Since some of us have run into somewhat similar problems, I’m posting this ‘guest’ blog – guest blog in the sense that for once, this post is for neurotypicals, and not autists.
We’d like you to know a few things about us.
- You don’t know everything about autism. WE don’t know everything about autism, and we have lived with it for 30, 40, 50, 60-odd years. Psychiatrists don’t know everything about autism. It’s relatively safe to say that beyond God, no one does.
- Not everyone with autism is the same. That you know one person with autism doesn’t mean you know them all. That would be like us saying that because we encountered one neurotypical, we know them all. Autism is a huge spectrum. Severity of autism often, but not always, corresponds with severity of symptoms, symptoms vary from one person to the next and from one situation to the next. Yes, there are limitations and specific symptoms. But what combination of symptoms shows up in any one person may vary. And aside from that, we have our own personalities. I’ve worked with autistic children and not met two that were exactly alike, even at a young age.
And then there are a few things that happen to us, that may need some explaining.
For a moment, say the brain works like a Windows computer. We, like computers, need extremely precise information, predictability, and reliability to function. Information is sorted in files. If a piece of the information needed to complete the file is missing, the file opens. And stays open.
That file then acts like a pop-up. It will constantly appear on the screen, no matter how often you try to click it away. It will only close when that missing piece of information is somehow resolved.
Now imagine not one file open and popping up, but three. or four. or ten.
You’d never get any work done with a screen full of pop-ups. And that’s what it’s like for us. Our brains are dealing with these pop-ups and when there are too many (and how many we can handle varies per person and per situation) we no longer function. The files take over everything.
Sounds simple, right? And not particularly troublesome. Just need to keep files from opening. Or close them as soon as they do.
You wish. We don’t have a detail/important filter. So files open for things that you never even saw. Information we needed and you failed to give us because you didn’t realize we needed it. An agreement that you failed to keep, possibly because you never realized it WAS an agreement. “We should get together for coffee” is an agreement to us. A solid declaration to do something, requiring only a date and time to be finalized. You, however, may have long forgotten ever even saying such a thing. And you want to know what it feels like when that happens and you dismiss it because it didn’t seem important to you? Well, like this:
I walk up to you with a baseball bat and proceed to casually break your leg in passing. Whilst you are moaning on the floor, I raise an eyebrow and inquire what you are doing there. And why on earth you’re not getting up and getting things done. You’re supposed to run up to the attic and get some things. Get going.
…What do you mean, you can’t because I broke your leg? What a horrible thing to accuse me of! Besides, it’s not like a broken leg is that important. You’re just whining. You’d better repent. Oh, and get the stuff from the attic.
And I walk off, shrugging, leaving you behind on the floor to deal with your broken leg. Oh yeah, and that stuff that’s still in the attic, too.
When I say we need reliability and predictability, I don’t just mean you need to be more reliable and predictable than the average person. No, you need to be reliable in the 95-100% range.
That’s right, you’re not going to get there without putting in some effort. Few people are naturally up in that range. But when you’re not there, you’re constantly breaking our legs.
Now, you may think that we’re an awful lot of work. And yeah, we are. But look on the bright side – being incredibly reliable is not a bad thing. It will help you in many areas in your life, not just in your relationship with us.
Again, no two of us are alike, and while some general issues hold true for almost all of us, not all do and everyone has his or her own quirks in communication. And that includes YOU, you neurotypical! (Else, no two neurotypicals would ever have miscommunication amongst themselves, and I know for a fact that’s not true!)
No, I don’t mean that we are puzzling. Or that you are. Although, admittedly, you are.
What I mean, is that we often require a bit of time to process things. We see details, and need time to create the bigger picture from the details, as if we’re constantly solving a puzzle.
Any new incoming details end up on the pile of puzzle pieces yet to be sorted. How long it takes for your question or remark to get through, depends on a whole lot of things.
First of all, some of us are better at it than others. Second, it depends on how full our head already is with other pieces of various puzzles. If we’re trying to make five at the same time and have a huge pile of pieces to still sort out, you may imagine it will take a bit before we get around to replying. Third, it depends on what it is about.
For example, if you catch me at a friend’s office where I often hang out and ask me to make a cup of coffee, the response time will be almost instant. Familiar place, familiar activity, familiar to the point where it is almost automatic.
But if you are in a conversation with me that provokes an emotional response, you will likely never even see my reaction, because it can take literally days for me to get around to reacting. I need to discover that an emotional response has taken place, first. Then discover what the particular emotion was. Then discover why it occurred. Then discover that it has to do with our conversation. Then find out what it was in our conversation that triggered it…and so on.
So, give us a bit of time if you don’t see an instant reaction. We’re probably not ignoring you, but busy processing.
Also, if we’re trying to do five puzzles at the same time, chances are that in the midst of sorting, puzzle pieces will be lost and one or more of those puzzles will never show the complete picture. Or pieces get connected in the wrong way, to the wrong puzzle, even.
We’re not always wrong, even though we are.
We get genuinely upset. It’s not fake, even if you think it’s over something completely trivial. And sometimes we get upset over things that would upset anyone.
We have a disorder, we are told, that comes with some difficulties with empathy and a tendency to not understand social conventions, meaning we can, at times, be awkward, say things we probably should not, and disregard peoples’ feelings because we missed the nonverbal clues that they were having them.
If that is a *disorder*, then what makes it alright to shrug off OUR feelings as unimportant, disorder-induced, or irrelevant?
Aside from all that, we also have our strengths (no, not all of us can count the matches falling out of a box instantly or count cards at poker) which means in some areas, we may be able to contribute something very worthwhile if you bother to invest in an environment that enables us to function to the best of our ability. And many of us are capable of telling you what we need. Just talk to us (or better yet, write an e-mail with a list of points and a clearly specified request).
There are many more things I could write down, but again, one person with autism is not the other, and really the best thing to do is get to know the person you’re dealing with at that time.