No Need for Normal
The game was tied, 11-all. Next score would win it. Standing near the endzone, Ruthie saw the disc coming straight for her. She dove for it—and missed. The ground was not overly friendly in its greeting. And that crunching noise—that couldn't be good. She braced her right hand in the grass and tried to get up, only to find that her wrist wasn't cooperating. 'Explains that noise,' Ruthie thought. What she said was more along the lines of "Ouch, damnit!" A teammate came over and helped her up. "Computer, end program and save." The field and the other players vanished, leaving Ruthie standing alone in a black room with a yellow grid pattern. "Computer, exit." Ruthie headed down the corridor towards Sickbay.
Dr. Crusher looked up from her desk to see a young woman in shorts and cleats, holding her wrist. "What seems to be the trouble, Lieutenant?" she asked, reaching for a tricorder.
"Slight mishap in the holodeck. I dove for a Frisbee and missed," Ruthie said as she used her left hand to hoist herself up onto the examining table.
"I see," the doctor replied as she scanned her patient. "You wouldn't happen to have heard a cracking sound, would you?"
"Yep. Does that mean what I think it means?"
"It most certainly does." Dr. Crusher set down her tricorder and reached for an osteogenic stimulator. "That's a pretty nasty break you've got there," she commented, as she stabilized the ulna. A century ago, a break this severe would have necessitated x-rays, surgery and weeks with a plaster cast, followed by months of therapy. Technology had changed, however, and breaks and fractures could be treated much more efficiently.
"Yeah, I fell flat on my hand," Ruthie replied, demonstrating with her left hand placed flat on the examining table, wrist at a 90° angle. "I had been told not to do that," she added sheepishly.
"If you fell like that," the doctor responded, raising her eyebrows, "you're very lucky that your wrist is all you broke." She picked up a wrist brace. "There. How's that feel?"
"Well, it's not dangling anymore. Still hurts like crazy though."
The doctor smiled. "I think I can fix that," she said, picking up a hypospray and injecting it into the lieutenant's shoulder. "Is that better?" she asked after a moment.
"Considerably, thank you."
Dr. Crusher picked up her tricorder again, re-scanning her patient. Something seemed a bit odd about the young woman's mannerisms—most notably, she didn't seem to make eye contact when speaking. The doctor frowned at the readout. "Did you hit your head when you fell, Ruthie?"
"No…everything all right, Doctor?" she asked, uncertainly.
"Well, your wrist is fine, or will be in a day or two. Neurologically, however, I'm seeing something very strange."
Ruthie grinned. "Would that be explained by autism, by any chance?"
"It would—but your file doesn't say anything about autism." Dr. Crusher raised an eyebrow.
"It doesn't?" Ruthie sounded surprised. "It's supposed to. Dr. Ray certainly knew about it. I assumed that the file had been updated before I transferred off of Starbase Mendeleyev last week. It was bureaucratic oversight on Starfleet's part that got it left off in the first place."
"That explains a lot. You know, they found a cure for autism about 10 years ago."
"I know. I wasn't interested then, and I'm still not."
"There are a lot fewer side effects these days," Dr. Crusher pointed out.
"I'm sure there are. But it wasn't the side effects that were the problem, Doctor," Ruthie shrugged.
"I'd better get going. I'm scheduled to be on duty in about 45 minutes."
"Ok. Come back here in two days so I can have another look at that wrist. And no heavy lifting."
"No problem. Thanks." Lieutenant Green walked back to her quarters.
Wesley stepped out of his mother's office. "Mom?"
"Wesley—you weren't eavesdropping, were you?"
"No. Well, not intentionally, anyways. I just wanted to ask you if I could stay out a little later than usual tonight. Alex and I are working on a class science project."
"I suppose that would be fine, son."
"Mom…if there's a cure available for autism, why wouldn't Lieutenant Green want it?"
"I'm not sure, Wesley. But I respect her choice."
Back in her quarters, Lieutenant Green put away her cleats and changed back into uniform. She pulled her blue and black shirt over her head and put her communicator badge on it. She glanced down at the black brace on her wrist. "That's gonna attract some attention on the bridge," she grumbled to herself as she headed out the door. "Bridge," she said, as she stepped onto the turbolift.
