Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hello and other neurotypical attention seeking tactics

At a seminar I attended, a woman was concerned about her daughter, who had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. The girl refused to say "hello" to people, which it seems, is considered the height of rudeness, right up there with ignoring a ringing telephone, in the NT community.

The speaker responded with several approaches to social skills training for the errant young woman. First, though, she listed a number of reasons an autistic person might not be saying and doing what she "should". The most likely possibility seemed to be that she was absorbed in her own thoughts (perhaps that separate world we are said to inhabit?) Also mentioned was the Theory of Mind deficit that was probably keeping this girl from knowing that other people expect you to say hello upon seeing them.

What wasn't mentioned, what seemed perfectly obvious to me, was the fact that "hello" is a basically meaningless word. Or to look at it from a different angle, it's nothing but attention seeking. "Here I am, and yes, I see you are here too!" As far as I can tell this is what "hello" means. It seems pretty illogical, to this Aspie anyway, that every encounter should need to begin with this statement of the obvious.
I've gotten used to it of course, and regularly say hello to people I meet. As a teenager and younger adult, though, I was far more loyal to my logical instincts and very much resented the requirement to greet everyone. I did not at all appreciate being given a script of what to say. I like to choose my own repetitive (meaningless? not to me) scripts. Hello was a thorn in my allegedly non- metaphor-understanding autistic side. These days it's an annoyance of smaller magnitude, but make no mistake, it still is one.

How many times in a day is one required to say "Hello" to a single person? I'm talking about someone who works or resides in the same building and no one has left and come back. I would think one time, possibly twice on a long day, separated by several hours in between. But no. Several residents in the building where I work behave as if they've been slighted if I don't say "hello" upon every passing in the halls. A couple of them will comment, "Not speaking today?" or "You don't say 'hello' anymore?".

Sometimes I think about saying it in my own words. "I see you" or something similar. It would be seen as rude, I guess, to try to improvise on the word. One must adhere to the script in this case, or risk being viewed as hostile. I have tried telling people that I have a 2 hello limit, and to some, this has been acceptable, if amusing. They tend to forget though, reminding me every time they pass, Here I Am. I Recognize You. I Am Walking Down This Hall, You Are Too. We Wish Each Other Well, Or At Least Nothing Terrible. I Know You. I See You There. Do You See Me? Hello.


  1. I love it! My 6-year-old is autistic and won't say hello either, and it really does bother people. It's refreshing to see things from his perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and letting this neurotypical drop in to say hello.

  2. My own pet peeve is the "how ya doing?" dance that obligatorily follows the exchange of "hello"s.

  3. Love this blop post. I too cannot stand fake social niceties.


  4. I "Hello" or more generally, "Good morning" upon my first meeting. Don't know that I ever re-greet someone an hour later ... !

  5. We Wish Each Other Well, Or At Least Nothing Terrible. I Know You.

    Yes, that seems to be the main point of it. The idea of saying hello when walking past a familiar person probably goes back to primitive times, when any caveman who wasn't part of your tribe might just decide to chuck a spear in your direction as soon as you looked away.

    Quite inconvenient for those of us who don't have the best face recognition ability. Sometimes I say hello to people who look as if they may recognize me, even if I have no clue who they are.

  6. Me too, abfh, me too.
    And what about those people who are at a distance, saying hello to someone nearby (who me, did you mean me?). I never know whether to respond or not. Whichever choice I make, it is usually wrong.

  7. I've developed a heuristic of sorts. When I'm happy that I saw someone, even passing by, I smile at him/her. When I'm not in the mood for smiling, I pretend to be concentrated in something else.

    The NT value smiles more than cold hellos, I've learned.

  8. This is enlightening to me. I value hellos very much. I attribute it to being Southern. Perhaps we should exchange locations. Hardly anyone says hi or good morning here to me in Southern California! Missy

  9. I really liked reading this post- I'd never thought of that before. I guess some social scripts are hard to extinquish, no matter how mindless they become.

    And, thank you for the train graphics you made for the child we discussed in an earlier blog. He really loved them and we spent quite some time enjoying them together. I especially like the lettered ones. A great touch! Thanks again!

  10. Basically, it works this way: NT's think they are so "special" that if anyone does not want to talk to them (or play with them, or work with them, or whatever), then there must be something wrong with that person. Anyone who does not want to talk/play/work with the NT should be "fixed" so that he/she will.

    I am soooo tired of their egocentric vanity and sense of self-importance.

  11. I have some trouble with this one as well. I get that one is supposed to greet others the first time, but it just seems silly to have to keep saying it every time.

    I try instead a half head nod (up and then back to neutral - no downward bob), sometimes with an ever so slight smile (not too much as it seems to incite either conversation or suspicion). It seems to work well enough, although a former girlfriend told me it looked funny - she sometimes used to do an exaggerated mimic of it.

    Re: the telephone, I can never figure out why the fact that someone else wants to talk NOW means that I'm supposed to want to too, and be prepared to drop everything to do so.

  12. Interesting. And thank you for sharing your view. I feel that you are giving me a peep-hole into my own child's brain.
    He says "hello" and "bye" just fine, but there are the other things he refuses, like "what is your name?". Maybe he's thinking that is a dumb question, duh, you know my name already.

  13. In my country of origin there is a town called Chepo where people don't say goodbye.

  14. People should never ask "how's your day been?" unless they are really prepared to listen to the answer. Most are not.


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