Just like neurotypicals have questions for autistic people, those on the Spectrum have questions for NTs.

Here’s 10 questions that make the top of the list.

If you’re an Autistic who’s ever wondered something specific about neurotypicals, your question is very likely in this group of 10.

1. How do neurotypical people navigate complex social hierarchies?

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Social hierarchies exist in various contexts, such as school, work and community settings, influencing interpersonal dynamics and relationships.

Neurotypicals often possess a nuanced understanding of social hierarchies, including subtle power dynamics, alliances and social roles.

Autistics may find these social structures confusing or arbitrary, leading to feelings of alienation or frustration.

The good news is that this confusion or indifference is perhaps what gives autistic people their built-in resistance to giving in to peer pressure to do the wrong thing, to jumping on foolish bandwagons, to getting sucked into the latest destructive trend and to getting involved in ridiculous protests.

2. What motivates neurotypical people to engage in small talk?

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I used to think that “small talk” was literally SMALL talk: brief conversation in passing with a stranger, such as a cashier at a restaurant or someone standing behind you in a slow-moving line.

I never knew until my autism journey began that small talk pertained to a particular content of talk, not necessarily the briefness of it.

Small talk, of course, is a common social convention among neurotypicals, serving as a way to initiate conversations, establish rapport and maintain social bonds.

It’s also viewed as a kind of warmup to an ensuing deeper interaction.

Autistics such as myself would rather just jump in head-first with what we want to talk about; no warmup necessary.

There are times, however, when some Autists will engage in authentic small talk — due to an inviting context.

An example would be the Autistic initiating chitchat about a product they’re buying for the first time.

The cashier mentions they’ve tried it and loves it. A few more lines about this are exchanged, and then the autistic customer genuinely thanks the cashier and heads out the store.

Nevertheless, autistic people often struggle to see the purpose or value in engaging in small talk on a recurring basis, finding it superficial or meaningless.

Understanding the motivations behind small talk can help people on the Spectrum navigate social interactions more effectively.

Some Autistics learn the “art” of small talk and, from an observer’s standpoint, conduct it flawlessly.

But keep in mind that this non-authentic behavior does not feel natural to the Autistic, can be draining if done too frequently and may be based on rehearsed scripts.

3. Why do neurotypicals often prioritize social activities?

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Neurotypical individuals tend to prioritize social activities as a way to connect with others, build relationships and experience a sense of belonging.

For autistic individuals who may prefer solitary activities or have difficulty in social settings, this emphasis on socialization can be perplexing.

This doesn’t mean those with ASD don’t participate in group activities.

Many years ago I used to play a lot of volleyball pickup games. You can’t help but chitchat with your spontaneous teammates while sitting out.

However, I had always acknowledged that these people — though I had nothing against them, and even had a number of interesting conversations with over the years — were merely “warm bodies” that were necessary to facilitate play.

This mindset of mine was certainly detected by NTs, which was why I was never asked to be on anyone’s team for a league!

But then, what’s the solution? Learn to be a high masker? This is not the solution.

The solution, if any, would be that of recognizing and respecting differences in social preferences to promote understanding from both NTs and Autistics.

Our society has made some progress in moving towards this setting, but there’s still a long way to go.

4. How do NTs navigate ambiguity and uncertainty in social interactions?

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Social interactions often involve navigating ambiguity, interpreting subtle cues and making quick judgments based on incomplete information.

Neurotypical individuals may rely on intuition, past experiences and social norms to navigate uncertain situations, whereas Autistics may prefer clear and direct communication and explicit instructions.

Another way of looking at the ambiguity thing is that a lot of “NT speak” is somewhat cryptic.

Or, it’s in the form of lines that one must read in between.

Common in NTs but not in Autists is the phenomenon of saying what you don’t mean.

ASD’ers would like to know why NTs can’t just be straightforward. Why can’t they be more like Autistics and leave out all the fluff and half-truths, and just be frank and upfront?

And then the NTs think that we Autistics have the communication deficit?!

5. How do neurotypical people manage sensory input and overload?

Sensory processing differences are common among those with autism, leading to heightened sensitivity or aversion to certain sensory stimuli.

In contrast, neurotypicals may have a higher tolerance for sensory input and can filter out irrelevant information more effectively.

Not all Autists have an aversion to loudness. I’ve gone to social events for autistic adults and have been the only one wearing earplugs. But I wear them to protect my ears from the damage loud environments can cause.

