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  • Writer's pictureJeunese Payne

A Thought Experiment: What if Autism was the Norm?

Updated: Jun 10,marking%20one%20condition%20as%20abnormal.

Excerpt from Andrew Main's (Zefram) 2003 parody paper: "Allism: An introduction to a little known condition", which pathologises the non-autistic (allistic) mind in the same way that the autistic mind is described in the real world. For the full document, visit

Imagine if the majority of people had an autistic mind, making the non-autistic (allistic) mind the neurominority.

Things like having well-defined goals and using clear, unambiguous language wouldn't be considered 'having to make adjustments', just... normal working practices.

We'd be focussing instead on the allist's inability to see the details or to work methodically. We'd wonder why they don't get stuck into a task or topic until it's finished. Are they lazy? Are they cognitively impaired? Why do they need so many breaks?

But we wouldn't offer help that allists might benefit from, like access to free, high-quality mental health services that help them deal with the anxiety and depression they've developed after years of rejection. Or education and training for colleagues. Or schemes at schools to start developing societal empathy and acceptance of diversity.

Instead, we'd chastise them for not engaging in social skills training that makes interacting with them a little easier for us, regardless of how exhausting it is for the onus to always be on them.

Some might feel sorry for allists. After all, allists are more more easily affected by others' emotions, often unconsciously mimicking them and unable to separate the emotions of others from their own. They also fall prey to cognitive and social biases more easily, like group-think, confirmation bias, and the halo effect, making them easier to manipulate and persuade. Despite this, they're surprisingly confident in their judgements of others based on arbitrary non-verbal cues, even though they're only accurate barely more than would be expected by chance.

We'd be unnerved by the amount of eye contact allists keep trying to make and irritated at the compulsive social rituals they insist on engaging in, like non-functional small talk. We'd roll our eyes at their preference for smoothness of conversation over clarity. We'd wonder why they skirt around an issue and drop hints rather than being direct, or why they're so sensitive when someone says what's on their mind. We'd become annoyed at how dismissive of our struggles they can be by changing the subject when things get a little "too deep".

Anyone who'd studied allism would know that allists simply lack empathy –– that's why they have so much difficulty understanding others' wants and needs and responding appropriately.

These traits would be considered more acceptable if the allist occupied a high-paying, respectable profession (which in this alternate universe, isn't software engineering, because most people can already do that). Perhaps an allist might make up for having less desirable (socially impolite) behaviours by being extremely good at something that normal autistic people aren't –– like abstract thinking, superior executive functioning, good auditory processing, or planning for big projects. Otherwise, you're just weird.

And for that, we'd wonder why we haven't found a cure. We might chastise parents for not vaccinating their children because we heard that that's what allows the brain to develop in such an ineffective way. We'd wonder if the problem might be diet, or simply bad parenting. Did their mothers make too much eye contact when they were a baby?

If a person wasn't allistic, but still failed to follow the commonly understood standards of sociability or exhibited quirks that seemed a little similar to the stereotypically "odd traits" of allistic people, like being conversationally coercive or lacking attention to detail, we might use their profession to explain it away."Most people in Sales and HR are a little allistic".

If you were an allistic male, you'd be less likely to be recognised as allistic. This is because male allists would be much less likely to exhibit stereotypically allistic behaviours, like hyper-sociability and poor systematising skills, which are decidedly feminine traits.

And if we couldn't immediately tell that someone was allistic based on these stereotypes of "extreme femininity", we might question the need for a diagnosis at all. Why do you want that label anyway? No-one would be able to tell you were allistic unless you told them, so what does it matter? It might be used against you. Allism is just something you have; you don't need to make it your whole identity.

Or we'd question if allism was even real or significant. Aren't you just highly sensitive? Couldn't it just be anxiety? Isn't there a little allism in everyone? Lots of people have allistic traits. Everyone's a little socially ritualistic. Everyone engages in superficial conversation sometimes. Lots of people struggle socially; it doesn't mean you're allistic.

Perhaps we'd tell people that they don't seem allistic. Why? Because they're not extroverted. Because they're nothing like this other allistic person you know. Because they're not friends with the only other allistic person you know about in the office. Because their partner isn't also allistic. Because they're not like you're friend's 7-year-old allistic daughter.

After all, once you've met one allistic person, that's it, you've basically met them all.

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