Discovering the truth about my Asperger’s/autistic identity was in itself a complete life game-changer. The discovery alone was its own gift, a head-nod from the universe or the cosmos or whatever that said, “you’ve worked hard enough; you’ve earned a little nudge, a little loving push, a little…secret decoder key that will suddenly clarify your entire life such that when you turn this key, your entire life will make sense to you.”
OK, cool. Glad we’ve established that. 🙂
If the discovery was that monumental a gift, just wait–there’s more! My Asperger’s/autism discovery and resulting identity had a ripple effect, a perpetual gift that just keeps giving and giving…
And that, my pretties, is that when I found my true identity, I also found my true community. The place–and the people–to which and to whom I finally feel like I belong.
Over the past several months, I’ve been attempting to put that gift to words, and in true Aspie-me-form, I’ve turned these words into a list (!)
Here’s why I love my fellow Aspie/autistic friends…
1 – I can generally be myself. There’s no acting; there’s no masking. There’s no need to. I’m accepted–and even loved–for who I am. (At this time, I’d like to make it very clear just how mutual that feeling is, by the way!)
2 – I don’t have to explain myself. My fellow Aspergian/autistic peeps generally know what I mean, and if they don’t, they don’t get their panties in a bunch; they ask me to clarify. Chances are pretty good that our experiences and thought processes are shared; even if the specific variables are different, the general foundational premise is the same. Thus, there’s a long backstory that I don’t have to provide…because they already know it. They know it because they’ve lived it, too. Even if they’re on the other side of the world.
3 – They understand me. This is true even online, even though we’re “missing” the nonverbal part of the communication. They still “get” me. I still “get” them. There’s no awkwardness, backpedaling, or breathless disclaimers about how we did or did not mean this or that a certain way, disclaimers that when interacting with people of another neurotype, we might have to hastily tack on to our last sentence in order to avoid misinterpretation and the uproar that often ensues. With fellow spectrumites, there generally is none of that…because we already know what the other actually meant.
4 – They direct-message me to tell me how their day went, and to ask me how mine went. On the surface, this might smack of neurotypical small talk, but look deeper… The conversation that follows is more substantial (i.e., it contains more substance and quickly gets deeper, even if it started out “simple” or “superficial”-sounding enough). We pour out our inner thoughts, thought processes, and even trains of thought to each other. And when we tell each other about our day/week/etc, the other person genuinely cares. Our “small talk” is not a simple, expected matter of ritual; it’s what the standard should be. If you’re going to ask someone how they’re doing, that’s natural and common enough; but it makes a difference if you actually care. That’s the (broad-sweeping general) difference between neurotypical conversation and neurodivergent conversation; when neurotypical people ask how you’re doing, they expect one response: “fine”, or an alternate one-word variation on that theme. They don’t expect two or three medium-sized paragraphs about what you’ve done, thought, felt, or experienced since you chatted last. Neurodivergent people, on the other hand, can expect and deliver these longer synopses, and the recipient of that message will indeed care, and the sender of that message will rest easy knowing that the recipient actually cares. (What if the rest of the world actually operated our way? How cool would that be?)
5 – They’re genuinely interested in what I have to say, and vice versa. I got a little ahead of myself in that previous list-item 🙂 But in my own defense, the previous item centered mostly on “small talk”, whereas this concept is broader and more encompassing. My Aspie/autistic friends care what I have to say, whether small-talk or not; if I post something on social media or send them a message, they genuinely care. And when they post, I genuinely care about what they have to say, too. (Those “Hearts” on Twitter and “Likes” on Facebook aren’t just for show or a matter of being polite; all my Hearting and Liking really means I care. I might Heart/Like something someone said about being in pain or feeling down, but that doesn’t mean that I’m glad they’re suffering; a Heart/Like means that I sympathize or empathize with them. It means I saw their post and I care. It means I acknowledge what they’re saying and I wanted to let them know that. I didn’t want to scroll by and neglect to respond, because that can make someone feel unheard and insignificant. If they’re feeling that way, then I haven’t done my job as a friend.
6 – They side with me, ganging up in support against the occasional troll or bully. This happens even if I don’t ask for help. And it’s absolutely appreciated! Even if I was doing fine, standing strongly on my own against that occasional attacker, it’s always reassuring and heart-warming to have a dozen people jump in and combine forces against the jerk. It’s always a precious thing to feel vindicated and supported.
7 – They’re always there for me. They share my ups and downs, and they share their ups and downs with me. No matter what time of day it is, someone is always willing to clap for me, comfort me, joke around with me, or participate in a nice hot cup of spilling-our-guts-to-each-other. Here, again, I can’t overstate how mutual this feeling is! I really want to make sure to be there for them as well. No one should feel alone in the world. This holds doubly true for my friends.
8 – They’re genuine, warm-hearted people. There’s hardly any faking, contesting, posturing, back-biting, manipulating, two-faced behavior, or drama. My friends are the way they are, and they’re not in it to lie to anyone, stir the pot, cause drama, etc. The rare few who do are generally–and usually diplomatically, without fanfare–disengaged from by the majority.
9 – They’re interesting and intelligent. Each of them is so different, such a neat mix of unlikely combinations. They’re not simple-minded people; they’re complex and fascinating. They’re multi-factorial. They’re not superficial; the depths of their thoughts and feelings is incredible.
