Act I, Scene 1
The First Anxiety
Andromeda Banneker paces the long stretch of abandoned railroad tracks in the woods behind her house. She visibly agitated, a phone pressed hard against her ear.
I know, Mom … Can you just stop it? I booked the appointment already. They had a cancellation and are getting us in right away for some preliminary testing.
I know, but please, stop asking all these questions! It is stressing me out!
Even if he really is neurotypical, I’ve heard there are treatment options available now that work.
It may just be that there is something we are doing wrong as parents and don’t know enough about. I don’t want to talk about it anymore until we have seen the doctor.
I know that you love him, Mom… Yes, no matter what.
I know you love me, too… I’m just very worried, and you know how hard it is to process worries.
OK, I’ll call you as soon as we have news.
Love you, Mom.
Andromeda Banneker pulls a folded flyer from the inside pocket of her jacket and studies it.
Act I, Scene 2:
The Confirmation of Fear
Again, we see Andromeda Banneker pacing, this time in her home laboratory. She’s whispering to herself, her hands flapping. She plants her feet, resolute, takes a sharp breath, and pulls out her phone. She taps the face a few times and puts it to her ear.
Sorry I called so late. I wanted Wolfgang to be in bed before I called.
The doctor has referred us to a specialist. He says it looks like Wolfie may very well be neurotypical.
Oh, Mom, please don’t cry.
I’m not exactly sure what it means for his future. I know that unless we get him help, he won’t have as richly diverse an inner life as we do. But we are on top of it early enough. As long as appointments don’t take too long to work through, we have a chance to make it right for him.
Act 1, Scene III:
The Escalation of Fear
Andromeda Banneker sits in a recliner in her living room. Her husband, Herman Banneker sits in an adjacent recliner. He nods to her, and she takes out her phone.
Mom, I need you to do something for me.
Actually, you and Dad. It’s for Wolfie.
They gave me some screening instruments for myself and Herman to see which one of us– or both– may have passed along the neurotypical genes. They said these things run in families and often a high-functioning neurotypical parent or grandparent has gone undiagnosed because they have learned to mask as an autistic.
We need to find out what happened so we can decide if we should have more children.
I‘m going to send them to you and dad to see if you recognize anything about me in them.
There is also a list of neurotypical traits Wolfie may exhibit over time, I’ll send that to you, too.
OK. I’m going to go now, I need to cocoon for a bit. All this worry has me exhausted and in need of some destimulation.
Act II, Scene 1
Andromeda and Herman Banneker walk tentatively into an office. A developmental pediatrician, Dr. Cavendish, stands up and nods to them. He does not extend his hand for a handshake.
Please sit down, Ms. And Mr. Banneker, and we will get started. I know how much the delay in diagnosis will have been a source of anxiety for you. I can confirm your suspicions that Wolfgang is not on the spectrum. I’m afraid you were right. He is, in fact, a neurotypical. Do you need a moment to process this?
Herman Banneker nods, then stands up and rocks back and forth on his feet for a moment. Neither Andromeda nor Dr. Cavendish look at him until he is finished. Once he returns to his seat, he nods. Dr. Cavendish continues.
There is good news, though. With a lot of hard work and understanding, and a little assistance from a new medication in the late stages of clinical trials, I think we can get him close– barely distinguishable from an autistic.
As you know, children with neurotypical brains have deficits in conscientious, reliability, emotion regulation, social and emotional reciprocity, and honesty. They are less enthusiastic about– and only moderately-suited for– self-industry in research, thus often neglect to form a specialized knowledge base even in subjects which are areas of interest to them. Of note, there is a lack of regard for empiricism.
Andromeda Banneker gasps slightly. Dr. Cavendish gives her a moment, then proceeds.
Also of concern is the tendency to discriminate against others based on race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, or any other superficial criteria. They can lack cognitive and affective empathy, which can translate to aggressive attempts to force others to live up to their own expectations. They have trouble understanding that others may feel or think differently from them, ignoring the other person’s right to consent or individuality.
They also tend to exhibit an unwillingness to speak plainly, interfering with the ability to be understood. They apply their own subtext to simple statements made by others resulting in irrational responses and miscommunications. This can be interpreted as purposeful manipulation and attempts to take advantage of the weaknesses of others; however, this is a result of underlying social and empathetic impairments and not conscious behavior.
Don’t be so dismayed Ms. and Mr. Banneker. We’ve caught it early enough to intervene. I’m going to give you both some downtime to process for a moment. When you are ready, either ring the chime or tap the drum on the desk with this mallet, whichever is your sensory preference.
Act II, Scene 2
Intervention and Hope
Herman Banneker rocks back and forth on his feet while Andromeda paces for a moment, flapping her hands. She stops and makes eye contact with Herman before folding her arms into her chest. Herman briefly embraces Andromeda until she takes a resolute breath, pulls away, and nods at him.
He picks up the mallet and taps the small drum three times. Dr. Cavendish returns as the couple take their seats.
I know this is a lot to process, but there is hope.
We have behavioral and medical therapies that may make Wolfgang uncomfortable initially, but the protocols must be followed if we are to ensure he can live a functional life in a collective society. Otherwise, he may never hold a job or find a romantic partner. His road may be hard, but we’ve found ways to help shape behaviors of social consequence.
The most effective, research-based therapy is called ACA, which is an acronym for ‘applied cognition analysis.’ We’ll work on getting Wolfgang a SIT analyst right away. SIT stands for social isolation technician.
There are quite a few protocols available that will help with the various forms of insensitivity that are already apparent. Further testing will be required to allow us to more accurately asses the depth of disability and gain a broader sensory profile.
Here is an example of the type of tests we will administer.
