Some clarification on terminology etc.

Before I jam my foot in my mouth a few dozen more times with people I'd really rather be on speaking terms with, I should probably clarify a lot of the words I use when discussing... well, people I'd rather be on speaking terms with. I have a degree in sociology (that, and a bunch of other random stuff -- I was such a PITA in college that I eventually just defaulted to a 'build your own' liberal arts bachelors, because nothing else covered everything I did), and there are a lot of places in the social sciences where words that have one meaning in casual writing have another, narrower meaning as technical jargon.

I use the word normal a lot. "Normal" does not mean "ordinary" or "how things should be". It also doesn't imply that "not normal" is wrong or broken. Social science does a lot of work with statistics. When you survey a population, you find that most people in it will react to most things pretty much the same way most of the time. When you plot this stuff on a bell curve, all these people bunch up to form the ginormous hump in the middle. The curve always looks the same, but only rarely do you get precisely the same individuals landing inside that hump in everything, every single time. You can talk about normal people in the aggregate, and you can talk about a theoretical normal person for comparison, but no one actual person is completely "normal". The concept is itself an artifact of the overlap between the mathematics and the social theory.

By definition, about 85% of the population falls inside the big central hump in the curve, and because normal people are so numerically prevalent in societies, they tend to also be normative, which means they are the ones whose behavior defines what is acceptable in that society. It leads to a lot of Catch-22 situations, where a lot of things become norms (the rules for how people think you should behave), strictly because a lot of people do behave that way already, and at no point did anyone think to interject any logic into the process. Different societies develop different norms; some are pretty universal ("no going around killing random people for no reason," is in force just about everywhere, although definitions of 'no reason' depend on where you are and when), and some are not (societies differ on the perceived, practiced, and morally-sanctioned level of discrimination between the sexes, for instance).

The different branches of social and psychological science have pretty widely varying opinions on the vehemence or situational appropriateness of it, but almost all of them practice something called cultural relativism, which is a general practice of judging the actions of an individual by the standards of the society in which they live, and not your own. Personally I have some hard limits along the line of "don't be a dick to other people, especially if they're not being dicks to you," and there are various things that squick me right out -- most of which I discovered via the magic of internet fanfiction, some of it written by authors I sincerely hope to never ever meet in person -- but generally, if you do something I'm not expecting, I'll blink at you, go "huh. that's interesting," and probably ask some damned stupid questions trying to work out where it came from and what it means.

Allistic just means "not autistic", and covers a very wide range of thinking styles. It's a word apparently invented by the autistic community, which I didn't realize existed until one of them showed up and pointed it out, and I appreciate it very much because it's a giant pain in the ass to have to type out "people who are not considered to be on the autistic spectrum" over and over and goddamn over again. So far I haven't gotten the vibe that it's supposed to be insulting to me, although there's no law against being autistic and being an asshole, and I'm sure there are those who spit it out like everything different from them is a bad thing. There are many borderlines between "autistic" and "allistic", depending on the specific situation under discussion, and they're all kind of fuzzy. If you want to know more I suggest asking the autistic folk. Historically, they're pretty high up on the list of "groups of people who will explain what the fuck is going on in their heads when I ask, even if I am in the middle of an endless string of damnfool questions". As opposed to, say, "teenagers", who on the whole will not admit to knowing why they do anything, up to and including breathe.

[Side note: This is probably kind of stupid and maybe rude, but what happens when you get like a dozen I/DDers together in a room? I know everyone's different, but you can still speak meaningfully about "single nerd isolated in the back of a classroom" versus "a dozen nerds together on the floor at a Star Trek convention". The response of most allistic people to being thrown together with other people with whom they have something significant in common is to sit together and interact, but frankly that's kind of the default allistic response to being in a room with anyone or anything they don't immediate loathe or think might axe-murder them when their back is turned. Do you guys suddenly chatter, or are you all so thankful to be around people who don't take it personally if you have to suddenly make space and twiddle your fingers until you calm down that you all carve out your own corners and leave each other peacefully alone? I'm honestly curious.]

