In my last blog I asked why people with Autism suffer from isolation and loneliness? To even begin with this requires more thought on my own understanding of Autism. Two points jump out:
1) It is not an illness nor can it be cured.
2) I fall into a minority group.
Autism is a neurological condition whereby our brains are wired differently to brains of the general population known as neurotypicals, NT for short. If all the people in the world had Autistic brains then we would be considered ‘normal’, but the world is geared for the majority with ‘neurotypical’ thinking, in other words people who are not Autistic. Anything that doesn’t fit into the norm is classified a ‘disability.’ Even in this enlightened age disabled people are still struggling to be seen and heard.
What does ‘wired differently’ look like?
For a start, there’s a common saying I’ve read, ‘If you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve only met one Autistic person.’ All as unique as anyone else. However, there are some common traits which may or may not be present in varying degrees.
One example of different wiring on the medical criteria list for Autism puzzled me – that they don’t make eye contact. Oh, but many do and I’m one of them. Thing is, I now believe it’s a tweaked skill. During my research, I remembered my friend (yes, I have a friend and she’s a NT) saying that I had very direct eye contact, to the point of demanding, ‘Look at me,’ when we were talking.
Then Jackie Peet (my therapist) mentioned how penetrating my gaze was at times. With these clues, I went delving into my mind and that’s when I heard it! An inner dialogue feeding me continual instructions. A prompting service, if you like. I can only think that I picked this up when young, noticing eye contact was needed in society. Or maybe I was one of those Autistic children who stare. I don’t know what I did back then, no-one’s told me. Either way, I developed my version of eye-contact. I modified it when my friend told me. With trusted friends it’s not an issue, but it’s tricky with strangers when trying to engage in talk. This is how it goes in my head whilst attempting a conversation.
“Look them in the eyes, now look away. Look back, don’t stare, blink. Look away, look around, look back. Don’t stare, do not fix their eyes. Blink…” And so on. How stressful is that?
In awe of this inner voice, I find it weird that I’ve learned this behaviour without knowing. Autistic girls are good at this, it is called ‘masking.’ Wanting to fit in, we watch our peer group and pick up their social ways. But it’s not natural to an Autistic child. So we’re clumsy at it, slipping up in subtle ways. All humans have radars that sense difference, usually at an unconscious level. Whilst not brilliant at recognising the nuances of other people, many Autistics are good at sensing. So are NTs who pick up at a subliminal level that something is wrong or different when talking to an Auty. Of course, it depends on the NTs attitude as to how they react. Trouble is, even they don’t realise what’s happening so they make judgements, something I come across frequently. I used to think that people just didn’t get me, now I know the reason.
Someone I met, a while back, via another friend, severed contact within a few meetings. I thought we were getting along fine, until the invitations stopped. Not able to handle yet another rejection I tried to smooth things over, until she told me, bluntly, to go away. This haunted me for months, still does, because an Auty mind has great difficulty letting go of significant events, especially if they are hurtful. More so as this happened after I’d just lost both my parents, my sister and two very close friends and was grieving very badly. Rejection familiar territory, but death wasn’t.
I realise now that this woman was reacting to whatever it was she perceived as different. I was just being me. Right now I’m not sure who that is, I feel like an alien in a strange world. I look back on the many friends and relatives who’ve severed contact and wonder how I can live in this world of alienation.
Longterm undiagnosed Autism, in my current experience, is a curse. It separates us from meaningful connections, sadly, common throughout the Autistic world. Therefore, without having understanding support, ‘Siberian isolation’ is what happens. And whilst I am lucky to have my best friend, I’m aware she has a full and busy social life of her own. It is the day to day waking to an empty house, void of family, that stabs me in the heart when I open my eyes every morning. Pervading silence always washes over me as I fumble for the radio. Continual background sound creates a presence in the house.
Another wonky wire that some Autistic people cannot easily change is rigid thinking. I shall try to understand this in another blog. However, I’ve read that NTs can, if bothered, meet an Autistic person halfway. With a bit of knowledge, they are probably better equipped to understand the difference in wiring.
So, if you are an NT reading this, and I hope some do, you are, seemingly, able to create a communication pathway with an Autistic person. Why would you want to do that? To help a family member i.e. a child or sibling, find out more about your Auty friend, professional reasons maybe or develop a better understanding of an Autistic work colleague.
You probably know someone with undiagnosed autism. They may come across as blunt, literal, even rude, pedantic or irritating or it maybe that they just make you feel uncomfortable. I urge not to judge, they may well be struggling inside with themselves or you too.
See ya then,