Question for my neurodivergent peeps: have you ever had an NT look at you like there’s a horn suddenly sprouting out of your fucking head? Yeah, me too. And, it’s goddamn unnerving. It could be something we said or did, or it could be for no apparent reason at all. Even they don’t always know why they do that shit. For the longest time, I chalked this reaction up to the unfathomable workings of the neurotypical mind. But what if it’s something else? Something weird as fuck? Like the Uncanny Valley.
The Uncanny Valley and Neurodivergence
Okay, you may be wondering, “What the fuck is the ‘uncanny valley’? “According to Dictionary.com, the term “describes the feelings of unease or revulsion that people tend to have toward artificial representations of human beings, as robots or computer animations, that closely imitate many but not all the features and behaviors of actual human beings.” Basically, it’s the creepy feeling you get when you see something that’s not human that looks human, but not quite. If that’s confusing, take a look at this:
Do you get it now? That unsettling feeling that’s tugging at your brain, saying, “Yo, something ain’t right here,” is the uncanny valley effect. According to UC San Diego cognitive scientist Ayse Saygin, we aren’t really sure what causes it or whether it’s something you can get used to. She goes on to say that “we’re at the very beginning of understanding it.” The fact that I’m talking about something that’s most closely tied to robots that come off as sort of human on a blog about neurodivergence should be lost on none of us.
Q: Are We Not Human?
There is a trope that neurodivergent people, especially autistics, are more robot than human. We see this most prominently in The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper. Now, before we go on, I know the producers are on record saying Sheldon isn’t autistic. But, seriously? The dude’s coded autistic, at the very least. Really, if a neurotypical were to describe someone who’s autistic, they’d describe Sheldon. Now that we’ve established the character’s neurodivergent bonafides, how did the series engage in the robot trope? In a lot of ways, both subtle and not-so-subtle. But we’re interested in numerous quotes about Sheldon being a robot, both from him (he’s very happy at being compared to C-3PO) and his friends (like Leonard’s comment, “I sometimes forget you’re not a real boy”).
A: We Are Neurodivergent!
This robot bullshit comes mostly from the fact that NDs process emotion differently than neurotypicals. Think about it, how many times — as an autistic — have been on the receiving end of that stupid “joke”, “Are you happy? Well, tell your face.” Look, Brenda, just because I’m not smiling/laughing like a goddamn idiot doesn’t mean, I’m not happy. It means I fucking show it differently, that’s all. Honestly, the way neurotypicals walk around openly displaying their emotions creeps me the fuck out. I don’t need to know what’s going on inside every neurotypical’s goddamn brain, every goddamn minute of every goddamn day. The fact that you people think that’s not only okay, but a good thing, is some what-the-fuckery of cosmic proportions. The bottom line here is that we’re not robots, we’re just fucking different. And, the neurotypicals who promote this shit are a bunch of fuckmunching cock chiggers who can go inhale a big bag of dog farts.
Cosplaying as a Robot
If I’m being honest, I can see advantages with this “autistic as robot” thing. As someone who deals with emotional regulation issues, having emotions can be… difficult. They set me firmly in that uncanny valley and leave everyone involved feeling so goddamned uncomfortable. So, I think you can see why being an emotionless machine might have a certain appeal. The problem with all this is that being an emotionless robot isn’t any more acceptable than having some oh-so-poorly controlled emotions. Or my ham-fucking-fisted attempts at being social. Or, any of the other things that freak neurotypicals the fuck out.
The Uncanny Valley Is a Lonely Place
So, this uncanny valley idea is actually a thing among practitioners who treat neurodivergent people. I know this because Dr. David Krauss wrote a blog post on the matter for Psychology Today. In that post, Krauss wrote that NDs “may not be seen as a neuro-atypical person doing a pretty good job of acting typically, but instead as a neurotypical person behaving in atypical (strange or even “creepy”) ways.” Which is a pretty accurate summary of what we’re talking about here. He also details an experience with a young ND and quotes his patient as saying, “The Uncanny Valley is a lonely place.” They are so goddamn right. It’s fucking lonely because, as you just read in the paragraph above, we’re pretty much fucked no matter what we do.
That Old Neurotypical Shitfuckery
The uncanny valley is rooted in vagueness. It’s that weird place where you’re not sure if something is a threat or a joke. Our brains don’t know how to process that ambiguity and respond to it in not-so-great ways, from those weird looks I mentioned in the intro to a “KILL IT WITH FIRE!” attitude. Now, I know that NTs don’t actually see us as “not quite human”, which is kind of nice. But it’s still on brand for their particular style of shitfuckery. You see, the problem isn’t that people think we’re creepy because we’re not neurotypical, it’s that neurotypicality is seen as the default, as fucking “normal”. As long as that’s the case, things aren’t going to get better.