The Need to be Pointy, Not Round!

“Employers often seek people with a well-rounded education and a broad skill set, rather than those who have training in one field.”  They may.  But that doesn’t help me, or most other autistic people.

Well-rounded means equally good at a bunch things, when referenced to the norm of NT (neurotypical) abilities.  Autistics are many things, but we are not NT.

We have things that are difficult or impossible to learn, but which are well within the grasp of most NTs (for me, recognizing someone’s face comes to mind).  Yet other tasks are almost instinctual to us, such as those used in the hidden figure test.

If you took the average NT, you might draw her abilities as follows, both before and after she receives her well-rounded education:

A graph with four categories, face recognition, social skills, hidden figures, and classification.  Two lines exist, one at 100% representing natural ability (blue) and one at 200% representing educated ability (red)

That’s the goal of a well-rounded education – not just to focus on one area of life, but to focus on all of life.  Of course students don’t start with perfectly average (even for NTs) abilities in every area – they have strengths and weaknesses even relative to other NTs.  But stick with me and let me discuss the “average” NT.  I’ll address natural variation later.

Of course Autistics are bad at some things compared to NTs and good at some things.  Once again, two autistics are going to be different from each other, and may have different strengths and weaknesses.  So I just drew an example of the natural ability of a hypothetical autistic.  Note that this graph doesn’t actually represent true abilities or anything such, just a hypothetical individual compared to the NT norm:

A graph with four categories, face recognition, social skills, hidden figures, and classification.  Two lines exist, one at 100% representing natural ability of an NT (blue) and a red line representing autistic natural ability in red that starts below the blue for face recognition and social skills, but rises above the red line for hidden figures and classification.

So, this person in the hypothetical well-rounded education program where they teach face recognition, social skills, hidden figures, and classification would find themselves needing to do little or any hidden figure and classification homework to keep up with his peers – but would end up doing a lot of work on face recognition and social skills, compared to his NT peers.  In some cases, no amount of work would be enough.  Sure, I could run a mile faster if I trained weekly.  But I’ll never be able to beat an Olympic gold medalist!  We have different natural abilities.

Of course that’s not the only way to look at this – there’s another way.  We can look at the “average” NT skills versus the hypothetical autistic’s skills.  Let’s say our hypothetical autistic was seen as “normal” and the average NT was the exception:

A graph with four categories, face recognition, social skills, hidden figures, and classification.  Two lines exist, one at 100% representing natural ability of a hypothetical autistic (red) and a blue line representing typical NT natural ability in red, compared to autistic ability, that starts above the blue for face recognition and social skills, but falls below the red line for hidden figures and classification.

Now, if the well-rounded education was based around our hypothetical autistic’s abilities, the NT would do little to improve their social skills and face recognition, areas of relative strength.  But they would spend a lot of time worrying and practicing on hidden figure and classification subjects.

Would that make sense?  The proponents of liberal arts education would say it doesn’t.

In today’s dynamic workplace, a liberal arts education is more desirable than ever before. Employers want individuals who can think logically and creatively, solve problems and adapt to change. Employers often seek people with a well-rounded education and a broad skill set, rather than those who have training in one field. (University of Idaho)

So, obviously, they would want the NT to improve their social skills above neurotypical norms.  They also would want someone who improves other areas.

It makes no sense to ignore social skills in the NT, just because they are already better than the hypothetical autistics’ social skills.  Likewise, however, it makes no sense to focus excessively on face recognition and social skills for the autistic who can also get better at classification and hidden figures.

Of course in the real world “face recognition”, “classification”, and “hidden figures” aren’t directly studied by most, plus there are plenty of NTs that are bad and good at specific things, and plenty of autistics who don’t fit the stereotype perfectly.  But for those individuals, does it make sense to ignore the strengths and only focus on weaknesses?  Of course not!

The autistic person, if they improve all areas of their ability, would have a lot of peaks and valleys compared to the well-rounded neurotypical ideal.  They might be really good at some technical area, compared to most NTs, but really lousy, again compared to most NTs, at some so-called “soft-skill.”  Is that bad?  Not necessarily.

