Alrighty, it looks like I’m in list-making mode; first it was “20 things to say“, then “20 things not to say“, and now this: 10 things not to do to Aspies/autistic people. I promise not to turn this blog into a simple collection of lists, although many Aspies do enjoy making lists.
I realize that these recent posts may make me sound like a bossy bitch (please pardon the French). I promise that that’s not the way I intend these posts to be. The first two posts (on 20 things to say/not to say) are more of a plea for understanding and at times, for help. This post comes from a similar root desire to explain Asperger’s/autism to the allistic world on which we can connect, relate, find common ground, and reach healthy understanding. I’ve simply added the “commandment” aspect as an attempt to inject an element of (probably awkward) humor into the subject. In any case, it is absolutely not meant to offend anyone! 🙂
On a serious note… Peoples’ actions often get on other peoples’ nerves. The “perpetrator” of that action often doesn’t realize the consequence(s) of that action or the effect(s) it has on the other person. This applies to anyone in general, not just Aspie/autistic people. But many people on the spectrum, including myself, have 1) a need for sameness/routine; 2) a deep and sometimes murky emotional reservoir; 3) a spotty or fragile short-term memory; and 4) a low tolerance for frustration. This combination of traits can often lead to volatile encounters, especially in close quarters with people who don’t display these traits or aren’t familiar with autism and the sometimes-unique needs and quirks of those on the spectrum. This post is meant to foster greater awareness and consideration, with an awkward attempt to keep it light.
I also need to add that this, too, is simply my own personal opinion based on my own experience. Some Aspies are going to nod and say, “yep, that’s about right!” on some of the items, while others are going to say, “nope, that’s not an issue for me.” That’s perfectly OK. Vive la difference, right?
1. Thou shalt not move my stuff.
My short-term memory works much like an Etch-a-Sketch. (Remember those? We scrawled little designs or pictures and then all you had to do was shake it and poof!–the picture was gone and you had a blank screen.) “A memory like an Etch-a-Sketch” is not an easy way to live one’s life. This is especially true where one’s belongings are concerned. I spent years trying to devise methods for remembering where I put various things. I lost count of how many house keys I lost as a child, how many times I couldn’t find my glasses or something else I needed (books, papers, folders, pens, hearing aids, etc). It took me a long time to designate short lists of specific places for things. These days, for example, my cell phone is either in my velcro cell phone pouch clipped to my jeans, in my right jacked pocket, on the ledge in the front entryway, or plugged into one of two chargers, one of which is by the couch, and the other of which is in the truck. I take a similar approach for other important items, such as my laptop, daily herbal supplements, keys, office work taken home, etc.
So far, so good. But when someone comes along and moves something, especially something important, I have a tendency to flip my shizz. Not being able to find something important sends streaks of thoughts through my head: 1) (frustration) “where the &#*@ is it?? I need to get going, and I need it now!”; 2) (panic) “I thought it was here, and now I can’t find it!”; 3) (self-pummeling) “good lord, I’m 38. Can’t I remember where I put this??”; and 4) (life history, where I experience the cumulative frustration that has gathered throughout my life every time I have lost something…again.)
It’s almost worse when I find out that someone moved it. The good news is, I had put that item in that spot. Yay! Go me. The bad news is, it got moved anyway, and there’s no way I could’ve known where it ended up, because I wasn’t the one who had moved it. Someone else had. Somehow, I wasn’t there to prevent them from moving my stuff. My stuff got moved, and I couldn’t control it because I couldn’t control the actions of the person who moved it. That’s a very powerless, crazy-making, and frustrating feeling.
2. Thou shalt not interrupt my concentration.
My profession and my personal interests both involve lots of detailed concentration. There are usually a lot of details to keep track of, whether it involves intricate biochemical pathways (such as when I’m studying science), or musical notes and timing (such as when I’m playing the piano), or anything in between.
The quickest path to my exasperation and a reflexive, angry, “WHAT?” is to intrude on this broadband stream of thought. I’ve often described my brain as a freight train: it may take me a bit to gather speed and strength (i.e., focus), but once I do, stopping on a dime is downright impossible, and will result in a train wreck. This “train wreck” will usually manifest as explosive verbiage, accompanied by an impossible-to-hide “Death Glare” (as one of my staff members described it).
3. Thou shalt not jostle/shake me awake.
I’ll simply wake up slightly irritable, which is not a healthy way to begin the day, since stress only accumulates throughout the day.
4. Thou shalt not pummel me with lots of different questions, especially before I’m ready for them.
What this looks like… I’ve just gotten home. I’m a healthcare professional, shifting out of Work Mode into Relaxation/Me-Time Mode.
Other person: “Have those tests come back yet?”
Me: “Yes; I’ll be starting on them next week.”
Other person: “OK. And what is [Prescription x] for?”
Me: “It does [mechanisms A, B, and C] which helps [symptoms D, E, and F].”
Other person: “Did you know [person I’ve never heard of who supposedly went to my school…in a different grade]?”
Other person: “Oh. Well…” (Proceeds to tell me an outline of their life story anyway.)
Me: “…..” (Genuinely listening, but genuinely trying–and failing–to care; instead, feeling the sunlight on my face, and a song I recently listened to has probably begun playing in my head.)
Other person: “Oh–and I still want to be sure to [do things/get to places A, B, and C].”
