- Cameron Mazzeo MSW, LCSW
Neurotype Networking: How Neurodiverse Individuals Are Just as Social as Neurotypicals
Posted March 8th, 2023
Written by Mx. Rowan Quinn
There’s a prevailing belief that Neurodiverse people, especially those on the Autism Spectrum, are asocial or even antisocial. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Several studies have shown that pairs of different neurotypes struggle to bridge the communication gap in actions considered “social norms”. However, when same neurotype participants are paired, those communication gaps vanish. In some studies, the neurodiverse pairs were perceived as the more easily communicative pairs, even over the neurotypical pairs. Clearly Neurodiverse people don’t struggle to interact, so why the misconception?
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The way anyone interacts with others is directed by neurotype. But different neurotype “languages”, so to speak, are all equally valid. Unfortunately, society currently requires neurodiverse individuals to learn to “speak neurotypical” – a practice that is harmful to both neurodiverse and neurotypical participants. Neurodiverse individuals feel they cannot be themselves or cannot devote their full attention to listening. It also often leads to significant levels of social anxiety, and fears of being misunderstood, that can deteriorate one’s mental and emotional health.
On the other side of it, neurotypicals often don’t take the time to learn neurodiverse social cues, making them feel ignored or unheard, leading to feelings of hurt or anger at the other party for either not keeping up with neurotypical social cues, or focusing so hard on “looking” like they’re listening that they don’t fully process the message. All of which is easily remedied by not having the only acceptable social cues be neurotypical ones, or learning neurodiverse social cues as equally normal and valid.
Currently, the brunt of the work falls on neurodiverse individuals to “mask” – act out the cues neurotypicals look for manually, even when unnatural or uncomfortable to do. Masking takes a lot of mental energy and emotional labor, often leaving the one masking feeling drained, exhausted, or even fully burnt out. This can leave those individuals with lethargy, executive dysfunction, and even many symptoms of depression.
So, what are we to do to make these interactions easier?
For neurotypical individuals, seeking training or understanding of how other neurotypes is the best option. Challenging one’s expectations is helpful for neuroplasticity – or how healthy and easily adaptable your brain is – as well as a major help to making yourself more approachable, more easily understood, more effective at communicating, and generally just helping society be a little more accepting of different neurotypes. There are plenty of Autistic-lead and Neurodiverse-lead groups that do both formal and informal trainings on awareness and acceptance, differences in communication styles, and more. Autism Self-Advocacy Network, Neurodiversity Network, Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, and Neurodiversity Hub are great places to start. Most resources, trainings, and courses are free.
For Neurodiverse individuals, having a self-care plan is paramount. Taking time for oneself, allowing stimming when possible, and having a good support network are all important. Those same networks have resources for neurodiverse folks as well, among many other resources. There are even full support groups for neurodiverse individuals to be able to stop masking and just exist as themselves. Seeking out fellowship, community, and social support is always a great way to feel seen, heard, and understood. A lesser-known meditation style often called “Mindful Movement” may also be helpful. Instead of sitting still, trying to empty one’s mind or focus on a single thing, it focuses on doing a task mindfully. Anything from cleaning, to creating art, to simply pacing or taking a walk, counts.
Catherine J. Crompton, Martha Sharp, Harriet Axbey, Sue Fletcher-Watson, Emma G. Flynn, and Danielle Ropar. "Neurotype-Matching, but Not Being Autistic, Influences Self and Observer Ratings of Interpersonal Rapport." Frontiers in Psychology (2020). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.586171/full.
Lowri, Catrina. "What are neurodivergent masking and burnout?" Neuroteachers 25 April 2022. https://www.neuroteachers.com/post/what-are-neurodivergent-masking-and-burnout.
Milton, Damian. "On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy." Kent Academic Repository (2012). https://kar.kent.ac.uk/62639/1/Double%20empathy%20problem.pdf.
Radulski, Beth. "Different Listeners Listen Differently: Crossing the Neuro-cultural Divide." Linkedin 11 May 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/different-listeners-listen-differently-crossing-divide-radulski/?trk=public_profile_article_view.
Rebecca Joy Stanborough MFA, Alex Klein PsyD. "Autism Masking: To Blend or Not to Blend." Healthline 19 November 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/autism-masking.
Team, Mindworks. "Meditation in Motion." Mindworks n.d. https://mindworks.org/blog/meditation-in-motion/.
Yu-Lun Chen, Kristie Patten. "Student-Peer Neurotype Match Rather than Autistic Diagnosis Predicts Peer Connection Density and Strength in Autistic and Non-Autistic Adolescents in an Inclusive School Club." ResearchGate (2021). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351346722_Student-Peer_Neurotype_Match_Rather_than_Autistic_Diagnosis_Predicts_Peer_Connection_Density_and_Strength_in_Autistic_and_Non-Autistic_Adolescents_in_an_Inclusive_School_Club.