relaxing rest-of-my-Sunday. Hope you’re having a good one! 🙂