Neurotypical is another quasi-theoretical term. It's used for people who do not have any one of about eight jillion medically-recognized varieties of brain-wacky, at least that anyone has noticed yet. It excludes the autists and aspies, but also the ADHDers, schizophrenics, both chronic and manic-depressives, epileptics, the learning disabled, synaesthetics, prosopagnostics, and anyone who has been struck with a stroke, cranial trauma, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, other dementias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, Tourette's, Wernicke's, aphasia/dysphasia, and a lot of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting. It also excludes those who have sensorioneural hearing or vision impairment, even if that doesn't affect their intellectual or emotional functioning. Basically, everyone whose brain doesn't look like the picture in the anatomy textbook. It's useful as a baseline for "typical" functioning, which in practical medicine is often considered to be "proper" functioning, on account of the focus is on how people who are not neurotypical cope with a world built by people who are.

Cohort is another one I use a lot. Sociologically, a cohort refers to a group of people that have one or more specific things in common, usually a sample population for a study or a monograph, without commenting on how they relate in re: other factors. I use it because to say "peers" implies a group which is not only roughly the same age but is also made of people who function intellectually, emotionally, and socially at comparable levels. I had no easily-accessible peers until I was in high school, and very few of them until I hit college. The people the public schools kept trying to throw me in with were my cohort, who shared an age and a rough geographical location with me, but were socially much more aware than I was, and intellectually a few standard deviations below me. A metric fuckton of gifted kids have this issue.

Social scripts are the short, standardized interactions we have with other people. "Hello, how are you?"/"I'm fine, and you?" is a common one. Social scripts are what tell us that we start telephone conversations with "hello", and how to order our coffee in a way the barista is expecting and will understand. Some of them are functional, like the ones for ordering food at a restaurant or for introducing our friends to other people at a party, and some of them exist strictly as a sort of secret handshake used to prove to other people that we are interacting with them in the same social framework they're expecting, like the standard expressions of sympathy you're supposed to give to the victim of a personal tragedy when they tell you about it. Normal people tend to be wedded very, very strongly to the scripts of their society, and go through this sort of cycle of confused -> alarmed -> pissed off if they think you're poking holes in one deliberately. This is most of why people are terrified of meeting someone who's schizophrenic or psychotic, even if the person in question is not acting violently at the time; if they're not only not following scripts but appear to be completely unaware that they're doing anything unusual, normal people lose all ability to read and predict where the interaction is going, and have no assurances that anything from this point forward will be safe.

Some of this stuff, I grok because I have a formal education in it. Some of it I grok because I personally am it, and some of it I grok because I've been in a position that was, in a practical sense, very close to the same thing, even if the reasons behind it were different. So far as I know, I'm not autistic, but I was a very isolated child that suffered many of the same practical social problems. In retrospect, I was never unable to read non-verbal cues, but for a variety of reasons I was unable to use the information I got that way, so outwardly I had the same problems of being continually confused and terrified by other people, and anyone who wanted to interact using standard social scripts and got pissed when I didn't know my lines. I am not neurotypical and have a great big Grab Bag o' Brain Things that the I/DDers will probably think sound very familiar. I haven't bothered telling any professionals about most of them, because I don't really want them gone. I live in this head, and it's always looked like that in here; very little of it bothers me, although I try to be aware when it irritates others. I was bullied a lot because of it, once to the point where I had to switch schools to escape physical danger, and while I don't really bear grudges against the other kids -- they were brutal, but they were also not-yet-fully-socialized children -- there are still a number of adults I'd like to give a piece of my mind.

The one I do occasionally tell professionals about is a tendency towards crippling depression and anxiety -- I think I would in fact like that one gone, but so far the only thing that works consistently is just stopping whatever stressful thing kicked it off and waiting for it to go away again. (I tried antidepressants once. It was an epic experience. Epic enough that I now tell doctors I'm allergic to SSRIs, so their legal department will prevent them trying give me any ever again.) In any case, I decided a long time ago that if removing that part of me took any of the cooler bits with it, I would rather retain the ability to write articulately about being miserable than be a happy, thoughtless twit.

