First off, I want to say that my experience with Autism is going to be different from another person’s experience. It has been said, “If you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. Due to being a spectrum disorder, people with autism can display many different traits.
I have been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism, what used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome. What this means is that most of my autistic traits are unseen, at least for the most part, having more to do with the way I think and perceive the world. So while this is the story of my own experience, I won’t be able to give much information on other forms of Autism, such at low or mid functioning. My nephew is mid-functioning and while we share certain traits, much of our own personal experiences will be different throughout life.
I wanted to start this series out right with something that has caused me a huge amount of stress and exhaustion over the years. Small Talk is something that makes absolutely no sense to me and so I am absolutely awful at it. It has always seemed that small talk is simply a means to eliminate silence and in that it seems really weird. Is silence horrific to neurotypical people?
If you were to engage me in small talk I will spend the majority of the time trying to get out of the conversation. This is for multiple reasons but mainly the following three points:
1.) It annoys me
2.) I see no point in it
3.) I fear saying the wrong thing in these moments.
This might come as a shock but I could not care less about the weather, that new recipe for chicken tacos, or the pro’s and con’s of the various types of butter you can use to make cookies. Part of this comes from the fact that I have no idea where this style of conversation is supposed to go. Usually my response will be something along the lines of, “yep…”
Seriously though, think about it. You’re sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for your appointment. Someone walks in and sees you sitting there. They sit down and you both are silent. Then after a few minutes they speak up and say, “Boy it’s hot out there isn’t it?”
Is this conversation supposed to go somewhere? Am I supposed to then tell you that I’m there to have an infected toenail looked at? Should I show you the toenail? Do I ask you if you are there to be checked into psychiatric care due to fearing silence so badly that you engaged me in this conversation?
I have found that my initial response almost always leads to them looking at me like I am supposed to continue and ask them something back but who the fuck knows what. The only thing going on in my mind is this…
“Please shut up, please shut up, please shut up….I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you…”
Another horrible experience for me is when checking out at a store. When I go to the store, I get what I need and I try to get out as quickly as possible. Over time I learn which cashiers are the fastest and I attempt to go through their aisles. Sometimes though this option is not available and I am placed in a checkout with someone who wants to make comments about everything I am trying to purchase.
“Oh, is this butter good?” They might ask.
“It’s butter.” I would reply
“I usually use this brand, have you tried it?” They ask.
“No, this is cheaper and it’s the same butter I have bought for the last 10 years.”
“You ought to try this brand.” They reply
“I’m good.” I say
“Ok….OH! Is this brand of bread good?”
By the end of experiences like this my brain is swimming in stress and I am completely exhausted. The reason being is that my mind is pushing me to an outburst. As the stress level rises, the lights around me get brighter, the noises become louder, and the voices around me become less distinct. My skin might begin to itch and I often break out in hives simply from the fact that I am stressed out. I will begin to notice the temperature in the room as it seems to rise and I feel a need to scream build up in my body.
At one point in life I would have just blown up. Emotional outbursts were a regular occurrence for me growing up and even though they might initially make me feel better, I would do or say things that I would regret later. During sensory overload I can say some of the most wicked and awful things without ever realizing that they have exited my mouth. So holding back these urges is absolutely exhausting.
By the time I get home from the store I sit down and often times don’t move for several hours after that. Letting my mind calm and slow down the sensory information that I am receiving. It should come as no surprise then that I attempt to the best of my ability to keep away from small talk.
Gossip on the other hand is both interesting and annoying. When I was younger I would have people tell me things about other people and then moments later I’d watch as those people acted as if they were the best of friends. You would never see me do anything like this. In fact I got in a lot of trouble as a kid for saying things like, “I thought you just said she was a bitch?”
Gossip is interesting because people seem to think that since I am quiet they can just come up to me and tell me anything and no one will ever hear about it. The problem is my perception of people is often times shaped by how other people speak about them. My mind is incredibly literal and so if I am told that someone is crook, I will think, “oh, this person might try to rob me, and act strangely around that person.
The other thing about gossip is that it is almost never actually true. Many times throughout life I have had person A come up to me and say one thing about person B , then have person B come up and say the exact same thing about person A. Now obviously they both can’t be right but why does this type of accusatory talk feel so good to neurotypical people? It makes no sense to me.
The last thing that I want to talk about today is directions. If you are ever told to get directions from me, or to give directions to me, we are both going to end up confused. The way I plan things out is totally different from the way that others plan things out. Both of us might be headed toward the same goal but my mind often times goes about it in a very different way.
Example of giving me instructions:
When I was in high school the teacher gave us a writing assignment. She stated that the essay was to be 10 pages long, double spaced. I had absolutely no idea what double spaced meant at the time yet my brain interpreted this to mean a 10 page paper with two spaces in between each word. I remember turning in my paper thinking I had done a decent job only to have the teacher laugh at me. When you think about it though, I had probably written about twice as much as any other student there but instead I was ridiculed and made to feel inferior for the simple mistake I had made.
Example of me giving someone else instructions:
So in my job I used a lot of computer programs. I am able to use this with a lot of speed and navigate through the menus without any difficulty. So when I am told to explain to another person how to do something, I often leave out a lot of information that the person might need to know.
Say I am told to explain how to make certain reports. I might explain it by saying, click reports, enter in dates, and pull the report you want it to create. When they come back to me and wonder why they can’t pull a certain report, I realize there are maybe 5-10 steps that you have to do before being able to even access the reports. By that time they are upset because they think I think they are stupid, or that I am trying to make them fail by explaining it badly. Nothing could be further from the truth, I literally just don’t consider those small steps that must be done since I am so used to just doing those, its second nature to me and in my mind it should be to them as well.
Anyway, I hope I have done these things justice and maybe you understand a bit more about me than you did before. There is much more topics that I will go into during coming weeks, months and years. Thank you for reading!