For me, my strengths keep me employed.  I understand some key technologies used on the internet, and can utilize them to do what some people see as useful work.  I can do this in a way that my employer feels I make him more money than I cost him – I have a market value, for whatever that’s worth (in my eyes, not much – financial value of an individual is very different than their worth to human kind, as some of the most financially valuable people are among the most worthless or even costly to society in non-financial senses and vise-versa).  Of course not everyone’s strengths tie to employment, and not every autistic will have strengths in given areas compared to neurotypicals.  But even for autistics without these things, it’s still worth improving their ability to do the things they do best, not just the things they do worst.

If my teachers said, “You’re technical skills are already well above those of most computer science graduates, and you’re a high school student,” I would never have learned the skills I need for employment.  And, likewise, if I spent my time learning to recognize faces rather than becoming more technically skilled, I’d just end up with decent technical skills and still-lousy face recognition skills.  That would not have helped me – even if I was twice as good at recognizing faces as I am now, I’d still be horrible at it!  I’m never going to get a job or even personal enjoyment out of exercising great facial recognition skill.

Will every autistic be great in some technical field?  Of course not.  But not every NT is good socially, either (think about an asshole you know who is NT – assholism is not a good social skill!).  And there are plenty of unemployed NTs.  So, yes, some of us won’t ever be in a situation where we earn money.  Some of us might struggle at seemingly everything (although as the hidden figure tests showed, there may be hidden skills that have gone unrecognized in some people).  So I don’t mean or want to imply that this is the normal autistic experience.  I don’t think any of us have a “normal” experience!  But at the same time, even the person with the stereotypical autistic experience would benefit by growing in his strengths, not just his weaknesses.

Should I improve my ability to recognize my friends?  Sure, to the extent possible and realistic.  But I’m not going to worry too much about it – I don’t think I’m ever going to be great at that.  So I’ll still spend my time learning the technologies that I enjoy using and which is valuable to my employer.  Even if I’m much more pointy than round.

Ignorance is better than Awareness

Sometimes I need people to treat or interact with me differently.  I always want to be treated decently even when I’m doing something a bit differently or am just plain different.

I’ve found tolerance and willingness to meet me halfway in some surprising groups.  And I’ve found intolerance and unwillingness to change in some equally surprising groups.

For instance:

  • In a rural, western state, I asked a manager for understanding and acceptance as I used augmentative communication.  He’d never heard of anyone doing that other than Stephen Hawkings, but had no issue with it whatsoever.  I didn’t need HR approval, didn’t need doctors’ notes, didn’t need to justify why I needed this.  He just said, “if that will help you work, that’s fine.”
  • I’ve never received a formal accommodation I’ve asked for from an organization dedicated to disability rights.  Not.even.once.  Typically, these requests have been trivial, with the accommodation being as minor as avoiding a triggering word in written program (where adequate substitute words existed that conveyed the intent of the communication just fine).

I find this interesting.  In one case, I asked for something kind of big: back me up when I communicate differently, modify my work a bit, and accept something that you’ve never seen before in action (AAC) might be able to work.  This was something people noticed as they interacted with his department.  This manager didn’t know the rules of the organization, anything about communication disabilities, or how to accommodate me.  So he just listened to me.

In the other case, I was asking for a change that cost no money, took almost no time or effort, and could be implemented easily and quickly – yet, the organization refused.  The organization told me that the word wasn’t actually discriminatory or hurtful (well, neither was the other one, so what was the big deal about changing it?).  In fact, they dug in their heels and made it a major conflict.  All over one word.  Ironically, this group was pro-disability-rights, at least if you asked them.

One difference between these two cases is that the employment one involved someone who didn’t know much about my disability, while the disability rights group had many members with similar disabilities and experiences.  I believe that was the first key: the second group thought that since they were similar to me, their opinion that the word wasn’t hurtful was sufficient to dismiss my concerns (and, later, actually actively argue with me about it – in other words, it was worth effort to not change).

