Mollie Pittaway gives a neurodiverse perspective on the world in a Medium magazine article. She describes 10 ways autistic people are different to neurotypical people. She makes it clear in the beginning that she doesn’t speak for all autistic people. Pittaway just wants to emphasise cultural differences. Understanding these differences are useful in the workplace for managing and interacting with staff who might be autistic.
Understanding how autistic or neurodiverse people see the world and process information is key to being inclusive in any situation. They don’t need to be the odd one out.
We all have different ways of experiencing the world and interacting with one another. However, sometimes it is difficult to empathise with each other when our experiences are quite different. Pittaway presents ten differences to neurotypical people are briefly outlined below. See the article in Medium for a more detailed explanation.
10 ways autistic people are different
Small talk: This can feel fake or unimportant, because autistic people want to talk about deeper, meaningful things. Consequently, they don’t join in conversations about pop culture, TV shows or sports games. This means they appear shy or aloof.
Eye contact: Eye contact is considered “normal” and courteous to neurotypical people. Pittaway says she loses her train of thought when looking at someone. This makes it look like they are bored or indifferent.
Directness and empathy
Directness: Neurotypical people can deal with ambiguity in communication rather than saying exactly what they are looking for. Pittaway says she needs as much clarification as possible and finds it difficult not to be direct. This can be perceived as being blunt or rude.
Empathy: When someone is upset many neurotypical people listen and talk things through. Pittaway, however, says her way is to talk about her similar experiences as a way to show she understands. Finding the right words is difficult. However, this can be viewed as moving attention to themselves and therefore being selfish.
Social connection: Pittaway says that in comparison to neurotypical people she has a low “social battery”. This means she doesn’t seek frequent social connection such as going to the pub or a party. Recharging her social battery might mean refusing invitations to events.
Interests: Differences are less obvious when it comes to talking about interests. Some autistic people can remember a wide range of facts, but these facts can be boring to others. Everyone has the ability to bore people with their special interests.
Spontaneity: Last minute plans or sudden changes in plan can be challenging for autistic people. Changing routines is difficult and can take extra energy when recharging is required.
Sensory overload: Background noise, traffic, nightclubs and crowding make it a struggle for autistic people to concentrate. They can’t filter the information in the same way as others and just try to hide their distress.
Morals and conforming
Hypermoralism: Autistic people see things in black and white whereas neurotypical people see nuance in things. Pittaway says holding the high moral ground is one of the best traits because they want the best for others. However, they might be seen as the “goody two-shoes” and their concerns are ignored.
Conforming: Going along with the status quo is difficult because autistic people need to understand why things need to be done a certain way. That can make for a lot of questions. This makes it inconvenient for those at the top because it feels like their authority is being questioned.
Pittaway concludes by saying there isn’t any right or better way to communicated. But it is important to respect differences.
The title of the article is 10 Significant ways autistic people are different to neurotypical people. As stated above, this is one person’s experience of being autistic. However, the autism spectrum captures many types of neurodiversity. This is one view.
Neurodiversity is an identity not a disorder
Psychologist John Elder Robison provides a personal view of neurodiversity in his writings. A review of his book in the Psychology Today blog outlines his experience. A key point is that if one in seven children in the US are now identified as neurodiverse, is this really an exception to “normal”? The title of the book is Look me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s.