Welcome to a whole new world. In this world, the majority of the population is blessed with an autistic brain. It’s an alternate universe where autism is not a disorder; it’s the norm.
In this reality, bright fluorescent lights were never invented. Trains have private compartments for all passengers. Earplugs are sold more widely than candy bars. All work that can be done at home is done at home. We don’t need to keep people in workplaces only to have coffee breaks with co-workers.
This is a world of experts and specialists. The doctors, truck drivers, teachers, and writers all love their work. They have chosen their professions because they’re related to their special interests.
As wonderful as this reality sounds, the neurotypical people are having a hard time here. Of course, we don’t call them “neurotypical” in this alternate reality. They are a minority now, so they’re not “typical”.
In fact, we had to give them a medical diagnosis since they’re a small minority behaving in a strange manner. This diagnosis is “hypersocial disorder”.
Gary, 25, is a savant — He can tell what people think based on their body language
I interviewed Gary, 25, who was diagnosed with “hypersocial disorder” at the age of 22.
We meet in a coffee shop. As soon as I’ve closed the door of our private cubicle, Gary asks me a strange question:
“How are you?”
He seems to notice immediately he has said something wrong. People with “hypersocial disorder” have a fascinating ability to read body language. When I’m with regular people I can make faces as much as I want. No one can tell what I’m thinking. But people like Gary are something else. When it comes to reading facial expressions, they’re savants.
But life hasn’t been easy for Gary. For his whole life, he has felt like he’s different.
“At school, I was the only kid who wanted to play ball games. The other kids just wanted to read books”, Gary says.
Hypersocial disorder and the problematic small talk
People who suffer from “hypersocial disorder” (HSD) have an addiction to unnecessary socialization. They have an unhealthy need to include social interaction in all areas of life, including work. This makes it hard for them to be productive members of society.
Most people with HSD struggle at work. They often choose professions that allow them plenty of social interaction. However, they don’t know how to communicate with their co-workers.
The HSD people often engage in useless chatting and small talk at the workplace. Their autistic co-workers (the regular people) prefer work-related discussions and deep, meaningful conversations about their special interests. They don’t care to hear about the barbecue party their HSD co-worker had last weekend.
Gary has struggled in the working life as well. He studied information technology in college. After graduating, he managed to get a job as a programmer. However, working from home made him struggle with loneliness. His employer asked him to see a doctor.
The diagnosis was a shock to Gary and his family: he has HSD. Gary thinks he might have inherited it from his mother. His mother has always been overly social. She doesn’t have a diagnosis, but she’s considering getting one now that her son has been diagnosed.
There is no cure for the hypersocial disorder
Sadly, there is no medication for HSD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective type of therapy for “hypersocial disorder”. The goal is to unlearn unnecessary social interactions such as small talk.
After getting his diagnosis, Gary started therapy as well. However, restricting unnecessary socializing often seems to lead to depression in HSD people. The depression can be treated with antidepressants. The most important thing is that the HSD people fit in the society and don’t annoy their co-workers with small talk.
Gary doesn’t agree.
“Sometimes I think like, I’m just gonna be myself. I’m gonna talk about my weekend plans, and I’m gonna ask people about their weekend plans too! HSD is not a malfunction. It’s what makes me unique.”
I ask Gary what he thinks about the theory that cave people would never have left the caves if they had just stayed in there socializing.
“Oh, yeah. Well, that’s probably true. But then, maybe I would have been happier staying in the cave. Talking to people. Asking about their weekend plans.”
The way Gary sees the world seems innocent, almost child-like. I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to see the world through his eyes. If only he would learn to adjust, learn to be less social. Learn to talk about only the things that matter.
Maybe then Gary could succeed with his savant abilities. He could get a job developing software for facial expression recognition. Companies need software like that so they can recognize their rivals’ emotions. Without savants like Gary, that would be impossible.