Am I Neurotypical?

I just finished reading “Asperger Syndrome in the Family: Redefining Normal” by Liane Holliday Willey.
I’ve recently learned that significant family members most likely have high functioning Aspergers syndrome. Suddenly my life history has changed with this new perspective.

And the obvious question for some of us is – what about me? Liane defines non-aspergers as Neurotypical (NT). A phrase I’ve heard in other books on autism (which I’ve ben devouring for almost 15 years – without every recognizing the pattern in my own life). Sometimes truth is too close to know.

I’ve always had significant empathic abilities, so that immediately rules out any form of autism for me. I am considering that overdevelopment of that function may be something that occurs with NTs who grow up parented by Asperger parents. I suppose it is one of the things I’ll learn as this exploration continues.

In previous posts I’ve talked about labels and differing perceptions. I suppose that having family members who have atypical brain chemistry is part of my attraction/interest/awareness of the issue. So as I was reading the book I made a list of some of the atypical ways my brain functions.

Am I neurotypical? I suppose, with some odd twists and turns. I’d like to discover which may be by products of environment (compensating for atypical family members) which are random defects, which may be a differing form of brain malfunctioning which could be linked to the genetic component of having this disorder in the family, even if I apparently skipped the actual full blown syndrome.

Honestly writing it down, exposing the ideas, beginning the communication about it all I hope will help.

Here is my list.

The most perplexing thing that comes to mind right away is my difficulty with face recognition and connecting faces and names. I am much more impaired than most people I know, and it is compounded by meeting a lot of people every week. But even with people I know I have trouble describing faces, and it is rare that I see “family resemblance” that people talk about.

I have keen awareness of rules and order – relying on them, but also deliberatly choosing when and where to go against them but only if they seem wrong. I wouldn’t break a good rule, and I’ll fight to change rules that seem wrong. I’ve enjoyed reading Robert’s Rules of Order cover to cover a couple of times. I can read policy manuals just for fun.

As a child, I was always aware of the consequences of actions, before what is developmentally normal. I was the nerd in the group who would point out the dangers and risks of what we were about to do. I wasn’t popular. I always knew how my parents and other authorities would respond to something, and it influenced my behavior. Even in first and second grade I was seriously responsible.

It wasn’t until 7th grade, when we moved back to Ann Arbor, that I relalized I could choose friends. In Ithaca it was who was there. And they were mean and cruel to me often. It was a revelation to come to Ann Arbor and find some people I liked and who liked me and to then hang out.

I have synesthesia – I feel what I see, and see what I feel. As if they are combined and crossed. An unusual disorder, but a bit more common than you’d think.

Simple neurotic stuff – I over prepare for trips and new experiences, I dislike certain fabrics, can’t tolerate anything on my neck, don’t like socks and shoes, and am uncomfortable sitting on a bed in street clothes unless there is a blanket or cover on it. I watch people on TV climb in between the sheets with their clothes on and feel creeped out.

I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what to wear and what goes with what. I choose clothes for comfort and often forget to match things.

I am mostly lost with art and dance with occasional breakthroughs. I’ve been to dance performances and I felt I was the only one in the audience who had no idea what was happening or why.

I have always had greater than normal empathy and strangers tend to easily tell me their stories and personal experiences.

I find it nearly impossible to write legibly, and when I have to the process is almost painful.

In tests I’ve ended up well above the 95th percentiles for spatial understanding and IQ, leading one career test to conclude I should be a naval officer. Or lawyer.

I take “how are you” very literally every single time. I tend not to respond, and if I ask it I actually would like to hear a true answer. But I cringe a little every time someone asks it as a throwaway question. I would think that after a few thousand times I wouldn’t still have that response.

Am I neurotypical? I think so. But things like facial recognition and synesthesia also mean that there is some atypical stuff going on as well. Maybe there are links with the other stuff, but from talking to so many people about their oddities and foibles I actually otherwise think I could use the phrase “near normal” at least as far as spectrum disorders are concerned.

Now what?
More reading, more talking with family members, more writing about reframing early childhood experiences, and it turns out a bit of grief work around the loss of emotional connections and support. It is a fascinating process. The last few weeks I’ve been caught up in the new insights this provides, today I mostly feel the grief.

The book I mentioned at the top gives a very positive view of Aspergers, the author has that syndrome herself. I agree. The world is a far better place with the mix of syndromes and disorders all having their unique strengths and weaknesses strangly linked.

But all the better when we are aware, able to balance, and to have the conversation about what it can mean.

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