Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

A Field Guide to Earthlings: An autistic/Asperger view of neurotypical behavior

on 2010 November 30

This blog post exists for comments/discussion about the book “A Field Guide to Earthlings: An autistic/Asperger view of neurotypical behavior.” The book has a separate web site, where you can read the first part of the book.

I’m interested in hearing what readers have to say.


48 responses to “A Field Guide to Earthlings: An autistic/Asperger view of neurotypical behavior

  1. I enjoyed the explanations of free-floating symbols and associations, and the “outline”/”magic slide”/”stencil” way of thinking (when you see a rabbit, you see an outline of that rabbit).

    The play “Lockstep Tragedy” washed over me.

    The diagrams and graphics are good.

    Most of the interesting information in the book might be about “Patterns of Relationships and Power” and “Phenomena”. (By “interesting” I mean “expectations set up in me by what was on the cover”).

    It’s great that you deal with the roots first.

    I am glad that this book is not limited to how neurotypicals – and autists – think. It shows a wide range of belief and behaviour.

    What are the relational emotions? Guilt? Shame? Grief?

  2. And if I had one takeaway sentence:

    “NTs are restricted by their use of linguistic and cultural symbols”.

    It’s probably well shown in what came before, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

  3. And it was interesting to read about the desensitising which happens in the brain, not the sense organs. Our eyes and ears (for two) …

    And the less sensitivity in the brain = more sensitivity to language and cultural symbols?

  4. Edward says:

    I bought the Kindle version and read it on my iPad within a couple of days, quite a few new things to thing about. A lot of things that I wish I had been aware of 10 years ago when I was struggling to fit in at Uni.
    I decided to also get the dead tree version to show other people and take to my Aspie group.
    I didn’t really follow who was who in the play segments, so I might have a go at re-reading them and making notes.

    Hope the book is successful as it is more useful than many of the others I have read, being an insiders view but not an autobiography.

  5. CJ says:

    I ordered the dead tree version and am reading it right now. The author’s perspective is quite interesting and I’m relating it to my own experiences with NTs.

    There is quite a bit of good insight here, yet I do have concerns about the stereotypes of NT behavior being applied so globally. Like us Aspies, their behavior too exists along a continuum (or if you prefer, a spectrum).

    I realize that some generalizations need to be made in order to communicate the material, but I would have preferred to see more use of non-absolutist terms to convey that information.

    As for the play, I don’t think it added an value to the book. I just found it confusing and bizarre.

    That being said, I found the overall book to be a unique and detailed exploration of human behavior, one that could only have been written by the most insightful of Aspies. The author as I know him definitely fits that bill. Great job! I plan to recommend this book to my friends both Aspie and NT alike.


  6. sandra says:

    This is the first book on AS I’ve read, having been diagnosed just this year. I enjoyed reading the preview online and ordered the book, with the idea of sharing it with other aspies.

    I found the book easy to read, and appreciate your minimalist approach to treatment. I also quiteliked the optimistic tone at the end, where you show how one can turn a specialized interest into a more general interest that can then be shared with the non-aspie world.

    I look forward to re-reading the book and keeping it as a resource in the future.

  7. sensit says:

    Hi Ian – Do you have favorites books that influenced the worldview you presented in your book? Do you believe you invented/discovered all those insights you described on your own? I’m interested basically in your favorites books or ideas that helped you to discover what you described in the book. What can you recommend as worth reading that speaks on/about the same subject as you in your book?

  8. ianology says:

    Sensit: Thank you for the question. To the question of how sources affect thinking, I can answer this way for me: I read, I theorize/reinvent, read some more, watch people, reinvent some more, and so on. So in a way, I invent the whole system as an independent structure, but I’m not the first or the only person to invent it. I also invent the way to cook lasagne and organize my day, and everything else – because my mind can only really stick to something that I actively created. The downside of having this kind of mind is that I am a poor imitator; I have a hard time taking advantage of shared knowledge in areas like gardening, where one lifetime is not enough to work out how it is best done. I also often forget where I originally found an idea.

    I suspect there is another kind of mind that is more other-centered, and those people don’t face the requirement to assimilate in order to remember.

    Probably the top two sources for the concepts are Sigmund Freud and Ferdinand de Saussure (though I read Saussure mainly through other sources). You might say the theory is a linguistic overlay on Freud’s theory of unconscious associations, as contrasted with another type of mind that thinks less associatively and less linguistically. Other authors that come to mind at the moment are: Carl Jung, Paulo Friere, Ivan Illich, Karl Marx, and Stephen Pepper.

