Extravert or introvert? Outer-directed or inner directed? I don’t recall ever seeing a discussion of temperament and the way in which it can affect how aspies adapt to a neurotypical world. So it probably looks like a way-out-there statement when I say that temperament may be the most important trait in the ability to adapt.
I’ve read a lot of “confessional” essays, “confessional” being my way of classifying essays and blog posts that are based entirely on the writer’s personal experiences. All too often, the personal essay/post slides seamlessly from being my experience to an experience we all share. It’s such a normal human way to function– generalizing from our own experience–that I doubt many aspies realize they also do it. It isn’t an exclusively neurotypical trait, and it produces, among aspies, and in their communities, such as they are, the same kind of stereotyping that is supposed to be the domain of neurotypicality.
I’m a very private person, an introvert, which makes this kind of discussion somewhat more difficult than it may be for others, but I still have to work to avoid generalizing from my own personal experiences. I’m also an extremely inner-directed person. In the light of those two statements, what follows is my attempt to lay out a theory that may or may not work for others on the spectrum. The intent, here, is to analyze how two different temperaments respond to interactions with the neurotypical world, and propose a possible way of making those interactions easier.
I have no way to determine whether introversion correlates strongly with inner-directedness or extraversion correlates strongly with outer-directedness, and don’t know if it’s ever been studied, but it seems a logical connection. If anyone knows of relevant studies, please point me to them.
What I propose, purely as a theory, is that introverts are more likely, on average, to be inner-directed, and thus will make less effort to conform to neurotypical expectations for behavior and accomplishment. Anyone who is primarily inner-directed, and this can include neurotypicals, places less importance on social demands than on their own inner needs. The problem is that introversion is so often seen as a problem to be overcome, and probably more so in people on the autistic spectrum, that its benefits are inaccessible. When you are constantly diagnosed as shy, unsociable, unfriendly, self-absorbed, even as oppositional, that is how you will see yourself. You will spend all your energy trying to conform to the demands others make. In the process, you will lose yourself and, as so many aspies confess, live a false life, wondering who you really are.
You will allow your opinions to be formed by the people around you, even if you sense, however dimly, that they are wrong, or not something you really agree with. You will make choices that make you unhappy, if not downright miserable, because those are the “proper” choices. You will waste whatever talents you may have by fulfilling society’s needs instead of your own. You will be left with what is known as the inauthentic self.
Inner-directedness may develop slowly, as the individual becomes aware of making choices that set them apart, and deciding whether to uphold those choices or give them up in the face of disapproval. Introversion has the potential for being a sort of mask, but one that protects rather than falsifies. It allows for a polite withdrawal that, with maturity becomes more self-assured, and less prone to seeing direct confrontation as the only way to maintain personal integrity. It’s a quiet corner from which to observe and analyze what goes on around them, and to make choices that encourage personal growth and risk-taking rather than acquiescence and conformity. An authentic, creative life cannot exist in a state of dependence on external value judgments and pressures.