People on the spectrum often get accused of lacking empathy and coming up short on social skills.
Most of the time, the accusers are wrong. I really do care about what they have to say. I really am interested.
But at other times, they’re absolutely right: I don’t care.
Whoa, seeing that in writing makes me feel like a sociopath, a robot.
Does anyone have any idea how long it took me to realize this? A long time. And it took me even longer to accept it.
That’s my guilty confession: sometimes, I don’t care about what someone’s talking about.
Someone I know talks about sports. I couldn’t care less. For me, the subject of sports makes an excellent virtual sleeping pill.
Someone else I know goes on for a while about people they know but I’ve never met. I have no ties with the people of which this person speaks. I’ll never meet them in my life. I genuinely try really hard not to yawn.
Someone else I know talks about their artistic projects. The joy these projects bring them projects well. I feel it with them. I do care what they’re working on, and I do feel joy about their joy. Given what that person has been through, it’s a miracle. And it’s also mundane.
It’s also tough for me to fully engage unless I can visually, physically see the creations they’re talking about. But since it’s only an auditory conversation, my mind sometimes begins to wander. Fighting the urge to zone out during that conversation makes me feel the worst.
I try to get interested. I try to find something interesting about what they’re saying and latch on to that. (Like the joy, for example.)
I try really hard to put myself in their shoes.
I try really hard to focus.
I try really hard to be, as conventionally defined, human.
But the mysteries of the universe demand my attention. So does that really cool song that keeps popping into the virtual playlist on my mental jukebox. So does tomorrow’s to-do list. So do the split ends in my hair.
Focus, I tell myself. Stay with them, in the Here and Now. Now is all you have.
Of course, I feel guilty about this. I should care. Not just because society dictates it, but because these are people I care about and cherish. What kind of monster am I if I get bored listening to one of my loved ones?
And then, I feel a little guilty about letting down my identity and my spectrum community by clinging to (the illusion of) neurotypical ideals and continuing to measure myself by that neurotypical yardstick yet again. As if I’m sending–or reinforcing–the (erroneous) message that somehow, neurotypical ideals and yardsticks are the real, true ones, and my Aspergian/autistic experience isn’t “good enough”, or is somehow “lesser”.
It’s a cognitive pretzel that right now I can’t seem to untangle. I’m probably overthinking the whole thing anyway. (Three cheers for the uber-systemizing brain…) It’s actually probably funny, in a way. Sometimes, I feel as conflicted as it sounds; other times, it’s probably normal (as in, a universal part of being human that everyone experiences) and it’s just a part of life and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Who knows? Seeing this in writing, I realize how silly it might look. But it’s still a conundrum nonetheless.
Maybe I’m not so distant and aloof after all. Maybe I just express it in a different way, in response to different things, in different situations. Maybe I’m simply different, and not “lesser”. Maybe I do measure up, after all. The fact that I feel bad, not only on behalf of the neurotypical loved ones but also for the spectrum community I sometimes feel like I’m compromising, maybe-just-maybe means that I’m also human, and not robotic, in every sense of the word.
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(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)