Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maybe I've said this before

I got in trouble not long ago for repeating things (repeating things). What does it mean to “get in trouble” when you are an adult? I didn’t have to sit in the corner, I just got the silent treatment (yes, I noticed it!) and later was told I had hurt someone’s feelings. I was sorry when I found that out, but not for the behavior (repeating things). The “behavior” was my participation in the conversation. It was not appreciated, not being standard. I was very much enjoying the conversation, or what I had thought was conversation, but must have been more like a turn-taking monologue. Instead of being overly offended at the rejection of my contribution, I tried to see it as the sort of thing that could happen if a word in one language sounded too much like a word in another language one was more familiar with. She might have thought I had called her an expletive, when all I had said was “please pass the coriander”. Or maybe I mistook something like a performance of classical music for the call and response of jazz. It made me very cautious for a few days, quieter than usual.

The problem with this, of course, is that I work very hard to speak the language of the majority. Most of the time, I do this, using “ordinary” speech to ask questions, make comments, solve problems. This other “behavior” of mine, this forced (by me) conformity, takes its toll in exhaustion, frustration and knowing that the person most people see me to be has very little to do with the way I perceive myself.

In order to do at least the minimum society asks of me, I offer up my best facsimile of “normal” speech throughout the work day. In return, some of the things I receive are: being told I don’t really mean what I say, being told what I do really mean, having my sentences finished by others, having my comments ignored, having people walk away while I’m still talking and a variety of other “behaviors”, few of which make the job of talking easier. Last week I was treated to an impromptu “dance” with a person who was determined to force eye contact, despite knowing I’m autistic. Needless to say, I don’t remember what that conversation was about.

Is it really too much to ask that non-autistic people make the effort to include us? To be sure, I have people in my life who make this effort, but there seems always to come a point where they “just can’t take it anymore” and tell me to “cut it out” or “act normal” just for once. A point at which I realize that what I had taken for acceptance was something else, tolerance at best. I understand that. I feel the same way about their behaviors sometimes, the endless stream of chat, the debriefing after every minor event. Only guess what happens if I point out how annoying this type of speech can be? Yep. Wrong again. Rude autistic behavior. Some people never seem to get it.
That’s why I was sorry. This shouldn’t be so hard.


  1. "In return, some of the things I receive are: being told I don’t really mean what I say, being told what I do really mean, having my sentences finished by others, having my comments ignored, having people walk away while I’m still talking and a variety of other “behaviors”, few of which make the job of talking easier."

    I think that's typical stuff that NTs do to each other. See, for us, taking the basics for granted, we skip ahead to the challenge of what to do when people do these things - do them before the other person gets a chance to do them to us, or find some way to prevent or disarm them. So what's one step for us is two for you.

  2. bev, thank you so much for always putting things out there. by reading your blog and other blogs, i'm learning to see things from a different angle.

  3. I'm sorry these folks are treating you poorly. I know I have pretty much been withdrawn from most conversations except 'special interest' things (and cigarrette room Baloney) for about 3 years now.

    Beleive it or not (oops reminds me of one of your recents postings /grin) most of the social kind of talking I have done during this last year and a half have mainly been with other special people that I ride the city bus with to or from work, or at the bus stops.

    I know from your writing that you are a very intelligent person, and think that these folks that are dissing you don't know what an opportunity they are hosing up.

  4. I hope you can get on doing whatever the minimum you feel is needed to get by, and that as much as possible, you can just be you.

    I don't know you, apart from what I read here, but you seem rather fabulous to me.

  5. I am, supposedly, an NT, but what you say resonates clearly with me. There really are a lot of obnoxious people out there, who persist in behaving badly until someone calls them on it. That is actually quite hard to do unless you happen to be an equally loudmouthed extrovert.

    The tolerance angle is familiar to me too. Many people have the most obscure prejudices, I have found!

  6. Not to sound mean, but to me it sounds like you work with people who have their own issues with communication.
    Why in the world would someone make you keep eye contact? That is just rude.
    I know for myself, trying to keep communications going with my daughter is just exhausting sometimes. I know she feels the same about communicating with me.

    I think you were correct to think that you had found acceptance in some people. Maybe the problem is that both parties are speaking a third language. And neither one of you are fluent in that third language. So it exhausts both of you to think in this other language, and sometimes you both need a break.

  7. Never, EVER accuse another person of not trying. EVER. No matter how "easy" or "reasonable" your request appears to be. NEVER, EVER assume you can tell whetyher or not another person is trying hard, or trying at all. Seriously, I;ve been reading and re-reading your blog posts obsessively over the past few weeks, but for some reason I only just came accross this one. This is the first time I've been moved to disagree with you.