10 – They’re honest and straightforward. What you see is what you get – kind of. As mentioned before, there’s hardly any game-playing or bullshit. But they’re so awesomely deep and complex that it would be tough to reveal all facets too quickly; because they keep going and going and going. Getting to know an Aspie/autistic person is like going down a vivid-color, four-dimensional rabbit hole; just when you think you’ve “got it”, there are exquisite twists and turns and neat contradictions. It’s an amazing experience.
11 – If there’s a disagreement, it will manifest as a respectful and cerebral discussion instead of a Jerry Springer fight with name-calling and personal attacks. Even when emotions might run higher, the person remains logical enough to express themselves: “it’s just a sore spot/painful topic for me”. They might even precede that statement with an apology. These brief explanations require no further detail; they’re accepted by nearly all. And suddenly, the conversation is reframed in a new light; the person who made the objection isn’t just “weak”, “oversensitive” or “‘too’ politically correct”; they cared enough to share a vulnerable piece of themselves with the other members of the conversation. It seems as though rather than thriving on conflict and drama, we seek endless ways to understand each other, to open our eyes wider, to step further outside our ideological comfort zone, in order to keep the peace–with both the community, and ourselves.
12 – They’re quirky and nonjudgmental. They share their quirks. They let me share my quirks. We laugh/cry about them or marvel at them. Or maybe we’re left scratching our chins or foreheads, but the vast majority of the time, this chin/forehead scratching is done with respect. As in, not AT the other person, but almost to ourselves, as if we’re wondering, “hmmm, that’s interesting; I wonder how this person came to possess that quirk?” or something similar. We accept and embrace each other’s quirks, even if we don’t fully understand them or share them in common. If something is a “thing” for one of us, then the others will generally take it as a given, with no questions asked.
13 – They’re not after a romantic interest; platonic is the default setting until/unless proven otherwise. This eliminates the guesswork of underlying expectations, expected chemistry, misinterpreted signals. Gender usually doesn’t matter; anyone of any gender can forge platonic friendships with anyone else, without any ulterior motive of seduction, flirtation, or other related awkwardness. Females and males can forge honest, genuine, and innocent platonic friendships without any tension or anxiety. They can even send each other smiley emojis and pictures of themselves while chatting, without fear that they’ll be misinterpreted as “is this person trying to pick me up?”
14 – They cheer me up and cheer me on. They’re with me, standing beside me, through thick and thin. They offer their encouragement, their kind and heartwarming words. The compliments are genuine. When I’m having a rough time, the wishes for brighter skies and more pleasant situations are genuine, too. They’re not just saying that to be polite or to make themselves feel better so that at the end of the day, they can give themselves a pat on the back, knowing their social expectations/duties have been fulfilled. To our community, encouraging, complimenting, consoling, sympathizing with, and supporting each other are not simply items to to be checked off an obligatory social “to-do list”. Rather, their hearts really are with me; I can practically feel them, no matter if it’s simply through the screen of my mobile phone from halfway across the world. I feel them anyway. If only I could express how mutual that feeling is!
15 – They’re real friends, not people pretending to be my friend just to achieve some ulterior goal. They’re not trying to sell me on their website optimization services or multi-level marketing pyramid schemes. They’re not trying to use me. They’re not trying to take advantage of me. They’re not pulling a cyber-money-grab. Those who do have products or services (for example books, artwork, or assessment or consultation services, etc) aren’t being pushy or aggressive about it online, and if you choose not to engage in a business transaction with them, they’re not going to drop you cold or shun you or suddenly stop talking to you. The same goes for those with crowd-funding/donation buttons on their blogs; they’ll still be your friend, whether you buy their stuff or contribute to their donation fund or not. (There are indeed a few blog-writers whom, when our financial strain lets up, I plan to start contributing to on a regular basis! And of course, I’ve purchased several books by actually-autistic/Aspergian authors, and as more write books, I’ll buy those, too! I firmly believe in supporting each other, especially the hard work of our fellow spectrumites; I realize that not everyone has the resources to support every one of us, but I think it’s an excellent goal to try to do as much as we can, as we’re able to do it.)
Bonus! 16 – They give me the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes I stumble, sometimes I trip, and sometimes I fall flat on my face. Red-faced with embarrassment over my serious faux pas, they’re generally very patient with newbie-me. They seek to build bridges between the “tribal elders” (those who’ve known they’re on the spectrum for longer) and the “newborns” (those of us, like me, who only discovered our Aspie/autistic-hood comparatively recently and thus, may be new to this entire corner of the world). They seek to foster understanding, and take me/us under their wings. They strive to nurture, enlighten, educate, and support us. If we have a serious question, they don’t laugh at me, ridicule me, or judge me. Their patience is nearly limitless, and they’ll point me to trusted information/support resources. They don’t immediately shun me or shame me. They simply point out a mistake I made, and perhaps suggest a preferable alternative. I’ve learned more–and more priceless–information and insight from this community than I have in many years from anywhere else! I only hope to be able to contribute as much, either to pay it back, pay it forward, or maybe a little bit of both.
So here I am, as a believer in karma, scratching my head and wondering what I did right at some point along the line, to be rewarded with such an incredible community in my life. No, seriously. Or maybe it’s not about me and my past efforts at all; maybe it’s more of a test from the cosmos–handing me the friendship jackpot in advance, to see what I’ll do with it, how much I’ll appreciate it, and how well I’ll treat it.
If it’s a test of some kind, I just hope I pass – I want to be as great a friend to the community as they’ve been to me; it’s only fair and they deserve it! ❤
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(Image Credit: yuumei)