Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

January 15, 2013

Poly and neurodiversity: How come?

The Skinny (Scotland)

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.


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Anonymous Exodus 21:10 said...

FYI, Asperger's Syndrome is about to be dropped as an official diagnosis, according to the American Psychiatric Association's forthcoming DSM-V. Instead, it will just be called the near-normal end of "autism spectrum disorder."

January 15, 2013 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There will be much gnashing of teeth. It is the case that there's a lot of snottery around Aspie folks; needlessly. It's not a zero-sum game.

January 15, 2013 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My partner is an Aspie and let me tell you, he's perfectly capable of jealousy. One of the traits that tends to be commons among Aspies is a tendency towards complete honesty and my partner has that in spades.

January 17, 2013 1:21 AM  
Blogger Compost John said...

Whether or not AS is about to be dropped off DSM, we Aspies aren't going to suddenly disappear!

I've often thought about the obvious overlap between the poly community I know and the numbers of Aspies in that community, and this article and the embedded article confirm that connection and the reasons.

Good article, will share. Thanks.

January 20, 2013 3:35 PM  
Blogger Glenn Mrosek said...

Great article!

I think those of us with AS, and others with a similar "reduced set" of social skills, have long suspected there was more than a hint of coincidence. Nice to see someone has actually taken the time and trouble to write about it :-)

January 25, 2013 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Kai said...

I'm AS, and I do experience jealousy. However I seem to have been initially inclined to dismiss it as illogical, and to therefore suppress it. This created unhealthy results, and has been converted through learning into a tendency to, where I become aware of it, process it and try to strategise ways to make the situation work better or to make myself feel better. I still tend to feel that the emotional reaction itself is illogical though, and interpret it as my own responsibility to deal with.

There seems to be more of a tendency among neurotypical people I've spoken to, when they experience jealousy, to at least in part interpret it as both normal and to see it as something their partner 'has done' and should help them to fix somehow. Not always, but often.

Maybe AS people are just generally more dismissive of jealousy and NTs are generally more accepting of its existence, but both experience it nonetheless?

January 31, 2013 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late entering this conversation, but just have a thought to drop into it: What if the AS-poly correlation has more to do with the NT partners than with any AS propensity for it? An NT partner can love their aspie with all their heart, but it's frequently an intensely lonely experience. May be it's the partners looking to satisfy that empty place in their needs without losing their original relationship that drives the higher correlation. Perhaps not even looking for ways to do that, but falling into it as a natural consequence of the void? Just a thought.

June 03, 2013 6:58 PM  
Blogger Chris Hennick said...

I bet the high ratio of male to female Aspies is also a factor -- the supply of geeky girls can't keep up with the demand monogamously, and I'd probably rather have a fraction of a girlfriend who truly understands me than a whole girlfriend who doesn't.

April 04, 2014 9:19 PM  

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