Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all made social errors such as interrupting someone or misunderstanding a joke at one point (or several) in our lives. I would even bet these instances, even if they happened years ago and were hardly serious, can remain fresh in our minds.
Now, imagine being accused of making social errors all the time — even when you have no idea what you did or why it is considered wrong.
This continually happens to autistic individuals in social situations and settings. In many cases, this is blamed on autistics and derogatorily referred to as “a processing error.” The autistic—including myself– is made to feel that they didn’t read the situation correctly and therefore did something which is considered to be incorrect.
They “processed wrong.” No.
Let me be clear, the neurodivergent autistic processing of life, events, or social situations is not a neurotypical processing error. It would be better to understand that autistic processing happens in a different operating system altogether distinctive from a neurotypical operating system.
I’m using this analogy to bring awareness to neurodivergent and autistic modes of processing of everyday life and situations. Autistics are not processing wrong nor are they bad at being a neurotypical human. Autistics are processing correctly for the way their brain functions. Please respect that.
To go further with this analogy and as a reminder, an operating system is a collection of software that manages computer hardware resources and provides common services for computer programs.
An operating system has three main functions. They include managing the computer’s resources, such as the central processing unit, memory, disk drives, and printers; establishing a user interface, and executing and providing services for applications software.
Imagine that each of our operating systems is a neural wiring consisting of a collection of emotions, social rules, and actions that influence or guide our interactions with the world.
This operating system manages thought processing, memories, access to learned information, affects outward reactions to stimuli, and is a way of communicating with others. It also establishes user interface, or mask or persona, the vibe, that an individual shares with society.
It executes and provides the mode of being, perspective, actions — or how a person completes tasks and approaches the world in general.
The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system. To follow through, that means the operating system in a human is the most important element in understanding how a person functions and approaches all aspects of navigating life.
This concept of different operating systems is one way to better understand neurodivergent thinkers contrasted with neurotypical thinkers. Autistics can do a lot of the same things as non-autistics. The way autistics do these things may just look a bit different.
Instead of thinking of autistics as weird neurotypicals or as having a processing error, it is important to recognize that most of the basic principles of being and interacting are the same, they just look different.
Take two of the most popular mobile phone operating systems, Android and Apple’s iOS. Though some people probably have preferences for the type they own and use, smartphones have relatively the same functions.
Users call people, scroll various internet pages, take photos, access apps, and text. With different operating systems, Android users and iPhone users perform the same actions, often just a bit differently than each other.
To be sure, one operating system is not inherently better than the other. They are distinct and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. They each have their own style and approach. They are disparate operating systems.
It is time to start understanding that autistics are not bad at being human or bad at being neurotypical with multiple processing errors. They are not inferior neurotypicals.
Autistics are great at being neurodivergent.
It is critical not to force them to change operating systems to appease a majority neurotype. It is essential to embrace that their way of thinking and being in the world is not inherently less valuable than the majority’s way of thinking and being.
Neurodiversity makes the world a better place to live. All neurotypes are needed.