Zoë Blade's notebook

A Field Guide to Earthlings

A Field Guide to Earthlings is a book by Star Ford, explaining allistic behaviour to an assumed-autistic reader.

This is the book I wished I'd had as a child. The one that explains how allistic people think, and so why they act the way they do, and what they expect of the rest of us. She makes it clear why there's so much friction between our neurotypes.

It's self-published, so the author is merely giving this her best shot, rather than being backed up by decades of scientific rigour. This isn't to say anything against her — studying the differences between neurotypes is still a fledgling field, with very few publications being written by and for neurodivergent people, or being very accurate — even the academic ones.

I went in expecting an idiosyncratic and unverified set of hypotheses explaining how allistic people might think. And I hoped it would prove helpful in practical terms, as a guide for interacting with allistic people on the assumption the ideas are true, regardless of whether they actually are. I believe that's exactly what I got, although I underestimated just how incisive the author would be, and overestimated the amount of practical advice you could get as a result of those insights.

Quite often, while reading another hypothesis offered by the author, it surprised me how simple the thing might be that had eluded me all this time. Things like common sense. Ford gives compellingly simple, concise answers.

Alas, there isn't always any corresponding actionable advice, which is the nature of differing neurotypes. It's one thing to understand the theory of how other people think, but something else entirely to try to emulate or even accommodate it, let alone in realtime. Still, I've found this guide immensely useful as an explanation for our talking and acting at crossed purposes. It's certainly less frustrating to know the likely reasons for such friction, even if it can't be helped.

Subsequent books about the subject will surely improve on this one, as people develop more accurate and refined hypotheses of how allistic people think, and test and revise them more thoroughly. But such research doesn't get funding as a serious scientific area of inquiry, as allistic people are in the majority, and so consider themselves self-explanatory or universally understood, which they emphatically are not.

This is the first book of its kind that I could find. I'm just glad it exists in any form, let alone such a clear and accessible one. While I would approach Ford's hypotheses tentatively, I do recommend that fellow autistic people seriously consider giving this book a read. If accurate, it does explain an awful lot about allistic behaviour.

In the end, it was a relief to learn that there are explainable reasons why allistic people behave the way they do, even if they usually boil down to "they're unconsciously sifting through, and automatically generating for their conscious a handy digest of, more information than you can possibly hope to consciously process". It's theory that perhaps can't be put into practice, but at least you'll come away with a deeper understanding of why inter-neurotype interactions are so frustrating, if not so many handy solutions.

And please, let's figure out as a society a way to make more books like this, even more accurately, informed by well-funded scientific research. There's a serious need for them. This is a commendable first step.

Allistic hypotheses books: A Field Guide to Earthlings