Dr. Thoreau hands Mr. and Ms. Banneker a single, laminated sheet. Ms. Banneker asks her husband for consent to hold his hand. He nods, and their fingers interlace as they look over the assessment.
As they look over the sheet, Herman begins rocking back and forth in his seat.
I know it’s hard to fathom, but neurotypicals often experience only one sense, sometimes two if they count physically touching the paper. They cannot conceive how a flat image can be experienced in the tactile-kinesthetic-synesthetic domain.
Have you noticed from Wolfgang any particular insensitivity to your needs– even when you state clearly that you are experiencing anxiety?
Andromeda’s hand tightens on Herman’s. Herman nods solemnly.
Perhaps an inflexibility of acceptance, regarding himself as the gold standard, without the inclusion of the diversity of those sharing his environment? Or a tendency to word play and speak in hints, gists, generalities, metaphors, and sarcasm?
Herman nods again. Andromeda sniffs.
These may be warning signs of fear of directly addressing others and a need to be able to later deny his true intentions.
Does he have a core lack of anxiety and perfectionism, leading to sloppy work and loss of attention to detail?
The trial medication can help to increase Wolfgang’s impaired sensory sensitivity. It may have some side effects, very few of them catastrophic.
Cognition therapy will help him learn to focus, harness his interests into a single field of specialization, and to assimilate what he cannot change.
As he learns to reconstruct his personality and core identity, he will naturally choose more autistic behaviours. I’m sure we can all agree on how beneficial it will be to protect this sensitive and neurodiverse society from his insensitive behavior.
Here is a hand-on on standard protocols to enforce at home in order to help sensitize Wolfgang.
Now, you may notice Wolfgang weeping here and there. That is perfectly normal and is a neurotypical attempt to manipulate you. It may persist off and on for many years until he finally develops the habits of sensitivity.
Remember how important it is to make his presence more comfortable for others and to help him develop the ability to work in research and create honest and open relationships.
Call the office if there are any other side effects you notice, because there is an outside chance that the sudden change in sensitivity could cause him to act out.
I’ve already scheduled Wolfgang for the manufacturer’s trial. There was one suicide that may have been connected to this drug, so it is very important you pay attention to any impulsive behaviors and watch for dramatic changes in behavior.
One thing we have noticed with the neurotypical brain is its tendency to try to mediate its environment in different ways at different life stages. During the teen years and early adulthood especially, they have a tendency to want to explore the diverse brain to what extent they can and thus can be drawn to the more extreme psychotropics for relief from their internal mundanity.
At the word “mundanity,” Herman begins to sob.
There is a box of tissues on the window ledge.
I know it feels like a disappointment now but I assure you, we will do all we can to help Wolfgang.
I’m sure you will need some time to process all this, so until the next appointment, keep a diary of all your questions. At that point, we will go over any concerns.
Remember to set up an account if you haven’t already and remind Wolfgang’s pediatrician to continue to monitor for changes and manifestations of neurotypicality.
If it gets too out of hand at any time, remember there is no shame in calling for intervention. There are online support groups, but try to find one that is primarily for autistic parents. Sometimes, adult neurotypicals get into those groups, and they can be quite aggressive. They consider interventions to be abusive and have a history of shaming people for not understanding neurotypical motivations.
But, parents of neurotypical children need a lot of support.
There are always special schools for neurotypicals, though the closest one to us is around 120 kilometers away in Pleasantville. The wait list last time I checked was at three years.
I’ll see you in six months. Keep a diary. Book your next appointment on the way out.
Good day, Mr. and Ms. Banneker.
Editor’s note: The purpose of this piece was not to make light of the distress and fear a neurotypical parent feels when a child is diagnosed as autistic. Instead, it is to demonstrate, creatively, the perceptive differences which often create tension between autistic and neurotypical parents. Autistic people, of course, do not feel this way about neurotypical people or children.
This piece asks the reader to put themselves in another perspective, to see themselves as the neurological minority, and to consider the harm imposed on parents and children by aggressive therapies intended to alter the core identity and way of being of a child.
- Butterfly in a Blender - April 5, 2020
- “Your Child May be Neurotypical:” A Journey to Diagnosis - May 20, 2019
This is absolutely brilliant! I want to act this out somehow!
Can we get a team of people together to act out these roles?
That gives me such a smile 🙂 I’d love to see it
perhaps we could do follow up articles and create several “acts” … part of this article was inspired by a new acquaintance commenting that in some ways my life must have felt like living out Clockwork Orange
Good to meet you 🙂
Do you have an attribution for the image labeled “task 1”?
The artist is also the author … Shannon Lyons, it was a music portrait done on the day Benoit Mandelbrot passed from a piece by Joe Satriani
Way to go…I love it, whens the movie coming out.
Have you seen the great film — actually its under rated as a movie — it was awesome and saved my soul in part as a boy way back. Danny Kaye in the “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947)
You play made me think of it for some reason, some reversed sense of psychology. I’m not sure what, but, back to the point, personally I thought Walter was autistic, an Aspergian in the days when autism was not spoke off. And there was such a time, I lived it. They use to lock us up indefinitely if we were not so careful. Bullying was at a premium then..
I have had similar thoughts on neuro-typicals being the dominant species, and if the roles were reversed. I question that, as I feel that Lascaux cave paintings are actually an autist at work in his cave long ago. And really a neuro-typical finding fire first…
And as Temple Grandin has spoken so eloquently…
“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.” ~ Temple Grandin
Personally I feel Autism is actually Human 2.0. Does that seem a little vindictive as a theory…
shannonlyonsfrood, I adored your play. I often reflect that although we’ve arrived into a 90% neurotypical world, it could have been the other way around. Your play brought that idea to life. Let the film come to life. Let the awards roll in!