However, this wasn’t just a case of opinion on a neutral topic.  It’s one thing for an organization to dismiss a differing voice when the differing voice is arguing about something that doesn’t harm anyone no matter which opinion is chosen.  It’s quite another when the issue is the opinion of whether or not something harms someone.  In that case, the desire to avoid harm should be very strong, enough so to sway the decision, particularly in cases where there is no real downside (other than needing to make a change) if the harm is actually real.

I’ll try to make this a bit more concrete again.  Do you call people diagnosed with an ASD either “autistics” or “people with autism” (I’m going to ignore the other variations for now, while recognizing that this whole debate is worth having).  I’ve seen several opinions expressed:

  • “Autistic” is hurtful, because it equates a person with their diagnosis.
  • “Autistic” is fine, because it’s linguistically simple, accurate, and there is nothing wrong with being equated with autism anymore than there is nothing wrong with being equated with engineering and thus called an “engineer”.
  • I was told that the proper terminology is “person with autism” so that’s what I’ll use.

Now of course I have an opinion on this, and I also recognize that there will never be 100% agreement on this topic, even among autistic people (okay, now you know my preference).  But, I’ll take these one at a time.

The third bullet – the person who just knows “autistic” is wrong because the right way of saying it is “person with autism” – is the worst.  That’s the person who knows that it is wrong to say “autistic,” not from personal experience or an analysis of the situation, but just through their knowledge.  Sadly, this is similar to many people in disability rights circles, as well as plenty of other social justice causes.  They may have read a bit about a subject, but don’t have a ton of personal knowledge.  That alone isn’t a bad thing, but it becomes bad when the person considers their limited personal knowledge more credible than that of someone who has more knowledge (and can explain it) or who is personally affected by the word choice.

The first bullet, one where the person has a thought-out explanation for why they are consciously trying to avoid the phrase “autistic,” out of a desire to be respectful (or appear that way), can be good or bad.  It’s bad if that person is not open to being wrong, particularly if talking to someone who is personally affected by the word choice.  In that case, they’ll dig in their heals because anyone who says, “Hey, I prefer autistic because I think the alternatives make it look like autism is a bad thing” is now attacking their “goodness” (which in this case is based on “being a good person” rather than “trying to be a good person”).  But this person, who believes “person with autism” is more respectful, if they are open to education, can learn from others and maybe will even change the way they refer to some or all autistic people.

I’m not going to talk about the second one, the person who favors “autistic,” other than to say that what I said about the first one (the person who has, they believe, a good, well-reasoned reason to not like to say “autistic”) can also apply to this person.

Now, there’s a fourth person that I didn’t list above.  This person is the ignorant person.  I don’t use that as an insult in this context, just a description of fact.  He doesn’t know which word choice to use, and he isn’t afraid to ask, listen, or otherwise be educated.  He’s not a threat to anyone, despite his ignorance.  In fact, his ignorance is preferable to an expert who knows what term to use for us, since he has little if anything invested in one term or the other.

I’ve learned my life, when dealing with autism stuff, is better when I’m the one doing the educating.  This also applies to other minority or oppressed groups too – it’s often better to be the one educating than to deal with someone who is educated in a way that makes them think highly of themselves yet lack true understanding.  So I am always nervous when going to a group that is created “for” autistic people (even if it was created by autistic people).

Granted, some things autism groups do are good – I love the badge system popularized by Autreat, with different colors signifying whether or not I want to be approached for communication or not, or if I’d like someone to initiate communication, something I often find difficult.  And I wouldn’t be shocked to see that type of thing in any autism group today (that said, it is still relatively rare).  And that’s a good thing.

But it’s not enough.  And I’d rather give that accommodation up, but be listened to about my sound sensitivities.  Or about my need to know what is going on, without being too surprised.  Or about signage for the building and room (I have trouble going into new places for the first time).  These things are even more important to me.  Other people might have other concerns, like keeping their identity private, avoiding flashing lights that trigger seizures, or having simple nametags for people.  That said, just implementing this list isn’t the solution – you’ll leave some needs out, while you’ll also likely waste some time implementing things that people at your meeting don’t need!  Sure, it’s good to do all these things, to consider how diverse your group might be.  But it’s not enough.  What’s more important than any of this is to allow people to let you know something isn’t working for them – and have a serious chance of a change occurring.

