Thursday, July 30, 2009

Neurotypical Privelege

Ok for those of you who read this the first time around I'm sorry, I should really stop trying to blog at midnight. I found this awesome post I think is worth pointing out for general viewership: Neurotypical Privilege: A working document

UPDATE newer version

I know this will take some explaining. Neurotypical or neurotypilogical or simply NT for short is a slang word used by people on the autistic spectrum to refer to people not on it without implying a value judgment by the name. That may sound kind of stupid, but it really quite powerful. We are in a democratic society so a premium value is associated with majority traits. So essentially if I use phraseology that someone else is normal and I am unnormal I have relinquished any presumption of equality because normal is considered better. Thus, I can equalize the playing field by using a medical sounding term to describe the dominant social status.

The document linked describes itself (since my tired brain refuses to function right now) as follows:
Based on the important and excellent essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, as well as other,similar lists that have followed, this is the beginning of a version to address the privilege that comes with having no known neurological disorder or disability.

The idea is the reader, coming from outside the movement, reads in explicit text all the things that are assumed for them that if they were of the disadvantaged class they would not get to have. For an example taken from a document on white privilege:

If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.

I have seen various attempts made to develop such a list for the autistic spectrum, but the one I have linked above is the most developed and polished one I've seen yet. Most of it is geared more to the broader autistic culture than to my own corner of it, but a few of the pieces resonated with me fairly strongly. For instance:

I can reveal to my boss and coworkers that I am NT, without fear of losing my job.

Because I have not disclosed my mental status to my employer, my job is much more secure. It forces them to judge me on performance in an equal manner. If I disclosed then any incidence of weakness related to my condition would be singled out leading towards a bias and potential firing.

Another one I liked:
I am not expected to alter or suppress my natural ways of moving, interacting or expressing emotion in most circumstances.

Now granted, I am not typically asked to make any changes. However, that is in a context where I already understand that if I express myself naturally too much, bad things happen. Because I am a valued member of my work community my manager shields me from some of it. However I am aware there have been repeated attempts by others to have me reprimanded for writing in an overly wordy way. Not that I was unclear or unprofessional. Just too wordy. Or there have been times when I have publicly been trying to ask for clarification of a specific detail when I already understand the basic picture but because most people don't care about the level of detail that I do, they assumed I needed to be instructed in the basic picture. To interact with such people, I am expected to change my manner of working with people.

Another item from their list
If I fail to alter or suppress my natural ways of moving, interacting or expressing emotion, I do not fear public ridicule or exclusion because of this.

I do not particularly blame anyone for the effects described in this list. Accommodation is a mutual process that involves trust, disclosure, and adjustment. The problem comes in where I have had experience enough that I cannot achieve that first level of trust with my environment. And this has pervasive impact on me.

For example...

My life has been filled with a never ending train of people who can see my mental capacity a lot clearer than they can see me. I don't particularly mind being smart and being able to help other people as a consequence of being smart. However it can be irritating to have that trait be so obvious that it is the only particular aspect of myself at hand for them to grasp. This was brought to mind particularly strong the other day when several times in a row I had people respond to me making mistakes with a "well it shows your human after all" genre of statements. I'm not trying to present as superhuman or above anyone, but people can end up treating me in an exclusionary rather than inclusive way when they see me like that. It doesn't help you any to have random managers coming up to you with agents in tow saying "I need someone really really really smart to fix this persons problem and you are it."

So in any case, I've had a string of these incidents recently and my brain was trying to maneuver its way out of the problem. For some reason, trying to do my job, have a modicum of conversation with the person sitting next to me while wondering why I was suddenly having an extremely hard time making eye contact during the conversation (not typically a problem I exhibit strongly) was taking up all my brain power. So I just sat there, thinking "I know I used to have a solution to this scenario but I don't seem to know what it is anymore."

Thinking back on the situation now, I recall what the solution is. When someone praised my smarts so much as to irritate me, I would tell them my diagnosis. It works really well actually, a short conversation can transform a persons view of me from "wow I'm talking to a smart person" to "wow, I'm talking to someone who has a unique blend of strengths as weaknesses." So problem solved just go to the person and tell them who I really am? Nope, won't work, because I still can't trust that if I disclose publicly I won't end up with quality monitors with a bias against me. I don't blame myself, my manager, or anyone else for the situation. Its simply fact that unless society were thoroughly ready to accommodate me, I can't take the statistical chance that someone in power over me wouldn't respond in an extremely negative way. And its not just the quality monitors I worry about. Being a very publicized condition right now, there are plenty of people who have made up all sorts of horror stories on the subject so that by going public with it I risk being accused of having poor sexual morality, being a socio path, or a loser looking for an excuse for a lifetime of poor achievement.

Not that there aren't other methods I could deal with this, but most of them are either temporary fixes (I can hang out only with people as nerdy or as smart as myself that my peers cannot marginalize me) or involve conversation skills I am not abounding in. Maybe some other day I'll figure out a good stereotype shattering strategy. Just remember it has to be one that accommodate me finding it difficult to initiate social conversation and even more difficult to control or manipulate the direction of that conversation. To put this in context the last time I can recall seamlessly guiding a conversation out of an awkward point I did it completely on accident, interrupting someone else's conversation they were finding awkward without intending to. And that was probably more than a year ago.

So in the meantime, I'll console myself that I am thought to be very smart. And be thankful that despite not having room to establish trust to the level I'd like, I have a manager who still generally understands what's going on in my head and shields me when things get over my head.

No comments: