Poly and neurodiversity: How come?
Hang out in the poly world and you quickly find that it overlaps the techy/ geeky/ life-hacky world. And among techy/geeky people you're going to learn the words "neurodiverse" and "neurotypical," referring to whether people do or don't show tendencies toward the autism spectrum and suchlike. You'll learn the joke, "How many Aspies does it take to change a light bulb?" Thoughtful pause. "One."
This week, Cunning Minx addresses "Poly and Asperger's" on her Polyamory Weekly podcast, Episode #346. A listener asks: can you be poly with Asperger’s? Does it help? And she presents some numbers from researcher Amy Marsh.
Deborah Anapol, in her book Polyamory in the 21st Century, devotes four interesting pages to polyamory and Asperger's syndrome.
If polys do include more than the average number of people with autism-spectrum traits (and remember, everyone is sub-clinical something), then a non-neurotypical writer for The Skinny in Scotland has just given the most plausible explanation I've seen for why. It echoes a reason given in Anapol's book: the poly community's ethic of careful communication and explicitly spelling things out.
The Skinny is Scotland's monthly alternative paper of arts, entertainment, and "independent cultural journalism":
An Uncommon Sense Approach To Polyamory
Lisa provides a personal account of the intersections of polyamory and neurodiversity.
Collaborative relationship design. Art by Laura Griffin.
Feature by Lisa
...I have dyspraxia, a specific learning difference that affects co-ordination, organisation and several other areas. For some dyspraxic folk, including myself, it overlaps with or includes traits of autistic spectrum conditions.
I’m also polyamorous. It may seem surprising that someone with social difficulties would gravitate towards a relationship style involving multiple loving and/or sexual partners. Even the most enthusiastic proponents of polyamory will often recite the warning, “It’s not easy. You need to be great with organisation and have excellent communication skills.” These are two areas where I certainly don’t excel.
I have trouble picking out information from body language and contextual cues. I find it difficult to link literal meanings with background information or other more subtle forms of communication. For example, I’ve occasionally appeared rude for not realising that sentences like, “Would you like to take a seat?” can be requests rather than questions. I also find it hard to pick up on the unwritten rules of social interactions.... What comes ‘naturally,’ or is seen as ‘common sense’ (an ableist concept in my opinion) to most people, can be more difficult for me to keep up with....
Traditionally, a monogamous relationship set-up is the norm.... The somewhat queer nature of poly relationships means they can’t rely as heavily on prefabricated scripts. They must be built from scratch around the needs, personalities and bodies of each partner. As someone who has trouble figuring out the unwritten rules of social interaction, it’s incredibly liberating to throw away the rule book altogether. There is no room for assumptions; the multitude of expectations and boundaries functioning in the relationship(s) are more likely to be explicitly discussed and defined in detail. Knowing exactly what’s OK, what isn’t, and what a partner wants from me is a much more comfortable way to be.
There’s also a structure there to get everyone’s slots of time worked into something resembling a schedule. The aspects of a poly relationship style that may seem regimented or unromantic to others are what most appeal to me. It feels safe, with some level of certainty and predictability....
Read the whole article (Jan. 2, 2013).
Another possible reason, I wonder: Is jealousy one of those social intuitions that Aspies tend not to grasp? My experience is that people "on the spectrum" tend to be very logical and don't see why other people aren't too. Logically, it just seems wrong that you'd want to keep someone you love away from something that makes them happy. And, as polys so often say, when you have a second child it doesn't mean you have to stop loving your first child, right? That just wouldn't make sense. Kind of like light bulb jokes.