Often, a bunch of accommodations are implemented to show how accommodating and open a group is, or to encourage attendance by people these things would help.  That’s good in itself.  But you don’t know everything, no matter how long you’ve been autistic, no matter how many events you’ve put on, no matter how many autistic people you know, etc.  The very next autistic you meet is going to have slightly different needs.  Now, maybe her needs are met by the accommodations and awareness you have.  But maybe they aren’t.  If they aren’t, you have two choices – listen or don’t.

This doesn’t just apply to disability or autism.  It might apply to things like race, gender, nationality, social class, religion, etc.  I know my experience, but I don’t know someone else’s experience.  I might know what it’s like to be a Christian, for me, but that doesn’t mean that my idea of Christianity is agreed to by all Christians.  And I know pretty little about Taoism, so while I might be able to come up with some things I could do to make a Taoist more comfortable around me, I’d likely miss some pretty big things – things I don’t even realize are a problem.

My identity isn’t tied up in understanding diversity, disability, autism, social justice, or any of those other abstract concepts.  I know I won’t ever understand those.  That said, I think trying to understand them is a worthy pursuit and my efforts will help other people in my life.  I won’t always succeed.  That’s fine…as long as I listen when I don’t.  But if I insist I am right, that I understand social justice and diversity, that in a matter of opinion, I don’t need to listen to the people affected by the opinion, well, I’m no supporter of diversity in that case.

It’s not about never doing wrong.  It’s about how you react when you do.

How to Create a Bully in an “Accepting” Environment

A lot of autistic people like black and white rules.  We want rules that make it clear what is, and what isn’t, acceptable.  Unfortunately, not all the world works that way.  While clear, concise, easy-to-summarize rules are ideal, they simply don’t fit in every situation.  In fact, they can make things worse for autistic people (and others prone to being victimized by others’ abuse).

One of the favored technique of my childhood abusers (the bullies, I.E. those who assaulted and battered me) was to provoke me to violence or meltdown.  They would simply learn the rules of the classroom and manipulate those in a way that was a bit more socially cleaver than I could.  For instance, they might know that a certain sound was nearly unbearable for me, while the teacher didn’t.  They might also know that this sound wasn’t considered a violation of rules (perhaps it was free time or lunch).  And they might know that my reaction to the sound would render me unable to clearly communicate.

So, the abusers, knowing this information, would provoke the meltdown.  When I screamed, punched at the abusers (note that I was much, much smaller than them and couldn’t have done any physical harm to them even if I wanted to when not overloaded), ran from the room, or otherwise responded in the only ways that I could – note I say ONLY ways, and this is important – I would then find myself in trouble, sometimes serious trouble.  And of course I wouldn’t be able to defend myself eloquently (or likely any way other than screaming incoherently).

So what happened?  I stayed after school.  The abusers may have even been seen as victims of my unpredictable violence.

Yet my “violence” wasn’t unpredictable.  The abusers predicted it, and, in fact, sought it.  They were hardly victims of an unstable, mentally defective kid.  No, they were already showing the signs of sociopathic behavior.

Yet, what, objective, verifiable, non-subjective events occurred?  Two did – and this is why a non-subjective, black-and-white evaluation is not sufficient:

  • The abusers made some sounds, which were allowed by school rules (some noise is of course allowed at some times of the day!)
  • The victim reacted violently, loudly, and incoherently, against school rules

To solve this with central authority (I.E. teachers, principals, etc), the central authority would need two things.  First, they would need to have empathy and a deep social understanding of the situation, including the motives that were at play.  Secondly, they would need the ability to articulate that to others in authority and to the abusers.  They would need to show that they weren’t going to be a tool the bully uses to abuse their victim.

Most teachers fail at that.  So do most organizations that claim to be supportive of disabled people.  It’s hard, and true social understanding a rare gift among both autistics and neurotypicals.

I see this behavior online frequently.  Someone will try to skirt the rules of a forum or group, and provoke others.  When there is a lack of moderator or SIGNIFICANT community opposition to intentional provocation, it’s only a matter of time before someone is provoked and violates a formal, black-and-white rule.  Yet the destructive element in the community was not the formal rule violator.  Rather, the problem was the guy (or gal) that walked-the-line and stayed just shy of crossing it.  That person had malice.

