Does Not Compute

“If you’ve met one person with autism,
you’ve met one person with autism.”
– Dr. Stephen Shore

I came across the graphic below in my Facebook feed today, and it lead me to consider and consolidate some of the observations I have made about myself. I also cannot stress enough that autism is a condition of fluctuation. On good days, and/or with a lot of preparation, I can appear neurotypical. On bad days, I may struggle with making eye contact and having conversations with strangers.

Every autistic person is unique, but there are some common traits.

Tips for Talking To Autistic People

The more data I have about an individual person, environment, or situation, the easier it will be for me to interact successfully. My relationships tend to greatly reflect the quality of input I am given. If I sound like a computer, it is not a coincidence. I feel like a malfunctioning artificial intelligence at times.

All of that being said, here is what you should know about me:

– My intellectual ability has little correlation to my “people” ability.
– My intellectual ability has little correlation to my “people” ability.
– My intellectual ability has little correlation to my “people” ability.

Did that come through? Being “high-functioning” actually makes autism more frustrating in some ways. People assume I am neurotypical, meaning I get less accommodation and assistance, while being painfully aware of my own deficits. Autistic people have more than three-fold higher rates of suicide and suicide attempts than the general population. Abuse and bullying are rampant.

Data from Star Trek

– I am doing my best to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.
– I want to understand you and your needs, but I need your help for that.
– Texting is easier than talking because I can more thoughtfully respond.
– Real-time communication is stressful for me. Please have some patience.
– I have made progress with small talk, but it is awkward and uncomfortable.
– I will have to learn the “script” for every distinctive social environment.
– I will info-dump and over-explain when I am feeling unheard.

Feeling heard is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to me.

– If you ambush or surprise me, I am likely to react in strange ways.
– If you alter a routine without warning, I am likely to react in strange ways.
– If rules are erratic and/or illogical, I am likely to react in strange ways.
– If goals and expectations shift, I am likely to react in strange ways.
– If given adequate time to process it, I accept change easily.

Robot dog slipping on banana peels.

– Do not make assumptions why I do/did something. Ask me. For best results, without anger or judgement. My brain recognizes connections and patterns that may not be obvious to others, and my internal logic can be pretty opaque. Ask me, because assumptions about my goals/motivations are usually wrong.

– I rely on external data I can verify to avoid being lied to or misled.
– I am blunt and honest. IMO this is a good thing, if you are not sensitive.
– I am likely to take what you say at face value. Hyperbole is confusing.
– I am likely to take what you say literally unless it is BLATANTLY not.
– I am not always capable of detecting sarcasm, even verbally.
– I am not generally capable of clandestine manipulation and ulterior motives.
– I am not generally capable of reading hints and nonverbal communication.
– I am utterly oblivious to all but the most egregious passive-aggression.
– I am utterly oblivious to social etiquette beyond basic politeness.

– Ask for what you want. If I ask what you want, be clear and direct.
– Ask for what you want. Coyness and social niceties are wasted on me.
– Ask for what you want. Seriously, ask. I cannot read you. This is not a drill.
– Ask for what you want. But do not then act like you want the exact opposite.
– The more you help me understand, the more likely you get what you want.
– For the love of Bog just be consistent and fucking explain yourself.

– If you send me mixed signals, we are going to have a bad time.
– Contradictory input WILL eventually short-circuit my brain.
– When short-circuited, my functionality declines rapidly.

Robby the Robot

– BE SPECIFIC. Do not say, “Could you do the laundry today? I need clean underpants,” when you mean, “I want you to do the laundry as soon as possible because I have no clean clothing left.” Do not say, “There are dirty dishes in the sink,” when you mean, “I want you to wash the dishes before dinner tonight.” I will unintentionally “rules lawyer” any request that is not specific enough.

– BE SPECIFIC. If I ask you for a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s, I do not want a fresh, tempura-battered Alaskan Pacific Cod filet from your local fishmonger on a lightly-toasted brioche bun with homemade lemon dill tartar sauce because YOU decided that is better. I want the Filet-O-Fish I asked for. I was specific.

– When I have no “script,” I may seem cold/emotionless/robotic. This is not indicative of how I feel inside. My circuits are overloaded, I am in an unfamiliar situation, and I am unsure what other people expect or want from me. If I freeze, or become quiet and rigid, gently instruct me what to do, or give me space.

– I do not generally compare myself to other people. I am only in “competition” with my past self. Envy and jealousy are not naturally part of my emotional vocabulary. So I have often failed to recognize those feelings in others.

– I am not an angry or bitter person, and rarely hold grudges against anyone expressing a genuine and sincere effort to make amends after hurting me. All I usually require is to feel heard and validated. Since I do not cultivate anger or bitterness myself, I have often failed to recognize those feelings in others.

Robots playing soccer.

– “Fake” people input bad data that subconsciously scrambles my operating system, and can lead me to act out of character. I have become much better at recognizing this. I now have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who raises red flags for being “fake,” or not entirely who they present themselves to be.

– My memories are extremely vivid and make it difficult to let the past go.
– My memories where I am truly happy are few, and I hold those like treasures.
– On my darkest nights, those most-treasured memories help to keep me alive.
– Because I am weird myself, I have a high acceptance of weirdness in others.
– Because I am detail-oriented, I easily recall others’ preferences, likes, etc.
– When I am helped to understand, I happily accommodate others’ needs.

– I need A LOT of alone time and my own, private space.
– I am extraordinarily sensitive to sound. I AM quiet. I NEED quiet.
– I like conversations to be stimulating, and day-to-day life to be boring.
– I like discomfort that leads to growth, but I am not a novelty-seeker.
– If you can engage with my interests and work, we’re golden.

WALL-E

In conclusion: You will largely “get what you give” with me.

If you are concealing your actual feelings about/for me, dishonest, insincere, manipulative, passive-aggressive, and/or projecting your own negativity onto my actions, we are going to have a bad time. On top of my normal impairments, you have created another layer of difficulty for me with your “false” self. I may accept your statements at face value, but I am empathic enough to sense something is not right. My anxiety will increase until I either break down or break free.

If you are angry, impatient, and judgemental with me, I will never feel safe enough to be authentic with you. In addition to inhibiting the development of a genuine connection, having to camouflage my autistic traits constantly will make interacting with you exhausting. Eventually I will be drained of energy.

If you are aloof, distant, and emotionally unavailable with me, I will never feel safe enough to be authentic with you. Though we may get along, any connection we have will remain shallow and superficial. These friendships and relationships tend to fizzle out over time, because I have little interest in the common activities and pop culture they are typically founded upon. Someone and/or something has to be irresistibly compelling to pull me from my routines and my projects.

Robot arm throwing a bowling ball.

If you are honest, genuine, patient, straightforward, and willing to explain yourself with me, I will feel relaxed and safe enough to be authentic with you. I may have some odd habits and mannerisms, but you will also discover that I am caring, dependable, loyal, low-maintenance, and mainly driven by the desire to feel heard and included. I have spent most of my life feeling like an outcast.

Once a true connection has been established, I am the kind of friend one can go without speaking to for years, and then reconnect like no time has passed at all. I may get sensory overload in a crowded restaurant, but when shit REALLY hits the fan, my ability to be robotic and just do what needs to be done is extremely helpful. My hyperfocus and intensity have fueled my best creative work.

Battle Angel Alita

Improving my social skills is something I will have to work on for the remainder of my life. Especially because I was diagnosed so late, there will be a limit to how much I am able to refashion myself to behave more neurotypically. I will always need a little more compassion, patience, and leniency than some people might believe I deserve. All I have to offer is this promise: I am doing my best.

That is what you should know about me.

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