    Your coriander analogy is a good one. Misunderstandings are NOBODY'S fault, and NOBODY (autistic or NT) deserves to be accused of "not trying" when they happen. I try not to talk too fast or use confuing idioms when I am talking to people who's first language isn't English. But sometimes I slip into what comes naturally and forget. I am TRYING to include my friends. They know that, though if you saw us together, you would probably say I wasn't trying, because you seem to think that it's only people in minorities who have a hard time understanding others. Well, I try. And I fail, repeatedly. You can hate me for failing if you like. And if you say that you're trying hard not to hate me but you can't help but hate me, then I will give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you.

    The same is true of my autistic friends. I try to keep all communication autistic friendly. But I how do you start a conversation without aking an open question? Seriously, I would be grateful for any suggestions. E-mail is easier, but face-to-face and msn are pretty hard if you can't ask "How are you?", "How are things?" I sometimes forget myself and use an idiom which I know could be confusing. Because that is the way I speak. You've explained in great detail how changing your speech hurts you emotionally.

    And no, I'm not NT, either. Not autistic, but not NT. And I've been bullied for twitching my hands, yelled at by parents and teachers for rocking, accused of rudeness and/or "not trying" for failutre to make eye contact for lots of other more physical things, related to my motor-skills, and with failure to remember things. I've been told off for "not listening" when I WAS listening, I just wasn't looking at the person who was speaking. I don't blame the people who punished me, because in their "language", not looking MEANS not listening. I am dyspraxic. I'm aware that the word "dyspraxia" isn't widely used on your side of the Atlantic. It's more commonly known as Non-Verbal Learning Disability or Developmental co-ordination disorder. There is an overlap with autism. I find autistic people easier to understand than most NT people. This is largely because the ones I know NEVER accuse me of "not trying". They know what that accusation feels like. You know what it feels like, too. That's why I'm surprised you're making such an accusation. You aren't inside their heads, you don't have all the facts, you don't know how hard it is for them. They don't know how hard it is for you, they have no right to say you aren't trying because you clearly ARE. But for all you know, they are trying, too. They may be just as exhausted as you, albeit a different kind of exhaustion that manifests in different ways (such as getting offended by things which weren't intended to be offensive.)

    I am an elipse. I will talk to any square, circle (or triangle, pentagon or irregular, unclassifiable blob-shape) that is kind to me. I don't expect to understand or be understood immediately. I don't expect complete UNDERSTANDING either way, ever. If a nineteen-year-old, white, British, female, dyspraxia, middle-class, "gifted" (whatever that means), Catholic person walked into this room, I know I would never uderstand her, even though we share all those labels exactly.

    So, yes, NTs have an obligatin to try, and no right to accuse you of not trying. But "trying to force eye-contact, even though he knows you're autistic", isn't necessarily a sign that the man in question refusing to try to communicate with you and to help you communicate. If you explained why you dislike it in detail, in writing and WITHOUT ACCUSING HIM OF ANY DELIBERATE CRUELTY, perhaps it would help. Then again, it might not. Because looking at someone's eyes is his natural method of communication. And avoiding eyes contact may not be as painful or uncomfortable for him as making it is for you, but it still makes him feel uneasy. Maybe there is no logical reason (or none that is obvious to YOU)why not being able to see someone's eyes makes it harder to communicate with them. But there is no logical reason (or none which is obvious to ME) why one of my autistic friends NEEDS (I know it is a genuine need, although I have a hard time understanding it) to almost constantly repeat the words "of doom". But she does. I don't understand WHY I need to writhe my hands together when I'm stressed and/or can't concentrate, and I've spent 19 years being me, so if anyone ought to know, I should. But I don't. So NEVER attribute anyone's behavious (whether they're autistic, NT, or somewhere in the twilight zone in between) to "not trying". Unless you can mind-read, you have no idea who's trying and who isn't.

  8. Anonymous,

    You make some good points here. I do try to consider the other person's viewpoint, but I could always do better. I appreciate you taking the time to point this out.

    In the case I was writing about, I have done my best to work with the eye-contact insistent individual. At the time I wrote this, we had had several encounters in which she had suggested that I could overcome a number of autisitc traits if I just made the effort. Since I have problems expressing myself in speech,I had asked her to read some of my earlier blog entries to better understand why that wasn't a course of action I would choose. If you had been there, I think you would have seen what I saw, but maybe not. I have had people grab my chin and move my head to where they wanted it more than once. As an adult. I'm not going to have anymore of that, and the incident I spoke of here came way too close.

    I am aware that there are many people who try hard and don't expect the autistic person to do all the work. They are appreciated. I should tell them that more often, maybe.

  9. Yes. I think if I would have been there I would have stood up for you. Sorry if I was aggressive in my previous comment, or if it was too long.

  10. "Geez! Can't you just be like the rest of us??" "Stop it! You're embarrassing me!! That's why I can't be seen with you in public!" "Why did you introduce yourself to my friend? That was soooo embarrassing!" ...and the list goes on.


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