On the other hand, I do have sensory issues that I can keep well-hidden, such as an aversion to the sight of paper scraps on tables from straw wrappings when dining out with others.

I just place the condiment holder between myself and the paper scraps to block them from my line of sight.

If NTs want to know what sensory overload or aversion feels like, they should play a repeating loop of their most-hated recording artist.

This may help them understand what some autistic people go through with more ordinary sensory stimuli.

Some NTs, however, play white noise machines for a reason: to block out the sound of traffic outside their homes.

Meanwhile, there are autistic people who can’t tolerate quietness and prefer to live near continous traffic.

6. What drives neurotypical people to conform to societal norms?

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I’ll never get this one. One of the biggest commonalities among Autistics is that they’re forever questioning pop culture.

On the other hand, it’s typical for NTs to have the mindset of, “I’m not buying those shorts for my kid; they’re no longer in style.”

Or, “Why is her hair like that? It’s so out of style.”

Who bloody cares what’s “in style” or not? As long as it looks good!

Societal norms play a significant role in shaping behavior, expectations and social interactions for neurotypical people.

From adhering to dress codes to following unwritten rules of etiquette, conformity to societal norms is often ingrained from an early age.

Autistic individuals often question the need for conformity and therefore struggle to understand why certain behaviors are considered socially acceptable or expected.

My NT sister told me that for our niece’s wedding ceremony and the reception, I had to be barefoot in dressy open-toe shoes. All the women were going to do this.

Well, that’s not MY style. I wore stockings (which she claimed she hadn’t worn for 20 years because they went out of style) in closed-toe shoes. 

Good grief, the herd mentality of NTs!

7. Why do neurotypical people place importance on eye contact?

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Eye contact is a fundamental aspect of nonverbal communication for neurotypical individuals, conveying trust, engagement and attentiveness.

However, for many autistic individuals, maintaining eye contact can be uncomfortable or overwhelming, leading to misconceptions about their level of interest or empathy.

Now it’s important that NTs understand that not all autistic people downplay the importance of eye contact. 

Some don’t care for it but will use it when it’s needed, recognizing that there are times when steady eye contact is necessary to convey authority or to be convincing towards the listener.

As an Alpha female, I’ll rely on my strong eye contact to convey my stance on a heated topic or my confidence in a sticky situation or business context.

There are other times when I find it distracting or unnatural in feel.

Some Autistics will watch someone’s eyes to help themselves understand that person’s emotions or intentions.

8. How do neurotypical people effortlessly navigate social situations?

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One common wonder among autistic individuals is how NTs seem to effortlessly navigate social situations.

Neurotypicals often rely on nonverbal cues, subtle gestures and social conventions to understand and communicate with others.

Those with ASD may find these social nuances challenging to interpret, leading to feelings of confusion or isolation.

And/or, they may not even realize that they are misunderstanding nonverbal signals or social nuances — such as myself.

Some Autistics may think they’re doing fine with all of this, until the negative feedback surfaces hours or days later.

This has happened to me numerous times throughout my life.

But only in 2022 did I get the confirmation for the reason behind this: a clinical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

9. What motivates neurotypical individuals to engage in social rituals and traditions?

Social rituals and traditions play a central role in many cultures, serving as a way to celebrate milestones, reinforce community bonds and preserve cultural heritage.

NT individuals may place significance on participating in these rituals as a way to connect with others and maintain a sense of identity.

Autistic individuals may question the necessity or meaning behind these rituals, highlighting the importance of respecting diverse perspectives and preferences.

10. How do neurotypical individuals interpret and express emotions?

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Emotional expression and interpretation vary widely among individuals, influenced by cultural, societal and personal factors.

Neurotypicals often rely on facial expressions, tone of voice and body language to convey and interpret emotions, whereas those on the Spectrum may rely more heavily on verbal communication or explicit cues.

I myself tend to place a heavy premium on the actual words being spoken, rather than get caught up in any subtle facial expressions that are going on with those words.

Before I began suspecting my autism, I had long thought that a lot of people had difficulty reading ME.

And if visual nonverbal cues or signals are so important to NTs, how is it that blind NTs apparently have no problems navigating social situations?

Final Thoughts

These 10 questions that many Autistics have about neurotypicals are quite valid.

However, there are so many more questions, some quite specific, that those on the Autism Spectrum have about the type of mind and thinking that goes with the vast majority of the population.

At the end of the day, though, remember: We are all human.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.