Social vs Task: Priority Differences Between Neurotypes (A Theory)

What if the biggest difference between autistic people and neurotypical people is our priorities?

From what I understand, for neurotypical people, social connections are the first priority. For autistic people, tasks are the first priority. (This is my theory, anyway.)

This might be why there’s such a huge gap in our understanding because our life priorities are fundamentally different, but, since both are unspoken things each neurotype “just knows”, we never thought to share this vital information with each other!

I’ll give you an example:

Mike and Josh are two young men in their 20s working in the tech support field. Mike is autistic, Josh is neurotypical.

Every chance Josh gets, he’s up from his desk, chatting with his co-workers about video games, comics, TV shows, and his dog.

Mike, on the other hand, likes similar games and comic books as Josh, and they talk about them sometimes during designated break times.

However, Josh doesn’t understand why Mike gets irritated whenever he tries to engage him in conversation, and Mike doesn’t understand why Josh won’t stop trying to talk to him during work time.

To both, the behavior of the other is annoying and nonsensical.

This is because Josh’s priority as a neurotypical person is to engage socially. He’s not even aware of it consciously, this is just how he is.

Mike’s priority as an autistic person is the task. It’s this way in every aspect of his life. He isn’t even aware of it consciously, this is just how he is.

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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

I know, for me, the task…whatever it is I am passionate about…always has and always will take precedence over socializing. That is not a choice. It’s how my brain is wired. Social connection is secondary to writing, creating, reading, etc.

– Jaime A. Heidel

This doesn’t mean I don’t care to socialize, I do. It just means that the primary drive for me is the task, not being social. In other words, I’m one of those people who goes to work, and my main priority is the actual task.

Whereas, I think for most neurotypical people, the focus is on social connection and social hierarchy with the task being more in the background of priorities.

Another example would be, while a neurotypical person might be glad to go to a company lunch and get a break from work, the autistic person would rather go back to work to take a break from being at a company lunch!

That isn’t to say all neurotypical people are extroverted, they’re definitely not. Also, neurodivergent people aren’t all introverted. I think it does depend on the person.

But, to me, the strongest (and possibly most widely misunderstood) difference between the neurotypes is the life priority, the main drive of the individual.

For NTs, it might be forming complex social relationships, for NDs, it might be about creating and building and then sharing ideas with others as a way to expand collective knowledge and thereby connect.

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