Hybrids and Shadows
Autism, as it turns out, is not a black and white thing. There are people who have Asperger’s, and there are people who don’t have it, but.
That but is important.
There is a group of people I like to call hybrids. They are exceptionally warm, emotionally intelligent neurotypicals. Highly empathetic. Highly open-minded. And for whatever reason, they’ve spent a lot of time around one or more Aspies. Usually this is because they married an Aspie, or they have an Aspie in their immediate family (father, mother, sibling, whatever). Sometimes it happens with close friends. It can even happen with people who work professionally with a number of Aspies over a long period of time.
This is because Asperger’s is mildly contagious. If you spend enough time with us, you start to gain symptoms. I suspect that because hybrids are so empathetic, they’re especially susceptible. And so what happens is that you end up with these warm, nurturing people with a bunch of weird autistic traits. Maybe they develop intense, obsessive special interests, or they lose all patience with superficial niceties or social game-playing. They might become more introverted or socially withdrawn. Their sense of humour might get weird, or they could develop a knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
Basically, we ruin our loved ones. You’re welcome.
The second group of people I like to call shadows. They have some symptoms of Asperger’s, but not enough to be diagnosed. You could say the same for hybrids, but the key difference is that shadows have always been this way. They have early memories of autistic tendencies. Shadows are neither here nor there. They don’t quite fit in with neurotypicals, but they’re definitely not Aspie either. They tend to be shy and geeky, and questioning of social norms. Shadows will often have at least one autistic person in their families; they often end up having an Aspie kid. One big difference between shadows and hybrids is that the emotional intelligence of shadows isn’t necessarily much above average. They tend to be less touchy-feely.
So how can you tell whether someone is a hybrid, a shadow, or an Aspie? Sometimes you can’t. The lines are blurry. But I’ve never met an Aspie I would describe as warm, so that’s a good indication right there. Another way you can tell is by finding out about their family. For instance, if they have an older sibling with autism, they’re more likely to be a hybrid. This is because they were impacted by them from birth. If they have a younger sibling with autism, they’re more likely to be a shadow. It’s in the genes, but they didn’t get a “full dose”.
You can also ask about their early childhood. If they’re doing something like identifying the makes of cars from the age of three- but they appear to be otherwise well-adjusted- they’re probably a shadow.
Here’s an example of two people I used to know. Observing them helped me feel out what the difference between the two groups is.
Timothy, one of my friends with Asperger’s, had two best friends who helped take care of him. But these friends- Greg and Russell- had very different temperaments. Greg was laid-back and good-humoured. He liked to present as cool and unflappable, but his affection for Timothy ran deep. Greg would’ve done anything for him. He might have denied it, but he obviously had a strong, nurturing impulse. Hybrid, for sure.
Russell was different. He was high-strung, neurotic, and stereotypically geeky. But he was highly self-aware. His social skills were polished in a distinctly non-autistic way. He wasn’t warm, but he was friendly. He would have done anything for Timothy out of principle: when you’re friends, that’s what you do. He was a shadow.
In the end, do these labels and categories matter? To a certain extent, yes. It helps to know who you are and who you’re dealing with. It helps to know where people are coming from. But this is only helpful up to a certain point.
What matters is that Aspies are less alone than we think we are. The community is a little larger than we generally assume it to be. Not everyone is on the spectrum- not even remotely- but there are plenty of shades of grey here.
It’s ironic, because my people historically don’t appreciate or understand shades of grey. We’re black and white thinkers, it’s always all or nothing. But the people in between- these shadows and hybrids- are necessary.