Thursday, 11 January 2018
On Autism & People (Part 1 of 2)
In my initial preparation for this post, I asked around on Twitter about what people's perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders was. Based on the answers I got, it seems to be either Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, or cute little kids lining up coloured objects on the floor. Not exactly accurate depictions, but at least people seem to have moved on from the whole Rain Man stereotype.
I'd say it's reasonably common knowledge to those who know me online that I've been diagnosed with an ASD (fairly late in my case, at 32 back in 2008). Some have even sought to ascribe my alleged "dick" behaviour on it. I'm not aware of having made such claims for myself - I may say and do things that others may not like, but I've never sought to "blame" it on Autism.
But obviously having an ASD does affect my life in some ways - so what are they?
I do prefer to spend a lot of my time alone. Dealing with people is awkward for me. I'm better at it than I was twenty years ago, but there's an awful lot I'm still unable to understand. It's not easy having to slowly and painfully work out the rules of social interaction as an adult that most people have completely mastered by the age of nine. And I still get a lot wrong even now.
I learned long ago that saying the first thing you think of in reply to someone is usually a bad idea. And having had many bad reactions from people having done this, I've learned a full range of facial expressions that (hopefully) are less likely to annoy and upset people. I'm aware that this can make conversation with me unsatisfying, but believe me it's far easier than the alternative.
The pub is the ideal place to interact with people for me. I barely know most of the people in them, and as such they have few expectations of me. I've always found that if you get too close, people start telling you things about them that you'd rather not know. One major characteristic of ASDs is an inability to deal with emotions in a "typical" way, and, although I know I should be expressing something emotional, I'm very rarely able to do it. This presents more awkwardness as people think I'm ignorant or cold when I don't react in the way they expect me to. So I avoid these things where ever possible. "Don't get involved" is my axiom.
Of course, contrary to popular perception, those with ASDs do have emotions. We may not be able to deal with them "properly", but we do have them. As a child, these mostly manifested themselves for me as temper tantrums, which got me a certain reputation at school and at home. Looking back, a lot of these things were classic autistic behaviour, but children were rarely tested for ASDs in the 1980s. I have a better handle on emotions now (as I should at 42), but there are still things that set me off. The main one for me is being ignored, or unjustly accused of things. I always react badly to that, which, after much thought on the matter, stems from my childhood where such things happened all to frequently. That's caused me a lot of grief in the past, and has led me to falling out with people and refusing to go to places that have "wronged" me in some way.
If only I could handle stuff better, I often think to myself, these things wouldn't happen. But, unfortunately, that's not the brain I've been given. As many people with ASDs will say, Autism itself is not the problem - it's how the world reacts to it that's difficult. In a social milieu that expects demonstrable empathy, expected reactions and mutual acknowledgement, being autistic is always going to be difficult. But not blaming those with an ASD for not reacting in "expected" ways would be a start.