Captain Picard glanced over his shoulder as the turbolift hissed open, and Lieutenant Green took over at one of the aft science stations. "Did something happen to your wrist, Lieutenant?" the captain asked.
"I had a slight disagreement with gravity in the holodeck this morning, Captain," she replied.
"But gravity is not sentient," Data interrupted. "It is a physical force. Ergo, it cannot disagree with anyone."
"It's a figure of speech, Data," Counselor Troi explained as Riker laughed. "I believe Lieutenant Green is saying that she fell."
"An interesting euphemism. 'To disagree with gravity' as a substitute for 'to fall.' It implies that the speaker is actually engaged in a conflict with gravity—but in such a conflict, gravity would always win. Perhaps it is an attempt to blame an uncontrollable physical force for one's own clumsiness. But, in such a case…"
"Enough, Mr. Data," Picard interrupted.
"Ah. Excuse me, sir."
"Quite all right, Data." The captain tugged at the hem of his shirt. "Set course for Starbase 718, Warp 4"
"Course ready and laid in, sir," the helmsman replied, tapping at the console.
"Engage," Picard ordered, pointing two fingers ahead.
"Aye, Aye, sir."
"Mr. Data, what is our estimated time of arrival?"
"Approximately 8 days, 21 hours, 47 minutes and 39 sec…"
Several hours later, Lieutenant Green wandered into Ten-Forward and ordered a cranberry juice and some chocolate pudding. Eating it left-handed, however, took awhile. She looked up, startled, as someone tapped her on the shoulder. "Oh…Wesley—I didn't see you there."
"I'm sorry. I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"Nope. Go ahead and sit down, if you like." She pushed a strand of light brown hair back behind her ear.
"Thanks," he said, dropping into a seat across from her. "I, uh, hope you don't think I was eavesdropping or anything, but I was waiting for my Mom in her office this morning while you were in Sickbay, and I had a couple of questions. You, um, don't have to answer, though, if you don't want to."
"I don't mind, Wesley. I don't exactly advertise the fact that I'm autistic, but I don't make a big secret out of it either."
"Please," she said with a smile, "off-duty, it's Ruthie."
"Oh, ok. Ruthie, if there's a cure for autism, why don't you want it?"
"Thought you were going to ask me that," she said with a grin. "It's kinda complicated. The first part of it is what the so-called 'cure' would entail—not the side-effects, the basis of the cure itself. You see, autism is a neurological condition; it's hard-wired into the brain. 'Curing' it would be roughly equivalent to changing personality. How I think, how I feel, how I respond to different situations—they're all colored by autism. Were I not autistic, I would be a completely different person. And, truth be told, I'm pretty happy with who I am now. Not to mention, it's permanent. Like it or not, there's no going back. No one's bothered with finding a cure for neurotypicality; there wouldn't be much of a market." She sipped her juice. "I suppose the Vulcans might be interested," she added with a laugh, "but they don't need a cure."
"I guess that makes sense…but I'm not sure I get the joke," the teenager replied. "What's the second part?"
"That's just a question of how one sees autism. Most people see it as a disease, something that needs to be 'fixed.' I don't."
"Well, if it's not a disease, what is it?"
"A way of life. And, for better or for worse, it's the only life I've ever known. And it's not a bad life. Sure, I've got weaknesses, like anyone else, but there are strengths too. I don't want to change that. Autistics don't necessarily need a cure; we just need acceptance for who we are. Now, some of the co-occurring conditions, sure. If they ever find a cure for dyslexia, or, better yet, Sensory Integration Disorder, please, let me know. But I don't need a cure for being myself."
"You don't even really seem autistic, though, Ruthie. I thought autistics couldn't talk."
"That's a stereotype, Wesley. And, like most stereotypes, it has both a grain of truth and considerably more notoriety than is good for it. Some autistics are nonverbal. That tends to be more a symptom of Kanner's Syndrome, or classic autism. I have what's known as Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of high-functioning autism. I usually pass for just eccentric. I could probably manage to pass as normal, short-term—but it definitely wouldn't be worth the stress, and your Mom's tricorder would still nail me. A lot of people don't realize that autism is a spectrum condition. It is Kanner's, it is Asperger's and it is everything in between."
"But haven't you ever wanted to be normal, like everyone else?"
Ruthie shrugged. "Define 'normal'."
"What do you mean?"
