Blog 6: Autism Acceptance Week, April 1st – 7th, 2019

Autism and Communication

Sometimes, in a room full of people, I feel more like a chair than a human. I am somehow separate, like I am sitting in a snow globe, or a goldfish bowl.

In a room full of people I am the first to notice if someone looks ill, if someone looks sad, if someone looks different, if someone isn’t included or if someone needs something, and I fix it. My writing, and my fixing things for others, is my way of communicating. It is comfortable for me to do this because there is a clear problem, a clear solution, and validation from them afterwards that I have done the right thing.

Most people communicate verbally, and they use their body language, facial expressions and behaviour to communicate things to one another, but I do not function in this way. If you tell me the population of China I will know it. By the same rule, if you tell me that you like me, I will know it, but I cannot pick this up from your body language, facial expressions or behaviour towards me.

I only know what I am told, taught or practically shown. Facts and clarity are comforting even when the thing I’m being told is bad. Without facts there is no social imagination, just uncertainty, and this makes building friendships and relationships very difficult.

Adults rarely communicate with the direct clarity and consistency I need, to be able to feel safe and successful in conversations and relationships.

Because I’m acutely aware of this, I walk into every social circumstance in fear of misunderstanding, making mistakes and saying the ‘wrong’ thing, even when it is true.

I know that not everyone ‘likes’ honesty all of the time, but I don’t fully know when it is acceptable and when it isn’t. Lying is wrong, but it doesn’t occur to me to cushion any fact with extra layers of communication, when the blunt truth is such a comfort to me. I’m not great with sarcasm and sayings because I take them literally, and in the past I have mistaken insults for compliments. Basically, a lot of ‘normal’ communication is really abnormal to me, and it’s things people ‘just know,’ as if by magic.

So I am always “on-the-back-foot,” because, along with Autism, I also have self-awareness, and I care.

I say what I mean, mean what I say, and do what I say I’m going to do, and I always expect that is what everyone will do, but they don’t. You have to listen to, and understand, what is unsaid, just as much as what is said, and so I get lots wrong.

This song from the musical Dear Evan Hansen can explain the feeling better than I can:

People think I’m shy but I’m not really, I’m just careful. People think I am anti-social, or that I don’t want to talk to them, but I really do. I love people with clear intentions and I have a lot to say, but I want to talk about all the things that are real to them. People think I’m blunt, but I’m really just saving them from the devastation of misunderstanding.

I’m best at listening, fixing, remembering, and following direction. This can make autistic people vulnerable to abusive relationships but that’s another blog.

This autistic women talks about friendship, dating and relationships in the following video:

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