Dear allistic friends with autistic friends/friends “with” Asperger’s…
I’m an Aspie. That is to say that I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. Being friends with me/us can be somewhat interesting at times. We may have “quirks”, habits, rituals, behaviors, or other nuances that you might find confusing, interesting, amusing, annoying, or surprising. You may wonder why we do/did or say/said something in particular.
I’m going to “let you in” on (my personal take on) friendships and bonding with an Aspergian/autistic person. Anything I’m about to say probably won’t apply to all Asperger’s/autistic people; we’re all different, after all, and we need to be considered as such. 🙂
(I realize that I switch back and forth between “I/me” and “we/us” a lot; that is intentional. I can only speak for myself, yet I have interacted with many other people on the spectrum, either passively by reading their writing, or actively by talking/chatting with them. I’ve gleaned a lot of insight along the way, but I certainly don’t know everything, and although I know myself best, I’m realizing that I don’t even know everything about myself, either.)
You really can trust what we say. We’re usually a pretty honest lot. We’re not nearly as susceptible to the mind-games that you might be used to from your other friends or family.
We are sensitive to our environment. We’re not generally the “party type” who needs to frequent certain places in order to “be seen” or “feel trendy”. We tend to like quiet places. For example, restaurants with tiled floors, loud music, or piercing lighting are generally not our cup of tea. Coffee shops are often more palatable, if they’re not overly crowded.
We have a rich internal world that we can’t always define/explain, but we’re not typically self-absorbed, nor are we purposefully secretive. In fact, we usually possess less of both of those attributes than many non-autistic people.
We like to talk about and share our interests with you. This doesn’t mean we’re narcissistic. We don’t intend to monopolize the conversation; we do find ourselves doing so more frequently than we’d like, and we can become self-conscious or downright embarrassed about it. We just like to share, help, or offer advice or support. Often, when we discuss our interests with you, we’re making an attempt to “get personal” or to share with you the many things that whirl around inside our heads, or what’s going on in our lives. We’re trying to bond with you.
We do care about what you say and what’s happening in your life, even if we don’t/can’t show it “normally” by asking questions. I know that sometimes I forget to ask questions about the other person’s day, or even their recent life. I forget to ask questions about them. I am indeed curious; I’m not sure why it doesn’t often dawn on me to ask. But most of the time it just doesn’t. Again, this doesn’t indicate narcissism or self-centeredness. It just means what it means: my mind blanked, and I’ve forgotten to ask.
We don’t always follow/we’re not always aware of social rules. Sometimes it’s because we believe some of those “rules” are ridiculous or unnecessary; at other times, it’s another instance of forgetting–it hasn’t crossed my mind. Sometimes, we may need help with “basic” things like driving or making sure we look OK. (This isn’t true for all of us, of course, but it’s definitely true for me, and I’m the only one I can speak for.)
We do try to be considerate. Going on about ourselves, our thoughts, or our “special interests” doesn’t mean we don’t care about you and it doesn’t mean we’re not thinking about you. And even though we aren’t always aware of (or don’t always remember, or don’t always agree with) the social/cultural norms, that doesn’t mean that we’re rude, uncivilized, or anything else. We are indeed polite at heart, and we’d never purposefully do anything that would make us appear boorish.
Sometimes we get tired. Sometimes this happens out of the blue, without warning. We might get tired or exhausted faster/sooner than we anticipated.
Sometimes we might bail on plans at the last minute. Please understand that this is nothing against you. Sometimes “life happens”, and the day (or the day before) may suddenly catch up with us, leaving us feeling overwhelmed. We do want to spend time with you; we may just not have the energy to hang out anywhere or with anyone at that particular time.
Most of us do want friendships. We’re human beings, after all, and we do seek some amount of social contact. We may not need or desire as much contact as do people who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, but most of us do crave some. How much, how often, and in what venue can vary, as can the number of people in the group that we can handle. Not only can this vary from person to person, but it can vary for the same person from day to day.
We may be detail-oriented, which may make it seem like we’re trying to outdo you and be right all the time, but that’s not how it is; we’re just detail-oriented and we like to help and share. If we seem to “correct” you, we’re just trying to help, to add to the conversation. We’re not trying to one-up you or come out on top.
We often have self-esteem issues. Some of us are emotionally extra-sensitive. Some of us are depressed. Some of us have been bullied or criticized a lot. Maybe we underachieved in school. Maybe we were the butt of our classmates’ jokes. Some of us don’t have the most “kept” of appearances (including me). Some of us may have body image issues. Or maybe we don’t have an intuitive sense of style or color coordination (also true for me). Some of us may be ashamed to be unemployed, under-employed, or dissatisfied with our career track (also including me, in the past; I know what that’s like). Some of us may have a frustrated history of relationships, either romantic or platonic-friendly.
We tend to be awkward, especially at first. When we first meet, we may not know what to say. I definitely have difficulty getting the conversation ball rolling (i.e., making “small talk”). I simply can’t think of what to say. I call the “getting to know you” phase the “sniffing butt” stage (please forgive the crudeness of the analogy! But to me, that’s what it often feels like). I’m always glad when that stage is over and we can progress to deeper, more personal topics, having covered the basic ground and gotten it out of the way. I think I’m more apprehensive during the early stages of friendship development because not only do I not know what to say, but there are so many unknowns for me, and I feel like I have to tread rather carefully to avoid any upset, inadvertent offense, looking “weird”, or turning someone off.
As the friendship progresses, we open up and talk more–sometimes a lot. That’s how you know I’m getting comfortable with you. Shorter questions/answers transition to nervous chatter, which then evolves into more relaxed and meaningful conversation as the bond becomes more established and continues to deepen.
We’re sensitive in general, but we prefer–and can usually handle–the truth. We don’t always pick up on the hints or subtle suggestions, or the true meanings of innuendos, figures of speech, white lies, or what I call double-speak. Double-speak is when someone says the opposite of what they mean, just to be polite, such as, “no, I think those jeans look great!” when really, they look awful.
We see ourselves differently than you see us. I may not notice my “stimming” activities, my facial expressions, or how “strangely” I may walk. I may not realize that I’m talking too loud or too fast. I may not realize that I’ve started to talk more formally. I may not realize that my clothes don’t always fit me right (usually erring on the baggy side, for comfort). I may not realize that I’m fidgeting.
We do, by and large, make great friends. We tend not to stir the pot, spread gossip or rumors, or engage in double-speak or manipulative behavior. We often value different attributes than non-autistic people, such as true kindness, perception, outside-the-box thinking, dry senses of humor, genuineness, trustworthiness, honesty, sensitivity, etc, as opposed to physical appearance, mainstream interests, fashion or trends/what’s “hot”, gender roles, expectations, etc.
If we’re hanging out with you or connecting with you, it usually means that we actually like you. If we’re talking to you, it means that we really are interested in doing so. What we do, we’re typically not doing just for show. You can be “real” with us, and we appreciate that we can be “real” with you, too. We like you for you, and we’re glad that you like us for us.
~ The Silent Wave, Aspergian/autistic person