"Normal is a subjective term; it's all relative. But to answer your question, sure, of course. But it's not worth becoming someone else just to fit society's expectations."
"But how can normal be subjective?"
"Put it this way: no one looks twice when a Vulcan appears completely unemotional, because that's 'normal'—for a Vulcan. People may get exasperated, but no one is surprised when Commander Data takes a metaphor literally or answers a rhetorical question, because that's 'normal'—for Data. Yet people tend to have metaphorical cattle when a human does exactly the same things, because it's not 'normal'. But it is normal—for an autistic."
"I think I'm beginning to understand—at least a little bit, anyhow." He checked the time. "I gotta go. I'm meeting a friend to work on a class project. Thanks, Ruthie."
"Actually, Wes, thank you—for the practice. I need to have pretty much the same conversation again in the next couple of days."
"What do you mean?"
"Captain Picard and Commander Riker need to know, and Counselor Troi and your Mom probably ought to know."
"Oh. See you around then."
"Sure thing, Wes."
Two days later, a small group had gathered in the observation lounge. "Is there anything in particular that sets you off, Lieutenant?" Captain Picard asked, after hearing Lieutenant Green's description of autism, as well as its common partner, Sensory Integration Disorder.
Lieutenant Green stood, leaning against the wall. A careful observer would notice that she was actually looking over the heads of the other officers in the room, rather than looking them in the eye. "Well, I don't take crowds well. Other than that, I tend to have problems mostly with loud noises and bright flashing lights. It's like putting too much current into a circuit. The circuit overloads." Dr. Crusher sat by Counselor Troi, taking notes. That medical file was going to be getting a major update in the very near future.
"What about the red alert alarm sequence?" Commander Riker asked, concerned. A flashing red light and loud, siren-like klaxons certainly seemed to fit that description.
Lieutenant Green sighed. "I don't like it, but I can deal with it. I knew that if I was going to serve on a starship, I was going to have to be able to listen to that sound. So, when I was in my first year at the Academy, I asked my advisor to get me a recording of it and I played it just barely audible, and increased the volume over the course of two months until I could listen to it at normal volume. Nearly drove my poor roommate crazy," she added, laughing. "As for the red lights, they're not so bad; they all flash in sync. Now the phaser range? That hurts."
"Are there any warning signs we should watch out for?" the captain asked.
"I'm pretty good about removing myself from situations before I get to the breaking point. If I seem really twitchy or jittery and ask permission to leave the bridge, that's probably why. If I ever do reach breaking point, you'll probably know."
"Do you rock?" Dr. Crusher asked.
"I've been told that I do. But by the time I get to that point, I'm not likely to be aware of it." Lieutenant Green shook her head. "That's more or less complete shutdown mode. About the only way to get my attention is to reach over and tap me on the shoulder; I won't generally respond to my name. That doesn't happen often, though."
"Is there any chance of that happening in an emergency situation?" Counselor Troi asked the question that was on everybody's mind.
"No. Between the autistic emotional detachment and my hypersensitivity to adrenaline, I tend to coast through emergencies on an adrenaline high. I actually tend to function better than a lot of neurotypicals. As soon as it's over, however, I do tend to crash, and crash hard."
The captain stood up. "Thank you for the information, Lieutenant." He tugged at his shirt. "Well everyone, let's get back to the bridge."
Lieutenant Green turned to follow. "Not so fast, Lieutenant," Dr. Crusher interrupted, hands on her hips. "You're not on duty for another hour, correct?"
"You're coming with me then. I want another look at that wrist."
Author's Notes: I've heard it said that most everyone writes a Mary-Sue sooner or later, if they write at all. I suspect that Ruthie Green is my 'Sue. She isn't beautiful, or heroic, or even particularly important. She isn't out searching for her one true love, though I doubt she'd complain if he were to come along. She is, however, that tricky character to write, the self-insert-trying-to-make-a-point (I seem to be prone to those…). If you haven't guessed, I am indeed autistic. There's so much talk these days about "cure autism now" and how autism is an epidemic, kidnapping our children. Somehow, no one ever bothers to ask us what we think. I don't need a cure. I need acceptance. I felt the need to write this, and so I did. I'm not a fabulous writer; I don't know if anyone will bother reading this or not. But if they do, I hope they gain a little bit of perspective.