  9. sensit says:

    I understand what you mean.

    I just realized that what you described as “linguistic overlay” and “symbolic web” in your book is similar to the ideas described in Construction of Social Reality by John Searle. I wrote up my opinion on his work at my blog

    Are you familiar with nondualism and consciousness/awareness teachings? I have not yet finished to read your book but so far I do not see any obvious marks that you are familiar with those conceptual frameworks.

  10. ianology says:

    Sensit: Thank you for the link, which led me through your article to some other interesting things. Quakers tend to be “nondual” (although many describe an experience of otherness – possibly related to Christian otherness but also could be the experience of something deep within oneself that is pre-verbal). I tend to think of myself as a theist but in a nondual way. There appear to be a great many ways to draw connections between religion and theory of mind and autism and language. One possibility is that autists can be quite at home with things that “just are” in a molecular sense – biological naturalism, and are quite resistant to epistemic objectivity (as in shared knowledge) because the evidence for it is often weak.

  11. sensit says:

    Hi Ian –

    We need to be careful about pre/post- fallacy. Reverting back to sensory (pre-rational) level from mental (rational) level is not the same as transcending both sensory and mental levels (moving to post-rational stage). It seems that some people with autism suffer from under-developed rationality (i.e. they are stuck on sensory level). Thus, I’m not comfortable with accepting their state as awakening to “things as they are”, by which I do not mean sensory level but I mean Reality/Truth as pointed by mystical/spiritual teachings. In the same vein, majority of NTs stuck in identification with mental level (also called maya in Hinduism), which of course makes people suffer from many problems you already highlighted in your book. I’m not subscribing fully to the map described in this article but it can add more colors to what I’m trying to say.

    I finished reading your book, and although I’m mostly happy with what I read, I think your book is not finished, and in its current form it’s just a start, first few chapters of the book that may change the world. Indeed, ideas in your book are not new but it’s the first time when I found those ideas to be presented so clearly and in such condensed form (and I read thousands of books). However, so far you only described pre-rational (ASD) and rational (NT) levels… but you have not yet wrote anything about what may happen next with the lucky seeker. Indeed it’s unique journey for every reader but there are many common trends of the next stage that one day you (or someone else) will highlight. People with ASD are naturally directed to the path of awakening, and spirituality is the most obvious step in our search.

    Few words about marketing. You need to promote your work. It won’t happen on its own. Promotion is necessary not because of your ego (identification with X) but because those concepts and maps may be helpful for some people. I understand you need to earn your living but I’m not sure that selling this book is so profitable for you vs. how many people can reach it and gain insights. I’d advise to decrease the book price by 20%. Additionally, I suggest to convert the book into open-source wiki-like website with free access; this is the best way currently to make a difference for people anywhere in the world. Of course, you can continue selling your book, give lectures and provide coaching service (if you like). In the current form, by selling the book only, I do not believe the chances of the ideas described by you in the book to reach people are high. And if you are really interested in helping others (and as an ASD, I believe, you’re), then I’d encourage you to think about moving all content to web, converting it to wiki-like pages, and allowing others to study it and discuss freely. I promise you’ll be surprised how much you’ll gain back from the world, and in the ways you expect the least.

    By the way, the idea with the play is a good one. I think I understood your intention – take the NTs behavior and explain what they’re doing and why. Probably, I’d just rather stick it as Appendix, or, if we’re moving to the web, create a whole set of plays and enrich them with hyperlinks to the patterns.

    Best regards!

  12. Sibyl Smirl says:

    I just finished the book, that I got from, and loved it. Funny, I could have sworn while I was reading it that you’d leaned heavily on Korzybski and Hayakawa, and you didn’t even mention them above– of course, both of them were way too early to have caught on to anything of the differences between autistic and NT wiring — that was all yours. And I think it needs to be spread around and read by all aspies and auties — it’s a bedrock and backbone, much more so than those basically personal memoirs that are being written by, and widely publicized among, our people now in the 21st century.

  13. wouter says:

    AMAZING book! You really have changed the way I look to myself and other. Thank you.
    We should give this book to everyone with Asperger Syndrome!

