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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Rosica

Experiencing a Bit of 'Neurotypical Syndrome' in Japan

Over the past week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Japan for an exchange program at Kitasato University. Right before leaving, my friend had posed an interesting question to me. She asked me: “What would it be like if you had neurotypical syndrome?” As I've always been a social butterfly, it was honestly quite difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to struggle with social interaction in a society that wasn't made for me. Then, I went to a place that wasn't made for my personality: Japan. Cue a little taste of 'neurotypical syndrome.'

I am typically the first to greet anyone who comes in a room. I’m friendly, outgoing, and a bit loud in my natural state. Japanese people, largely, are reserved and quiet. They are truly one of the kindest groups of people I have been in contact with, but I certainly don’t fit in in “typical” Japanese culture. 

Sure, I had read books and learned about the culture. I knew to take my shoes off in someone’s home (although I didn’t know I would have to do so in restaurants and consequently was laughed at for being barefoot). I knew to bow upon meeting someone and not to open gifts unless asked to. Still, even though I knew the rules, I inevitably messed them up. And while knowing the rules allowed me to somewhat “fit in” in social situations, it was nearly impossible to change my bubbly personality to match the reserved nature of Japan. 

Something amazing happened, though. Even though the Japanese students giggled at my bare feet or the way I took charge and got the group moving when they politely waited, they in large part accepted my differences. They didn’t ask me to quiet down or to fit their mold. They simply let me be and enjoyed the differences among the group and the many cultures represented. 

The beautiful thing about the exchange was that although our cultures were almost exact opposites, it worked. Neither was right nor wrong. We were just simply different. 

I couldn't help but think: what if our world treated autistic people like the Japanese students treated me? If we didn’t assume that one way of socializing was right and one was wrong? What if we didn't immediately look to create a homogeneous “culture” but instead tried to create a culture that celebrated the immense diversity in communication and thinking styles? How much more interesting and rich our lives would be! This is what the Neurodiversity movement is all about. It's about creating a culture where curiosity is encouraged, creativity naturally occurs, and mutual respect blossoms. I think that's a culture we should all want to be a part of.

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