(For the cheap seats: I’m an Aspie.)
I’m also really uneasy around children.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate kids; in fact, I rather like them. I find them amusing (sometimes). (I also find them boring (most of the time).)
It’s not that I’m a cold, mean person. It’s just that I feel unnatural and uneasy around them. If interacting with adults was tough for me, spending time with kids is even harder. I’m not sure what to say, or what to do. With adults, at least I can reason with them, or engage them in a discussion about something interesting, or at least appeal to their sense of sympathy 🙂
With adults, making small talk is hard enough. I have a general social awkwardness that makes any kind of interaction challenging, even with NT adults with whom I have more in common; it’s easy to imagine that a bigger gap in age, interests, development, language, life stage, skills, understanding, and comprehension could erect even taller barriers than usual.
With children’s limitations, finding things to do or talk about is more difficult. My communication oddities (deficits) become even more amplified. This is especially true if their parents are standing there, watching us, expecting me to engage with kids like most other adults do. And I (always) come up short.
I can engage in activities with kids…until they want to act out an imaginative scenario or something.
So, there’s boredom, and social awkwardness. There’s also something else…
Intense uneasiness, a sharp discomfort. For me, it’s because children are often unpredictable. It’s like walking on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Children can suddenly do anything, at any time. They squeal or shriek, and often, this comes from out of nowhere. This is unnerving to me.
They’re not always capable of maintaining the same status (activity, sitting, sleeping, etc) for longer periods of time, and when they want to switch gears, the change is abrupt. The abrupt change startles me.
They’re also probably going to fidget. This makes me nervous.
Their needs are probably going to change fairly frequently, such as if they suddenly realize they’re hungry, thirsty, bored, active, or tired. The change in their needs is something they’ll have to communicate to their parent or other caretaker, unless that guardian anticipates it or picks up on it fairly quickly. If the child has to somehow communicate these needs to that guardian, that communication may involve (possibly loud, sudden) noise and/or (unpredictable, possibly violent) movement. This activates two sensory functions (pathways) of mine (auditory and touch) without warning.
Kids have lots of energy and they run around. This can be draining for me. Young children may suddenly blurt something out. They don’t usually know how to modulate (control) their volume or movement, so that sudden sound or movement detection may also present a second issue for me: overstimulation. Talk about a double-whammy.
If the child is an infant, they may suddenly start crying. In addition to the sudden stimulus + overstimulation double-whammy I just mentioned, this can present another problem: it might hit our extreme empathy nerve, causing us to shift uncomfortably, wanting to help, but if we’re not that child’s caretaker, we know it’s not our place and we don’t know how to deal with the situation. That presents a triple-whammy.
Kids need love, approval, and an interest taken in them by others; Aspie/autistic people frequently have challenges in these areas. Even for those of us who don’t, we may have a tough time expressing them or otherwise interacting “normally”.
Children can suddenly cross their tolerance threshold, sometimes without warning, and get overtired, hungry, fatigued, stimulated, cranky, bored, hot, cold, thirsty, etc, and this can vary from minute to minute. When they’re uncomfortable in some way, they may or may not be able to verbalize their problem or their needs.
Whether we have children of our own or we’re around other peoples’ children, in any place or at any time, any of the above can apply and create stress for someone on the spectrum.
Now let’s take this into the public realm…
I don’t have children of my own, but I find myself around other peoples’ children daily. These are typically strangers, in public places like the grocery store, bookstore, etc. I witness what goes on; I have no choice; it often affects me.
I know that parents today, by and large, love their children. But many parents seem to be overworked, over-stressed, under-supported, etc. Their jobs, partners, other children, activities (their own and their children’s), deadlines, schedules, overtime, companions, obligations, and other tasks and errands seem to preoccupy them. Add to that a soup of technology-delivered information and notifications coming in from all directions from a myriad of electronic devices in the forms of texts, emails, social media, 24/7 news headlines, reminders, ever-more-hectic social calendars, etc, and it doesn’t take long to surmise that the average middle-class person is overstretched. It may take a while for even the best-intentioned and most attentive parent to realize that their child has been in need of something or making an excess-energy-fueled ruckus for some time now.
Every shriek (even if the source is excitement or joy), every wail, every cry, every blurted phrase, every bounce in a seat or running-lap around a room or up and down an aisle, or noise from a talking toy, can ALL be extremely startling and anxiety-inducing to an Aspie/autistic adult.
It’s not our fault. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not that we’re bitchy, oversensitive, child-hating, icy, cold-hearted, inhuman, selfish, insensitive, mean, wrong, cruel, anal-retentive, unrealistic Scrooges. It’s not any of that. We’re not mean and we’re not defective. Most of us do not even dislike children. It’s just that kids can make us uneasy or nervous, because we know that these shrieks, wails, and bounces happen often, and at any time, without the benefit of a heads-up so that we can prepare. And then when those vocalizations or actions do take place, it “fries” our nervous systems, over-driving us, irritating us, fatiguing us, and sapping our energy.
We run out of spoons.
Sometimes we have a meltdown ourselves.
We feel horrible about it. We know how we must look to another (NT) adult: (“you’re just a sick animal who hates kids!”)
No, we’re not. Some of us have children of our own, and make damn fine parents. Those kids often grow up extremely well-adjusted and well-prepared for the world. Many of us have chosen to remain “child-free” or “‘childless’ by choice”. It’s not that we’re unfit to be parents. It does seem to be true that many people on the spectrum have opted not to have children, but it doesn’t mean that we’re incapable of loving and raising them.
But remember… autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Autism doesn’t magically disappear at a certain age. It’s lifelong. Autistic adults continue to suffer from the stimulatory onslaught of our environment, just like we did when we were kids.
I know, we were kids once, too. That doesn’t mean we can always handle yours. ❤