When rules don’t recognize the difference between provocation (malice) and response, the bully has been given a true weapon.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to put malice into a black and white rule.  And often when a leader or community stands up to such bullies, the bully will publicly, loudly, and, often, successfully claim to actually be the victim!  After all, they “didn’t violate even one rule, but are now being excluded.”  Particularly in communities where people have been excluded for inappropriate reasons, people will sympathize with the person claiming to be unfairly excluded.

In autistic circles, there’s a further element.  The destructive bully will know the community norms.  He’ll know we want black-and-white rules, because we have trouble sometimes with following, with good, non-malicious intentions, the fuzzy rules.  So he’ll point out that he violated a fuzzy rule, to gain our sympathy.  It’s easy to see his side and say, “Wow, I could have done that too.  It’s hard to know what the rules are if they are fuzzy, and if they are going to throw people out for that…that’s unfair.”  Ironically, this typically leads to a call for black-and-white rules, which are the exact tool that the bully needs to cause even more havoc in the community!

We need to be cognizant of this in our communities.  It’s okay to exclude someone who intends to destroy a community, even if they are clever and able to walk just inside the line of what is covered by black-and-white rules.  We don’t need people operating under malice.  We don’t need, nor should we tolerate, the bully.  But we need to recognize what bullying looks like.  It’s not the autistic child provoked to meltdown who then strikes out at their antagonizer.  Yet, that’s exactly who the black-and-white rules would say was the bully.

We must not enable bullies by immediately sympathizing with them.  We need to recognize that it’s possible to follow the black-and-white rules, yet be a very destructive and dangerous person.  Yes, dangerous.  And we need to agree we don’t want those people in our midst, or at least we don’t want to give them the weapons to inflict damage.

Yes, people are excluded for bad reasons too.  When an autistic misunderstands a rule and unknowingly violates a fuzzy rule, this is not the time for exclusion.  And we need to fight against that exclusion.  But throwing out all fuzzy rules isn’t something that creates an inclusive environment.  It creates bullies.  Intention can be everything.

Another Oldie…How to Be an Autistic’s Friend

Today, I want to share “How to be An Autistic’s Friend,” another post that appeared on my old website.

How to Be an Autistic’s Friend

I am extremely thankful for the friendship that I’ve found in a handful of special people. I’m not an easy person to know, but  these friends have extended their friendship to me. I cherish these friendships and consider myself to be very blessed, as I have the chance to know some truly wonderful people.

Autistics want the same things that others want in their friendships. We want to have friends who are loving, honest, and kind. I’m writing this with the assumption that the reader is a non-autistic who wants to be a friend to an autistic person.

Note that while many autistics may agree with the thoughts expressed below, not everything expressed here will apply to every autistic. It is best to talk with your friend about these things and  find out what each of you could do to become closer friends.

Be Clear

Autistics aren’t always “subtle” individuals. We experience the world very deeply, and often have very deep emotions. However, most non-autistics live in a world with tremendous amounts of subtleties and shades of gray. This world is often foreign to an autistic, as we often think very clearly in black and white terms.  We don’t always understand shades of gray, nor do we understand why someone would want to live in a world filled with shades of gray!  So, we appreciate any effort that a friend makes to be clear. For example, if you grow tired of a subject we are discussing, tell us that you are tired of it! Just say, “I’d prefer to talk about something else.” If we over stay our welcome, let us know in a clear and direct way, since many subtle cues are lost on us. Non-autistics often assume it is kinder to say something indirectly then to say it directly. Autistics sometimes miss subtle statements.  You can be kind and direct at the same time – in fact, most autistics will appreciate your clarity.

We Don’t Always Understand Social Rules

We often have a very definite sense of right and wrong, and believe that the rules should apply to everyone. We often can only follow the rules that we believe are sensible. So, we might not follow a “social rule” because we don’t know the rule or because the rule would require some sort of performance that we are unable to give (ex: eye contact, remembering people’s names/details, etc). We might not follow a rule if it doesn’t make sense to us, either. For example, indirection and hints seem inefficient and dishonest to some of us.