  14. Wouter says:

    @Sibyl Smirl
    Exactly what you said, widely publicized book about Asperger’s/Autism are really not helpfull. This is a honest book, written by someone who use his brains.
    (sorry my english isn’t very good, I’m 17 and I come from belgium)

  15. wouter says:

    Hey Ian Ford, recently I read an interesting book about psychology. I think you’ll appreciate it.

  16. Jean Kearns Miller says:

    I’ve just finished the book and hope to write more later (I’m at work), but a lot of the book resonates with me and some of my thinking re: “neurological hegemony.” Some of what you say is affirmed in a Powerpoint I present to my students in English Comp 2 where I out myself and set autism in a rhetorical context. (The issue is surely multidisciplinary.) I talk about the ugliness to atypicals of the word “inappropriate,” and the futility of injunctions to “be spontaneous, just be yourself” when what that means is a range of acceptable “spontaneous” behaviors. So much of what you say is greatly reinforcing. Thanks.

  17. Ben says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing such a great book. I haven’t found anything so concise and helpful. I’ve been struggling to find my own way after finishing university but your book has clarified a lot of things for me. Thanks again!

  18. Quarries and Corridors says:

    Just wanted to thank you for writing this book, it’s genuinely helped me to understand several past experiences and concepts like small talk and flirting that I hadn’t fully grasped before despite several people trying to explain them to be at length.

    You may be interested to learn (if you haven’t already read this yourself) that this 2004 paper, “CONCEPT FORMATION: ‘OBJECT’ ATTRIBUTES
    DYNAMICALLY INHIBITED FROM CONSCIOUS AWARENESS” by Snyder, Bossomaier and Mitchell, on concept and ‘metaconcept’ formation strongly reflects and supports the early patterns you describe in the book. It posits that autistic individuals see the world in a more accurate and detailed way due to not developing the neurotypical mechanism of seeing the world only as encapsulating concepts and abstract metaconcepts which inhibit conscious awareness of groupings of concepts.

    Click to access jinapr04.pdf

    Hope you found that interesting and thanks again!

  19. JJ says:

    I just finished this book, and I’d be interested to see any further insights. Here are some of my initial thoughts on it.

    Let me start by saying that, from my readings of models of how people think, this one is unusually insightful. It’s rare that I come across a description that suddenly reveals a hidden domain like with your description of small talk, and I was shocked several times while reading this book. Even the parts where I disagreed were at least reasonably thoughtful, and I was usually left feeling like I was missing the puzzle pieces needed to improve on those descriptions.

    You make distinctions between concrete, abstract, and free-floating symbols, but it’s not clear to me that most NTs distinguish between abstract and free-floating symbols. This leads to trouble when they try to use unsound analogies and associative generalizations, especially in STEM domains. I’ve wondered for a while how this kind of reasoning works, i.e. what most NTs use and perceive in place of rigorous, calculated logic. The book gets into some of it, but I was hoping for something that addressed that point directly.

    The stencil analogy seems incomplete to me. In Scene 2 of “The Lockstep Tragedy,” Angel at least recognizes that she doesn’t know what kind of animal Willie’s ferret is. Somewhere in her mental map is a mechanism that allows unknown phenomena to be recognized as unknown. I’m still trying to consider how this chapter could relate to Jeff Hawkins’s neurological model of learning in “On Intelligence.”

    Many of your descriptions in this book reminded me of descriptions in Bob Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians.” Have you read any of the scientific literature on authoritarian orientations, like right-wing authoritarianism or social dominance orientation? I’m wondering how those relate to “anti-autistics.”


    I’m starting to get a more coherent sense of how personas work, although I’m still not convinced I have it right. The idea is that there is a richly detailed language for encoding personality. NTs conform to a simplification of actual personality in order to make social interaction more predictable and understandable. (This isn’t meant to explain conformity in general.) To the extent possible, people push their personas as far as they can to their advantage, while still accurately informing other people of how to interact with them positively. This conformity and persona language let NTs cheat at empathy in a big way.

    For the sake of their egos, NTs largely believe their own glamorized personas. NTs believe other people’s personas unless they suspect deception. To get a more complete model of other people, NTs layer their understanding of personas on top of a default model that simply copies their unconscious, unmasked understanding of themselves. In this way, they only see behind their own masks in their judgements of others. So far, this is the best explanation I can come up with for projection.

    Autistics build models of other people in a similar way, but they get jammed by inconsistencies with NTs and NT social reality.

