Hi! This blog looks so great I'm really excited by it. In a story I'm writing (it's fantasy), there are elves, and as well as being off folklore/mythological elves, they're also based off autistic people but I'm struggling to figure out what an only autistic society would be like, do you have any ideas?
First of all, having a whole, non-human race be autistic can be quite problematic in terms of representation. See Mod Aira’s thoughts on non-human autistic characters here.
Since elves look a lot like humans, and are usually positively described as a race equal or superior to humans, that might not be that much of a problem, but you should still give this issue some thought and make sure this is really something you want to do. This is not a decision I can make for you.
As for the specifics of an autistic-only society, this is where things get fun !
Here are some ideas in no particular order. Of course I can’t cover everything and other autistic peeps are encouraged to pitch in as always!
- Everyone is stimming freely and openly. This is seen as a completely normal thing. I don’t know how modern your universe is, but people are allowed to stim in school or in their workplace. Shops have whole “stim toys” aisles. There are sensory rooms available throughout cities for everyone who might get overwhelmed.
- Social norms are completely different. Making eye contact is seen as rude, people are expected to explain their jokes and sarcasm. Actually, communities might write down and edit regularly their social rules so they are explicit and available to all.
- Kids are taught in schools strategies to cope with sensory overload or to get stuff done with executive dysfunction. They are encouraged to work on their special interests and it is used as a medium to teach them other things. There is highly individualized teaching and varied teaching styles since all kids have different needs. They would also be taught (either by caretakers or educators) many life skills, such as self-care, taking care of a home, taxes… more explicitely.
- In our society, there are things that are seen as “basic needs” that everyone shares such as be well-fed, warm enough, not be in pain, have enough time to sleep… In a workplace or school for example, those needs are supposed to be met. The other needs, the ones not everyone has, are seen as “accomodations” when they are met, and are often more begrudgingly met. In an all-autistic society, meeting needs such as sensory needs or break time when you are overloaded wouldn’t be considered as making accomodations, but as meeting basic needs and as a normal thing.
- Autistic people are very diverse and sometimes our needs are conflicting. For example, some might be hurt by loud noises, while some may need to stim and regulate themselves by making/ listening to loud noises. So it is probable that people with similar needs would gather in communities.
- Since a lot of autistics are nonverbal at least some of the time, I think all verbal people would also know a nonverbal language such as a sign language they could use to communicate with nonverbal individuals or when they go nonverbal themselves. Communicating via AAC wouldn’t be seen as unusual or surprising.
- Art and culture would probably be very different. Autistic people are often creative, but they create different things from what allistics create.
- I feel like emergencies such as fires would be handled differently. I don’t think loud alarms and blinking lights would be the most efficient. I don’t have ideas for an alternative system though.
- Lots of autistic people have trouble driving and I feel like it would have an impact on the most commonly used means of transportation. Either, for a more primitive setting, horse riding would be a huge thing - since horses are sentient they can take care of some of the “looking around to make sure we don’t run over someone or collide into something” - or, for a modern setting, automatized transportation means would have been developed sooner than in our world.
- There would be more focus than in our society on precise planning and available information. Navigating administrations wouldn’t be so chaotic, or else no one could deal with it. There would be early on a need to get stuff organized in a very clear, explicit way.
That’s all I can think of for now. I hope this helps!
There are some great ideas here and I can think of a million more, but I will restrain myself! I just want to add a couple of things as food for thought:
- Sign language isn’t speaking, but it is still verbal (the brain still processes it more or less the same as any other language), so many people (including me) are not able to sign when nonverbal despite being fluent in a sign language. However, many autistic people find signing more comfortable than speaking, so I definitely agree that more people would know how to sign, and it would likely be a second language requirement.
- I have to be honest here… Although I have many autistic friends online, I don’t have many that I see regularly face to face. I think there is a reason that autistic people make up a minority of the human race, rather than the majority. For all our advantages, we often have conflicting needs, and we are not at all specialized for living in large groups the way allistic people are. Even though I like my autistic friends a lot, I don’t like spending a lot of time with them in person because they… get on my nerves. I mean in specific ways - for example, we have completely unrelated special interests, and they infodump about theirs for ages, and I have no interest whatsoever but don’t want to interrupt and seem rude (since I hate it when people do that to me). Or they stim and it bothers me. I’m extremely hypersensitive, including to movement, so if someone (besides me) is rocking back and forth or doing another repetitive motion near me, I can’t even open my eyes or I get overloaded. I love my autistic friends and I love the fact that I’m autistic, but I would not want to live in a completely autistic society - I’d have to hide away from other people and I’d become socially isolated even more than I am in this world. Note that this is my personal point of view and NOT true for all autistic people. But there WOULD be people like me who couldn’t deal with being around other people’s stimming, and we might not all get along as well as you might think.
- On the positive side: all the things that are considered “disabilities” in this world with regards to autism would be seen as the norm. Not being able to speak some or all of the time would be considered a normal personality trait, like being good or bad at sports or drawing. Suddenly getting up and leaving a conversation due to overstimulation would be perfectly normal. It would be a given that normal respect for other people includes maintaining a quiet and calm environment as much as possible.
- Another issue regards public spaces. There is something called “selective attention” which allows people to block out background sensory information and focus only on what is relevant to them at the moment (for example, listening to what one person is saying when there are other conversations happening nearby). In autistic people, this is usually very weak or completely nonexistent. It’s not possible for me to filter out background noise. If I need to meet someone for a conversation or work meeting, it MUST be in a quiet place. I am incapable of following a conversation when more than one person in the room is talking. I literally can’t unscramble their words from the words of other people and it just becomes a jumbled mess of gibberish that rapidly becomes painful. So how would things like restaurants work? Cafes? Parties? Assuming many or most people can’t hear what someone is saying when ANYONE else in the room is talking, how could you have spaces like that? Would they exist at all? Would their be some kind of magic (in a fantasy world) or tech (sci-fi) that can block out all sounds outside of the group you’re in?
Not trying to poke holes, but trying to point out possible issues that you should think about when creating your society. And as Cat mentioned, be very careful about painting a non-human race as “like humans but autistic”. Being autistic is not an inhuman state, and it can be very damaging to describe it as such, even if your intentions are good. I would be much more comfortable with a human all-autistic society than a non-human one. Maybe consider making the humans all autistic and code the elves as allistic. :P
If you keep all this in mind, I’d be interested to see what kind of society you might come up with. Good luck!