Because I’m autistic, I don’t always understand other people very well. That isn’t much of a problem for me; I get along just fine most of the time, especially on the internet. I don’t present myself well in interviews, but that seems like a small matter compared to my ability to focus and natural affinity for mathematics and organization. Still, there are a lot of people who want to cure autism, along with a number of other somewhat harmless neurotypes like ADHD or circadian sleep disorders. To make everyone normal, in other words. But what is ‘normal’? And is normal always best?
In real life, ‘alternative’ neurotypes are usually given negative representation. Within fiction, however, diverse neurotypes are sometimes handled in other ways. Not always better, but differently.
Larry Niven’s Known Space series featured paranoid schizophrenic police called “schizes.” The reasoning behind them was that their paranoia meant they were prepared for anything. Seeing as Niven wrote most of those books nearly half a century ago, he may be excused for not realizing that paranoia and schizophrenia aren’t necessarily the same disorder and that the main characteristic of real-life schizes is delusions. Realistic members of ARM might constantly suspect each other of collaborating with criminals/conspiracies/aliens/demons (but who’s to say they’re wrong?), which would probably distract them from their jobs.
John Nash, whose real life was very loosely adapted into the film A Beautiful Mind, is a brilliant mathematician, even if he does occasionally hear voices. He claims his medications prevent him from thinking – could his creativity be related to his mental state? Perhaps a future or fantastic society might train schizophrenics to be incredible scientists or artists.
ADHD is often associated with the “hunter in an agricultural society” hypothesis. Some people believe that the disorder is a throwback to when humans were hunter-gatherers rather than the relatively secure and idle people we are now. While people with ADHD might be ill-suited as soldiers given the military’s emphasis on group cohesion as opposed to individual initiative, there are countless other careers they could be better suited for.
To paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes, people with circadian sleep disorders basically “have their internal clocks set on Tokyo time,” which means that they can operate at very odd hours, useful for say, nightshifts. Perhaps even as the dominant neurotype aboard a starship bound for an exoplanet with human-inhospitable daylight.
People with anti-social personality disorder, formerly known as “psychopaths” or “sociopaths” (depending on whether one could blame nature or nurture for their outcomes) are fairly common compared to many other so-called ‘abnormal’ neurotypes, but are hard to diagnose as they are distinguished from everyone else in only one major way. They feel no compassion. They can often learn how to “fake” empathy, unlike autistics who have a sense of compassion but struggle showing empathy, so they can blend in quite easily. You would think that such people would be great as soldiers, but apparently the military doesn’t want people who are already remorseless killers. Instead, it seems that most clinically antisocial people have found their niche in law or politics.
These are all just tendencies and ‘types,’ of course. Humanity has always been full of exceptions.
Further speculations including different neurotypes in science-fiction:
- A future society legally limits job options by neurotype, forcing many into careers they dislike or are simply ill- suited for.
- A caste system based on neurotype develops.
- People with serious ADHD are drafted into a special reconnaissance military unit.
- Autistics are used as navigators on starships.
- People with antisocial personality disorder are given a choice between exile to a remote island or recruitment into a specialized “psychological warfare” force.