We Don’t Like Crowds!

Often, autistics don’t like to be part of a crowd. We usually prefer activities with one or two people we know well. For example, rather then going to a movie theater, we might prefer to watch a movie at home with a couple of other people.

In addition, people that we don’t know well can make us uncomfortable. If, for example, we are invited to a friend’s house for dinner, we would usually prefer to know who else will be there so that we can “prepare” ourselves for the social situation. We might also choose not to go if we don’t think we have enough energy to handle the situation. If we
choose to say “no” when you invite us to spend time with you and your other friends, please don’t assume that we don’t like you or your friends. Sometimes it is simply too much effort to interact with more then one or two people at a time. Please do keep inviting us, though, as we might have the energy and desire to meet a new person another time.

Don’t Be Easily Offended

Autistics can sometimes say things more directly then a non-autistic might prefer. This is often misinterpreted as the autistic trying to insult the other person. A good rule-of-thumb for understanding my directness is that I almost never intend to insult anyone. I am who I am and I can’t change that. I only know how to speak directly. You may find that I don’t follow “unspoken” rules and, as a result will break them – sometimes hurting you. Chances are, I did not know that there was an unspoken rule. I’m not trying to insult you! A way that someone could be a friend is to ask me about my intentions when I offend. I probably don’t realize that you were offended.

Sometimes We Just Want to be Alone

There are times when it is difficult for us to be around other people. If you invite us to spend time with you and we decline, it may simply be one of these times when we want to be alone. Please don’t be offended, and please continue to ask us to be involved in your life!

You Are Strange To Us!

Just as the autistic personality seems strange to a non-autistic, the reverse is also true. Please help us understand who you are and how you experience the world! Share your thoughts and emotions as clearly as you can, so that we may better understand your special personality. Please remember that it helps to be very clear as you translate your thoughts into words, so that we can understand.

I Can See and Hear Fine!

We may miss social cues and have difficulties expressing ourselves, but that doesn’t make us less of a person. I don’t like people to shout at me or talk slowly, even though I sometimes have auditory processing problems. My actual hearing is fine (better then most people’s, actually). But, my brain has problems processing the input in some situations. Shouting or talking slowly doesn’t usually help. It also makes me feel bad, as it feels like I am being treated like a child.

Don’t tell me to “look at you,” either. I can’t look you in the eye most of the time. Realize that I have to watch you out of the corner of my eye, and not directly. Telling me to do something that I can’t do only makes me feel bad. Because I don’t look people in the eye, it can be hard for them to figure out if I am listening to them or not. The easiest solution is to ask me if you are unsure, as I don’t have any problem admitting if I wasn’t.

Let Us be Autistic!

Sometimes, an autistic will engage in some sort of repetitive motion or strange behavior, such as rocking, hand flapping, strange postures, or humming. This is one of the ways we cope with a confusing world. These behaviors also give us comfort and relieve our stress. Please don’t try to take them away from us or become embarrassed if we should engage in these behaviors in public – it is simply the way we are. When I am with understanding friends, I’ll often tap/bounce my foot or wrap a blanket around myself. These are the ways I deal with stress, and by allowing me to do them you help me to enjoy your company.

Help Me When I Ask

Sometimes I just can’t do something that other people can do. I have to rely on my friends to help me. I’m learning that it isn’t wrong to need someone else’s help. One of the areas I need help in is at social situations, like parties or meetings. When I’m with friends, I rely on them to mention the names of someone I am talking to (I don’t recognize faces) or to “translate” another person’s subtle cues into language that I can understand. This can be done in a very kind way by an understanding friend. For instance, a friend can say, “Hi, Bob” as we approach Bob, so that I will know right away that he is
Bob. Or my friend could say, “It was nice chatting with you, Bob! We’ll let you get back to talking with your wife.” This lets me know the conversation is over. But, always let us decide if we need the help or not. We know our limitations much better then even a good
friend can know them. Don’t assume that we have a particular limitation because you might be wrong. If done by a good friend out of concern, I don’t mind a friend asking if I need help. But, please ask in private.

