Having written this last Christmas, the impending season has triggered thoughts, so time to post this along with my cards.
My father once stated (paraphrasing), “You’re not like other children, you never show if you’re pleased when we give you gifts, you don’t run over to hug us.”
Mystified by his words, I sensed disappointment from him that stayed with me throughout life, clear as if it happened a minute ago.
Reading about the complex arena of autistic emotions, I’m realising that our norm may not fit acceptably with society’s expectations. To be honest I’m not sure how I react when presented with gifts, but I do know that feelings generally confuse me. Evasive experiences may never be understood, even with hindsight sadness.
Looking back over the years, reframing life, it’s only now I see the difficulty some had with my responses. In truth I just don’t know how to react or feel at times. Often, I love a gift after the giving, but can’t emote my inner workings in the moment. I wonder how this looks on the outside. Blankness? Possibly indifference, maybe boredom, at worst, dislike.
Yet, special interests can create inner anticipation and urgency. At that point, nothing else matters, only the objective, whether it be writing, poetry or delving into photoshop. The more creative the activity the more I am driven. Keep me away from it and I will be irritable.
It’s obvious – driven is not excitement. My pleasure does not manifest as neurotypical expression. And what does ‘enjoy’ mean? Whenever someone says, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ I am floored.
One Christmas, my parents watched me open a beautiful porcelain box covered in tiny poppies. It began playing ‘Jerusalem’. Without warning I was reduced to tears, shocking myself. “Don’t you like it?” They asked in dismay. “I love it,” I sobbed. This unusual reaction was triggered by music. If only every gift came with music – perhaps hum a tune next time!
If I don’t meet expectations, surely this difference impacts relationships, but I can only wonder as I just do not know. But by asking, my parents clarified any misconceptions.
At a local social group with Kent Autistic Trust, I brought the subject up. With yet another revelation, their explanation made perfect sense. Autistics process life differently, our reactions often puzzle gift givers. Unknowns, such as presents, throw us. We like getting gifts, well I do! But our processing takes time.
If you gave me a mug in an arty box, I might show more interest in the box or get distracted by the paper and definitely ribbon or something entirely different whilst the mug sits untouched. Apparently, this can be our normal.
Two days later, when the gift giver has gone, I’ll pick up the mug and admire it, not realising I didn’t express this to the giver. So, I don’t engage in the moment of receiving.
Retrospectively, this isn’t lost on me. It must be disappointing for someone who doesn’t understand. Yet for me to change my very being amounts to lots of conscious masking energy, if I even remember at the time.
Trust in a person means I relax in their company. My authentic autistic self is unveiled. But without compassion or in depth understanding of these fine nuances of autism, we become offensive to the other person. Devastatingly, I believe this difference of expression impacted past friendships.
If people ask at the time, especially now I understand, confusion could be allayed. But unless those I trust truly embrace the complexity of autism openly, then I say this… I don’t need you in my life. I’ve had enough judgement and hurt and now feel self-assured enough to know that flaky, insensitive people do not belong in my world.
To those that love and stick with me – just ask if something bothers you, I guarantee that it’s not what you are perceiving and that there will be an autistic explanation.
So, if you’re giving a gift to your autistic person this Christmas, suspend expectations of a traditional response. Their version of receiving won’t fit with yours.
PS – Mid blog edit, my best friend of 40 years visited me. I asked openly what I’m like receiving gifts. Her answer surprised me as we’ve never broached this subject.
“You don’t respond like other friends. You can be bluntly honest saying you’ve got one already, but I know you’re just stating facts and will enjoy having two. Sometimes you appear to ignore the present, but I’ve learned in days, even weeks later, you will be enthusing over it. I’ve always accepted this of you and I don’t have a problem because I understand your reactions.
If I do doubt, I ask if you like it and you seem surprised, saying, ‘Oh yes, I love it.’ But if the present is attached to something you are focussed on at that time, your reaction can be the opposite with lots of excitement. This is just how you are. I value your friendship and love you with all your ways because you accept all mine.”
Tears in eyes: thank you my lovely friend, for your acceptance and intelligent perception.
PPS: What’s with the penguins? I flap like a penguin when thinking. It’s relaxing. One of my rediscovered stims.