Two of my biggest brain-quirks are a tendency to crawl inside other peoples' heads, about half the time failing to even notice I'm doing it, and a knack for picking up languages (sez the physicist roommate) like other people pick up loose change. I find the combination endlessly fascinating, because it means that I also pick up body language very rapidly, and can translate it into an explicit verbal explanation of what's going on. I find it easy to read a fair proportion of humanity, to the point where one of my hilariously huge anti-superpowers is not realizing when a thing I think is obvious is completely invisible to other people, and inadvertently scaring them with an off-handed comment. People in general do not like learning that they're 'telling' strangers things they thought they were keeping neatly under wraps, and since by the time I've finished my sentence they've already realized I'm way past all the normal stops on that one, and they have no idea exactly what other things I'm spotting and just not talking about.

It's actually one of the reasons I find Sherlock so charming. Sherlock and John in the cab, after Sherlock has explained how he knows a laundry list of things from haircuts and tan lines and phone scratches, is a nice capsule summary of what happens when that conversation goes abnormally -- Sherlock is startled, confused, and a little wary at not getting the normal angry, avoidant reaction of "piss off" and the other person storming away, and John is bewildered because it's never occurred to him that other people would be worried by any of it.


  1. My favourite thing that happens when you put a dozen auties in a room is mutual and shared stimming.
    It's not entirely fool proof, but I find that if I can stim -on- another autie, we're probably gonna be good friends given time. And the best thing about my allistic partner is that they stim -for me- when I'm risking melt-down or shut-down. There is nothing quite like having someone who really doesn't get the first hand experience and they still fiddle with your fingers because it helps. Partner actually does this without prompting, and at first I thought they also liked that particular stim, but they had just picked up on my movements.

    Also, social interaction without fake eyecontact. And flapping.
    All of the above, usually only if it's ONLY autistics, or possibly if there are trusted allistic allies. Segregated special ed. classrooms won't show this dynamic.

    Allistic doesn't carry a value, in the same way autistic doesn't (to the autistics themselves, that is). Although, when self-poclaimed allies start talking about the burden and think of the parents suffering, most of us facepalm and mutter about allistics. I don't think we technically mean anything bad with it.

    1. Well, the parents of autistic kids do technically carry a burden, but I'd have assumed it would be considered the dealing with the schools and other people while the kid is growing up part, rather than the kids themselves. (Schools can be complete asshats when it comes to special accommodations -- the gifted and bullied kids are with you guys there.) There can be communication problems, certainly, but every so often a bog-standard neurotypical kid decides he's just not going to do anything anyone else wants, too -- it's sort of a human thing more than it's anything else.

    2. True. Schools really want the mathematical normal to be the law, methinks.

      It's more the discourse that gives sympathy to parents who murder their autistic children because "it is such a burden and they just snapped, poor mother, loosing their child that way". And usually forgetting that there was a child that was -murdered- in the process. There was a case in California a while back, murder-suicide, a lady killed her adult son and commited suicide afterwards. And one of the members of the major autism "awareness" organisation (their name is sort of like Voldemort, you mention it, they KNOW you talked about them. They have a dude that trawls blogs and silences dissent. He is now a joke in the community. ASAN was thinking of maybe starting to print "Social Media Crisis" on their hoodies.)decided that she wanted to start a helpline because "No mother should have to go though this again". And again, I'm not denying that parents, caretakers, teachers and whatnot get hit with unexpected work, but seriously? This person gives the sympathy and the resources to the person that -killed their adult child- and can't even mention him, the one that was -killed-, whos life ended because his mother decided to murder him, by name?
      Then we facepalm and mutter about allistics. Or allistic peasants [There is a longrunning joke, it involves an Autistic Fiefdom, where children with emotional echolalia needs to learn how to suppress this reaction.]. Or, my personal favourite, "Sorry excuses for human beings".


Post a Comment