Answer Our Questions

Autistics can have a naivety or innocence in their understanding of the world. We don’t learn the same way others do, so we need to be told about a lot of things others seem to intuitively understand. Sometimes we need to ask a “dumb question” to someone we trust. If we ask you a question, we really don’t know the answer.

Don’t read more into our questions then is there. If I ask, “Are you cold,” don’t assume that I am asking you to turn up the heat! I probably don’t know if I’m cold or not, due to my autism, so I am trying to figure out which sensation I am feeling – so I really want a yes or no answer!

Ask Us Questions

Let us know you are interested in us and who we are. This is the easiest way for me to explain who I am. Autism isn’t a four letter word. If you are curious about autism or how it affects our lives, please ask. Most of the time we would be glad to answer the question. Many of us wish more professionals asked autistics about their lives before drawing conclusions! Ask about other parts of our lives as well, as it shows you are interested in us as people.

Allow Us Alternative Forms of Communication

Some of us have great difficulty with speech. Often, we have alternative ways we prefer to communicate. For me, that means I use email, text chat, a portable speech synthesizer, writing, and other non-speaking ways of communicating with my friends much of the time. The best way to respond to my use of these techniques is to continue to speak to me normally, realizing that you may need to modify your conversational style to a more rigid “turn taking” style where you say something and then wait for me to respond, as some of my techniques make interruption difficult for me and take more time then speech does. Simply listen to me and allow me to speak in whatever way is comfortable.

Let Us Be Silent

Some normally verbal autistics sometimes have trouble speaking, either because of overload or simply because they don’t have the energy at the time. I am one of these autistics. If it is an emotionally charged situation or lots of people are talking at once, I might not be able to talk to you. If I don’t answer you, I’m probably not ignoring you – realize that it is just too much for me right now and I just want you near me. Don’t touch or hug me, as I don’t enjoy that (some autistics do, though, so ask if you are unsure). Some others might just want to be left alone.

In addition to this, I find it is much easier for me to express my deep feelings in writing then in speech. Please allow me to use this form of expression – I only use it because I want to tell you something that is very important to me and because I trust you as a friend.

Don’t Ignore Us

Like any friend, we may get upset if you ignore or exclude us. Please ask us if we would like to participate in an activity or outing before deciding that we wouldn’t enjoy it. For example, we might not normally like to go to a party, but we would feel bad if we weren’t invited when all your other friends were. We might say “no, thanks” if you ask us if we want to go. But, by asking us, you show that you are interested in our company. In addition, sometimes we even surprise ourselves with the kinds of activities we enjoy!

Our Past

Some of us have had a very difficult past. Please don’t pry, but let us tell you if and when we decide we want to. It will mean more to both of us this way.

Forgive Us

We will wrong you at some point in our friendship. Autistics often miss signs and rules that say some subjects are forbidden. We say things directly and sometimes seemingly with the wrong emotions (sometimes my facial expression doesn’t reflect how I feel). I know that I often need the forgiveness of my friends, probably more then most people. But, I’ll also forgive you when you don’t understand something about me.

Contributors to this Page

I would like to thank Terry Jones who contributed the ideas and much of the wording for the section on “social rules”. Chris also contributed, expressing the thoughts that autistics often prefer one-on-one communication over large groups and that we sometimes simply want to be alone. Finally, Loonii contributed the ideas for the section entitled “Let Us be Autistic.”

Barriers to Relationships, Part 4

This is a forth (and final!) post in a series of four posts on barriers to relationships. Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. This series has been focusing on difficulties forming and maintaining romantic relationships imposed on autistic people not because of their autism, but rather because of abuse, financial policy, transportation, and other support services.

This article talks about sex and similar topics.  Personally, I don’t see any stigma with using the word masturbate or intercourse or whatever else.  Sex isn’t dirty.  It’s something most of the population does or wants to do (yes, I know there are completely asexual people too, and that’s fine too – that doesn’t make sex dirty though).  I also mix talking about sex and marriage below, but what I say applies to other aspects of romantic relationships.  It just so happens that these are the areas of biggest hangups in the eyes of non-disabled people when discussing romance and people with disabilities. Continue reading