  20. abc02 says:

    Hi. Is it possible for you to make your book available on apple’s app store?

  21. ianology says:

    Sorry it is not on apple, but there is a Kindle edition (maybe there is an app for reading kindle books??)

  22. Linda says:

    Reading this book at age 65 and looking back, I had a LOT of aha! moments and recognitions of things that I’ve said seen myself. I love it, and I’ll probably read it again. I liked the play with the discussion of the patterns after each section. That’s where a lot of my aha! moments were. Since my own recognition of my so-called Aspergers, I read several books and some online material. I had three favorite books, and this is number one…a roadmap of sorts for negotiating the twists and turns out there – if I choose to do that. Life has been a lot of work for me, and maybe just knowing is enough for now! Thanks for the best field guide out there…absolutely loved the title. Liking Sci-fi, it was really attractive to me. :). …even more so than my field guide to wild edibles, and I like that one a lot – really!
    It actually also lines right up with what I have found in many of my spiritual/metaphysical readings, such as that famous phrase about being in the world, but not of it.
    Thanks again,

  23. Somchai says:

    English is not my native language but I found the book very easy to read and understand. I felt very happy after i’d finished the book. just want to say, “thank you” and let you know I’m waiting for you next book about ‘punishment and reward.’ again, “thank you.”

  24. Friendly greetings Ian! Do you have a personal email so I can correspond with you privately? I’m midway through your Field Guide, and it’s already been quite enthralling. I also have some other topics of interest… feel free to reply here or reach me at 4 at torley dot com, thank you! :D

  25. Anonymous says:

    I am a French female certainly autistic reader, I’ve just finished your book and I’m really impressed by your ability to dive into NT’s minds. The last chapter of your book, which sums up “what is autism anyway” appears to me as a perfect description of my mind and way of functioning. Do you have already a French translation of your book available ? I had it shipped to me from the USA but would like to recommend it to non-English speaking persons. If not, do you contemplate a French translation in the near future ?
    Many thanks in advance for your reply.

  26. starlys says:

    Unfortunately there are no translations of the book. I’m open to suggestions if you know a translator!

  27. I read it all in a couple of days, despite a whirlwind of children and activities around me. I felt voracious and entranced…as in the relationship phase of “NRE”, when one so intimately desires to entangle with the mind and body of another.
    OMG, your book busted through every every plateaued personal-growth opportunity I had stored up.
    I am a new woman, with a clearer view of my own unconscious inclination to project my own ways onto others. The reason they seem so different than me, to me, is that they are!

    Incorporating these understandings literally changed my life… In the ocean of truth, your book paddled me through my process of grief and into acceptance. Thank you.

  28. Forscher says:

    I struggled a little bit with understand the conversation play before the explanations but your explanations themselves were quite excellent and described so many situations of my life exactly in the way as I perceived it. So in fact it has been a perfect description about how my native language differs from the neurotypical, intuitive native language. Thank you very much with helping me to recognize major “thinking errors” of my life after 30 years of not being aware of them. Just great.

  29. Kevin Regal says:

    This book has been so helpful to me! I plan to read it a second time.

  30. emmajoey says:

    Reblogged this on Situation Nominal and commented:
    Awesome book, it really helped me to process things.
    I must remember to reread it someday soon.

  31. J.T. says:

    Great book, despite a fairly large amount of grammatical errors, at least on the Kindle edition. I learned a ton of useful facts that I plan to try with those mysterious NT creatures. Thank you so much for writing this; there are a ton of books for NTs about how to understand us, but precious few that help us understand them.

  32. David Deley says:

    Excellent book! Thank you for writing this book. I like the way a play is used as an example to be analyzed.

    I notice a similarity in the description of how many neurotypicals trust Authority figures and the Guardian (SJ) personality type as described by David Keirsey. Guardians comprise about 50% of the general population, so it makes sense they would be frequently encountered.

    Studying Temperament Theory has greatly helped me in understanding people with different personality types. The seminal work is David Keirsey’s book “Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence” (it’s not a sequel, the II means 2nd expanded edition).

