Autistic Connundrums: Humans and interaction

 

In some ways I may come across as a bit inside out.

It’s not that I don’t like human interaction. This is something that is often misconstrued. Even amongst us autistics we are all individuals.

What I don’t like is meaningless interaction. There should be a purpose to everything. Often when I’ve made mistakes about neurotypical (non-autistic) motivations, it’s in trying to work out what the purpose was, coming to a logical conclusion, and missing the fact that there was no logic behind it.

One of the ways getting a diagnosis has been most helpful, has been for my neurotypical (NT) husband to understand my motivations, and for me to understand his lack of them.

Take hugging for example. I love being hugged by him when I’m happy. I adore being in his arms. It’s a wonderful feeling.

But if I’m sad, or anxious, or had a bad day, I don’t want to be hugged. 

A NT response to this is to assume that I’m upset with the person who wants to hug me, but that’s simply not true.

Physical contact is something I want when I’m happy, but don’t like when I’m not.

So there’s one of those misunderstandings. Throughout my life, when times are hard, when bereavements happen, people have reached out to me and tried to hold me. And I’ve let them. I’ve let them because comfort is a two-way street, and often what they need from me, is for me to let the discomfort go and let them feel they’re helping. Because that is real. Making them feel better makes me feel better. There is a purpose to it.

Autistic doesn’t mean that I am cold. It doesn’t mean that I lack passion or love or empathy. In some ways I am highly attuned to those feelings and sensations, because of the way I am, not inspite of it.

The interactions that I struggle with, are the ones that make no logical sense, and perhaps these are things that distance me, because without them I don’t have a foundation to build on.

Greeting people I don’t know, or barely know, and have no need for more interaction with is hard. Social communication is effort, so why, logically, should I use that energy on someone who I have no relationship with?

From the friend of a friend who wants to greet me with a hug, to the distant family member who wants to kiss and embrace me, these things will feel uncomfortable and stressful and use energy that I never have to spare. For what purpose? Whilst they won’t be getting comfort from me performing the way they want me to, they would gain offence from me pulling away. So my behaviour will hurt them or me. 

Whilst I’m sure plenty of NT people don’t necessarily enjoy this brief physical contact with strangers, I cannot understand how anyone could. It’s beyond my ability to comprehend. 

Everything I do has purpose. It’s logical. I can’t find the logic in many situations. It isn’t there. Which means there must be another motivation, one that I don’t have. 

From my point of view, I make sense and the rest of you are unpredictable and lacking the purity of purpose. I love you for that. I love you for coming up with new and inspiring ways to utterly confuse me.

I am often perplexed by the things you fill your lives with. You seek happiness in abstract concepts of interaction, instead of finding it in the simple truths of all the wonderful things that surround you all day, every day.

It only takes a moment to pause and listen to the birds, or watch a dust mote dance, or feel the cold smoothness of a stone. The bit of me that makes me hate certain sensations, is the same bit of me that gives me such joy and groundedness through others.

I love deeply. I understand sarcasm and use it often. There are plenty of autistic clichés. 
But autism is a way of being, not a type of person.

It’s why so many of us took so long to realise we were autistic. I certainly assumed that everyone else was following these rules of engagement, without understanding them. I assumed we were all a part of a strange joke we were playing on ourselves.

It’s an interesting moment when you realise that the world is not what you thought it was. It’s useful having a NT husband to bounce realities off. He explains his world to me, and I explain mine to him. There’s nothing wrong with either of them, they just have different priorities.

If I could change, I wouldn’t. To change the way I see the world would be to lose who I fundamentally am. A teacher once described me as quintessentially human. I like that. 

I shall remain quintessentially human. I shall keep reaching out to you, and keep marvelling at how many of you reach back. 

We are human. 

8 thoughts on “Autistic Connundrums: Humans and interaction

  1. This NT person dosen’t get it either… Not much for small talk and I don’t like when people, who are not dear friends, wants to embrace me either. My solution is to take a step back, getting a little more space. Most people get that… But it’s not easy – we are all diffrent and adding diffrent cultures on topp of it dosen’t make it any easier. Personal space isn’t the same all over the world aparently 😊

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    1. Cultural differences make a big difference. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I get on so well with Dutch people. They’re forthright and blunt and tend to skip the small talk. Perfect!

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  2. I’m not much for small talk, either, and I feel that mostly everything I do has to have a purpose (except for enjoying entertainment, although even that is useful in de-stressing). But what makes other people happy doesn’t make ME happy, and I don’t always understand it. However, I’ve gotten better at humoring them over the years, listening to them when I’m not particularly interested in what they’re saying or empathizing with them when I don’t feel I should. Sometimes, building relationships is more important than doing only what makes you happy. If I hadn’t built those relationships, my social skills wouldn’t have improved nearly as much as they have–and I’m grateful for that.

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  3. Ah, I get it! I haven’t been able to apply the “logic” connection to the social piece, but this insight is a great springboard – thank you, thank you, Rhi!

    (PS Seems some people still haven’t read your “I Do That Too” piece! 😀)

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    1. 😊 I’m just happy people want to engage.

      It seems like every time I start to think about anything, something new occurs to me. Even reading comments I can get caught up in trying to analyse the purpose behind them. Then I remember that there’s a good chance people are just reaching out and trying to share. I have to create a new category of purpose just for that. It’s definitely a good thing.

      I do wonder what people are imagining I am. I have excellent social skills. Honest! They’re specifically learned behaviours that are very useful. But if I ruled the world they wouldn’t be a part of it.

      Social skills for autistic people can often create distance rather than bridging it. They’re a useful tool, but I find it difficult to move from polite acquaintance to close friend. It’s almost like I can do one or the other, complete honesty or complete social graces.

      My closest friend worked beside me every day for more than six months before we became friendly. One day she said it was like I woke up. I stopped hiding behind the social rules. I couldn’t do the transition so I just stopped.

      It’s the black and white effect. All or nothing. I’m meticulous when I concentrate. I’m extraordinarily clumsy when I don’t.

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      1. That all or nothing thing I know from myself very well. I call the all part “perfectionism” while the nothing part is “too lazy”. The difference is quite extreme, which makes it hard for me to learn new skills. That is because I can only learn something in all-mode but then it is hard to find someone who really knows the ins and outs and all the variations and possibilities of the subject. And if I think they are unsure about something I can’t take that as a fact and can’t learn it.
        And then my teacher at technical drafting allways marks everything red that he would do different, but that doesn’t mean that what I did was wrong. I can only say an ironical “I love it.” because everything else would be pointlesly wasted energy.

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