Me: “OK” (Inside, I’m starting to “buzz” with the static electricity that is Conversation/Cognition Overload)
This is a surefire way to send me involuntarily into “Make It STOP” mode. You may notice that my responses above are pretty short and to the point. I’m an Aspie that could talk for hours, especially (stereotypically), about something I find interesting. The conversation above is a far cry from that. The brief responses are one of my learned adaptations of self- and sanity-preservation; I’m trying to maintain a delicate balance between the equally strong desires to Be Diplomatic and End the Conversation so that I can stop processing stimuli (in this case, auditory) and take a break from having to think for a while, especially along thought-lines over which I don’t have sole control.
5. Thou shalt not spring unexpected requests on me.
Every once in a while, during a relatively low-stress day, this could be relatively tolerable and probably safe. It’s almost expected as a part of every day life. But when it becomes more common (such as more than once a week), or happens on a day that has been long and stressful, then doing this might create problems. If I’ve met with several people, taxed my brain in ultra-deep thought processes, and I’ve planned the quickest route home, counting down the minutes and seconds until I can curl up on the couch with the laptop, a cat, and some chocolate, and someone says, “oh by the way, we need to [stop at Place X, do Task Y, or run Errand Z] on our way home”, I’m likely to bristle with irritation that I can’t hide.
I understand that people forget things, and even when they remember things, they may forget to tell the other people that might be involved. But it can’t become a habit, because that can begin to grate on me. I need to plan, if for no other reason than to make room in my head and my energy reserves. I need adequate preparation time.
6. Thou shalt not only contact me or acknowledge that I exist when thou wants something from me.
Facebook is the most common venue for this for me, although it can happen via any other communication route. You may be wondering, “why is this on an Aspie-perspective list on an Aspie-centered blog? This might annoy anybody.” Indeed, this pet peeve is universal. Most people feel a little resentful when others treat them like this. And for those on the autism spectrum, it hits a little closer to the core. I think this is because: 1) we often have a tough time forming and maintaining relationships anyway; 2) we’re often a bit more sensitive than others, and our emotions seem to run a little deeper; 3) being asked for something may trigger anxiety, such as loaning money or an object to someone, and once it’s in their hands, there’s a chance that it might never end up back in yours; 4) being asked for something might involve going somewhere (ugh….no), interacting with other people (yikes!), or buying something (“sign up with this pyramid scheme with me!” Uh….no. It’s B.S. Not interested). And if this is the only time that that person acknowledges my existence, where are they the rest of the time?
People on the spectrum often have a few close friends that they value very dearly, and interacting with anyone else can be very tricky. Some of us have already been soured on the general population anyway, and this is one more pretentious intrusion that only serves to sour us further.
7. Thou shalt not treat me like a child.
Even before any of us (including myself) knew that I was an Aspie/autistic, some people would either: 1) give unsolicited advice that I didn’t need (and would actually have had detrimental consequences, had I taken it); 2) remind me about mundane things (“be sure you [insert something akin to ‘say please and thank you’ here]”), things so basic that I could only stop and stare and say, “really….?”; or 3) accuse me of doing something, saying something, or having some motive that I really didn’t. No, I didn’t say it was your fault. No, I didn’t brush you off. No, I didn’t go visit Gramma in hopes of scoring free food. Seriously. How could I have made it to where I am in life if I operated on such a childish level?
8. Thou shalt not nag or attempt to hurry me up, especially when I’m engaged in a stimming (self-soothing) activity or Special Interest.
I’ve expounded on that before (see #4), so I won’t repeat myself here 🙂
9. Thou shalt not give me the “cold shoulder” or “shut off” during a time when I’m anxious, irritated, or frustrated.
When I’m anxious, irritated, or frustrated about something, I need to address and/or discuss it. If I’m scared, I need reassurance and often, possible solutions. If I’m irritated or frustrated, I may or may not need to get something off my chest. If I do, please let me. If it’s something you did, I need you to know. If not, then it’s not you, so don’t take it personally. In fact, if I’m mad at someone or something else, get mad at them/it with me; it’ll provide me with support I might need.
Whatever you do, don’t turn off like a switch and “go blank”, “close off”, or “run cold”. Not talking about something or being receptive to dealing with something does not solve any problems. Further alienating me doesn’t help. In fact, chances are you may be misunderstanding me; for example, you might think it’s your fault when it’s actually not. Let’s just clear the air and get all the facts out in the open.
10. Thou shalt not fail to believe me/take me seriously when I say I don’t care what we do or that nothing’s wrong.
Here’s what this looks like:
Other person: “What do you want to do today?” (Or, “what do you want to eat?”)
Me: “I don’t care.”
Other person: “No, really–what do you want?”
Me: “I really don’t care.”
Other person: “You’re quiet today; are you OK?” (This is a good thing!)
Me: “Yep, I’m fine.”
Other person: “Oh, OK. I thought I had done something wrong.”
Me: “Nope, you’re fine; you don’t need to worry.”
Other person: “Oh, OK. You just look so distant.”
Me, breaking a slight smile: “I reckon I’m just that relaxed.”
Other person: “Are you sure?”
Seriously, if I have a preference, I’ll say so. I’ll make suggestions if I have any. If I say I don’t care, or if I say everything is OK, then please, for the love of all creation, believe me. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to take everyone else at face value, without the guessing games that are considered “normal” in society (how did that ever happen, anyway?). With an Aspie, you really can take us at face value. Some of us don’t lie at all. Others do, but very rarely, and dislike every bit of it, and will probably admit to the truth fairly soon afterward anyway.
Again, this is just my own perspective, and I’m sure others will differ, which is totally fine. Maybe it’ll provide support for other Aspies (or anyone else) for whom these ring true, to know that they’re not alone. And maybe it’ll provide insight to the loved ones in their lives that help make life easier all around. 🙂