  33. Will MacPheat says:

    In December 2015, at the age of 59, I discovered that I had Asperger’s. While that revelation may have been cause for happiness, instead it was dismay at realizing how much my life had been negatively impacted by it.
    While reading this book was revelatory in many ways and confirming in others, it, too was somewhat depressing – a confirmation of why the world is the mess it is and a seeming hopelessness about being able to change it,
    One thing that really struck me, late in the book was a comment about people feeling uncomfortable with your behavior. I have experienced this several times in my life, with no understanding why. I still do not understand why, except that it has always been a woman, one who exhibits symptoms of having been sexually abused or assaulted. This has resulted in a rather serious stain (two, to be precise), which makes it even more difficult to live among the NTs.
    I really see the situation with Autistics as not much different than what we have had with sexual identity in recent years and I hope that there will be a coming realization of the differences in neurology that need to be embraced by mankind rather than ostracized.

  34. rick says:

    How many people saw a beaver in the images on page 22 and 23?

    Does that animal have flat tail or a fuzzy tail?

    Did you see a beaver because he told you that you would see a beaver?

    This is the power of symbolic filters.

    Those images are of an animal called a marmot.

  35. David Deley says:

    If no fixed page numbers are available, you can include a section title or a chapter or other number.

    Research “how to cite a kindle book without page numbers”.

    (Don’t get hung up on old fashioned page numbers. Technology changes and we must modify how we do things to keep up with the new technology.)

    Star Ford wrote: > >

  36. Anthony says:

    This book was a revelation to me and I find myself recommending it regularly.. I wish I had had it 50 years ago! I had to read it twice to really follow the play. Any chance of an inverse book : An earthlings view of Aspergers/autism.

  37. Frank Joerdens says:

    In the afterword “What’s an autie to do?” you quote an “autie correspondent” saying a couple of things which you write you are “still skeptical about,” like “… we are given really really … bad data about what we and everyone else are feeling which throws off all subsequent calculations …” In my December 2010 print edition that’s on pages 195/6. For me this correspondent of yours absolutely nails it in the sense that it matches my own preliminary conclusions. I am a little distraught that someone with such precision in their thinking on the subject matter at hand should be resigned to a footnote somewhere without her identity revealed or credit otherwise attributed. Has this correspondent published anything? Maintain a blog? Can you put me in touch somehow? Thanks!

  38. starlys says:

    Frank, The person didn’t want to be named in the book and I’m not actually sure how to find her how. But I agree it was really well said.

  39. Mouse says:

    Is there any way of reading this book without going through Amazon? The “buy directly from the publisher” link just seems to redirect to an Amazon page.

  40. starlys says:

    The publisher (CreateSpace) was bought and consumed by Amazon so they no longer have a customer facing page. If you don’t like amazon, try Barnes & Noble or any other general book retailer – it should be available from many places.

  41. Dear Mr. Ford,
    Thank you so much for writing this book. I got diagnosed last July at age 24 with ASD and I am so happy you decided to write this book. After thinking I was crazy for 24 years I was finally able to put a label on my kind of crazy and it has made me feel like I belong.
    Your book made me feel emotional, accepted and happy. Thank you again!

  42. starlys says:

    Thank you Eva! -Star (Ms, not Mr, btw!)

  43. kyle brandenberger says:

    As a scientist, I am wondering if this is a work based solely on your own observations or whether this is based on the body of scientific literature? The theory seems to make sense, but without data this work is just opinion. Can you clarify this issue for me?

  44. starlys says:

    Kyle, to answer your question: it’s informed by linguistics and some psychology theory, but it is not itself scientifically validated.

  45. Fla says:

    Thank you very much for writing this book.
    It took me long to finish reading it cause it made me think and realised about so many things that made totally sense in my life.

    I lived 43 years thinking I was wrong. I was not diagnosed with autism but I do have Adhd, bipolar disorder 2… yet so many things from this book make so much sense to me and makes me feel less lonely and while reading I was thinking: yes! This is how I feel, how I see things!
    Now I wonder where can I find a adult group of autistics in Europe… any advice?

    Thanks again, I will read it again in case the world keeps trying to convince me to be more typical.

  46. Linda Mayer says:

    A book that needs to be read and understood by neurotypicals.

  47. Sunny says:

    Hi Ian, I’m on page 80 of the book. I’m reading it to help my 10-year old son. Your book is so helpful! I’m really glad he will be able to learn these patterns at an early age and hopefully it will make things easier for him.

    I’m enjoying your format of a story and the list of tips combined together. It’s informative and fun.

    Thank you!
    A mom in Toronto, Canada

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