Distant or cautious?

One of the most pervasive myths about Asperger’s/autism is that we’re all distant and aloof.  This is especially true about the Asperger’s sub-class of the autism spectrum, to split hairs.  (And I’m exceptionally adept at hair-splitting (grin).)

I can see why some people might believe that.  After all, speaking for myself and also what I’ve learned from reading, we might not respond to something someone says in the typically expected way, or we might not pick up on a subtle facial expression.

But just because I can understand why something happens, that doesn’t make it less dangerous.  It doesn’t alleviate any of the damage that such misconceptions can cause.  It doesn’t prevent harmful assumptions from forming and spreading, like invasive weeds.

And my understanding of such misperceptions doesn’t make them true or valid.

Because actually, this myth could not be further from the truth.

The truth is, for the cheap seats, that more of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum would actually like to be able to feel comfortable getting closer to more people than the world at large may realize.  Speaking for myself, I usually do crave more social contact and deeper relationships.

That does sound nice.

But here’s the kicker: since I don’t tend to operate in the same way as non-autistic people, this provides ripe and fertile breeding grounds for misunderstanding.

The misunderstanding occurs on both sides; nobody’s in the Hall of Blame, and nobody’s off the hook.  No one has the monopoly on understanding or misunderstanding, despite the ratio of autistic to non-autistic.

It’s just a fact of life.

Because it is I who is in the minority, however, my input wasn’t exactly solicited as the social rules developed and evolved over time.  The majority rules, as it does in most instances.

In any social situation, the I can be seen, awkwardly trying my best.  Muddling through.  Getting by.  One of the rare instances in which “good enough” has to suffice for good enough, because that’s probably the best that I can hope for.

My best is, too often, not good enough.  There’s inherent risk in processing information differently, and responding as such.  I know that I must “convert” my thoughts and words to something that will be not only recognized but also accepted by the non-autistic person I’m interacting with.

This conversion is required, without exception.  If I fail or forget to do this, then I run the risk of eliciting a response that I hadn’t anticipated–usually a negative one, ranging anywhere from confusion to outrage.

So, I can’t respond with complete natural honesty.  I wish I could, but I can’t.  And my operating system didn’t come with a Plan B.

So I’ve had to sit back and watch.  Observe.  Take mental notes.  Memorize.  Practice.  Refine.  Tweak.  Evolve.  Develop.  Adapt.  Adopt.  And so on.

In the meantime, until this observation is complete, the active participation in social interaction is dangerous and fraught with land mines, which makes it frightening.  Each land mine is a potential source of pain, the kind of pain that makes a permanent imprint on one’s memory for years, maybe even for life.

And until I’ve mapped out the social landscape of what’s acceptable and what isn’t, I don’t know where the land mines are.

That’s not exactly an inviting, confidence-building situation.

Better to sit back and watch from the sidelines.  It’s much safer there.  The less I talk and move, the better.  The fewer people notice me, the better.  The less attention I get, the better.  I’m perfectly content watching until I can begin to detect where some of the bigger land mines might be hiding.

My strategy probably looks strange to others, because they all seem to know where the land mines are.  They received a map, early on, with most of the red “X”s pre-printed.  The rest were easy for them to spot, with a little guidance, which they easily understood and remembered.  The logic behind the land mine-setting plan, whatever logic that is, seemed to make sense to them after the briefest of explanation.  They were born with a head start, and the remaining little bumps were smoothed out–quickly, easily, and early on, with little fanfare.

Not so, for most Asperger’s/autistic people that I’ve come across.  I didn’t receive that land mine map or the mine-laying strategy.  It didn’t come onboard some Asperger’s/Autistic Operating Systems.  I have to populate that map by hand, using syntax we don’t understand.

It’s like writing computer code, when you don’t know the basic rules and language of that code.  You might pick up chunks of code knowledge here and there, but it’s up to you to try to reverse-engineer its meaning and try to apply the right chunks to the right situations.  And if (and really, when) you apply the wrong chunk of code to a situation, an awful digital blast sound occurs.

Pain!

The human nervous system, no matter what one’s autistic/non-autistic classification may be, is wired to avoid pain.

So, naturally, I instinctively seek to avoid pain.  The desire to avoid pain is even greater than that to seek pleasure.

Every time I find ourselves around people, I’m seeking to avoid pain.

Pain comes in many colors.

Pain comes in the form of a strange look in response to something I said or did.

Pain comes in the form of disapproval or disappointment.  I didn’t say the right thing.

Pain comes in the form of inadvertent hurt feelings.  Because I didn’t express sympathy or a congratulatory message fast enough.  Because I didn’t ask someone how they were doing after they had asked me.

Pain comes in the form of rejection.  I did something I didn’t know was wrong, and now the person doesn’t want anything else to do with me.

Pain comes in the form of misunderstanding.  I’m supposedly rude because I forgot to make introductions between friends.

Pain comes in the form of odd and awkward silences and stares.  For example, I was happy, so I clapped and hopped up and down.

Society says, you’re weird.

My inner voice says, so what?

But society says, that’s not age-appropriate.

My inner self says, why not?  What’s wrong with that?

Society says, because I said so, and I shouldn’t have to explain, respectively.  You’re old enough to know better.

My inner voice says, what the hell?!

And society retorts, it’s just not done.  That’s unacceptable.

Pain.

Replay, ad nauseum, edit, erase, correct for next time.

Because there’ll always be a next time.  Hopefully I’ll remember where that land mine is.  Often, I forget.  Which doesn’t help.

Pain creates apprehension, and even fear, which creates avoidance and, when social contact is absolutely necessary, extreme caution.

That caution “earns” me the labels of distance and aloofness.

Being distant is merely a cautious approach, borne out of apprehension.  Nobody wants to repeat a painful experience.

Being aloof is merely an observational approach, borne out of the desire to appear more likable, but not knowing how, so having to collect sayings and mannerisms that didn’t come native to my Aspie OS.

Nothing more, nothing less.

🙂


Related Posts:

Distant, Aloof…and Embarrassed ~ November 9, 2016

Asperger’s / Autistic People Feel, Too ~ July 3, 2016

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19 Comments

  1. Whenever we hang out you absolutely *must* jump up & down, clap, squeal… I don’t want to be the only one😆. I have found autistic folks to be very friendly & affectionate.😍 Maybe that’s because I understand them. As much as an NT can anyway. There’s a lesson for other NTs there. 😉💞💫😎

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “most of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum would actually like to be able to feel comfortable getting closer to more people”

    Well, I’m not sure it’s “most of us” at all…
    Maybe some of us, but definitely not a generalising “most of us”.
    And with some exceptions, for quite a majority, being “distant and aloof” is not at all a “pervasive myth”, but a welcomed neurobiological necessity, which provides safety, comfort and functionality.
    Laina, with all due respect for your uniqueness and enthusiasm, I’m not sure it’s the majority of HFA/Asperger’s individuals who “would actually like to be able to feel comfortable getting closer to more people”, but on the contrary, the movement seems to be in the opposite direction, in an attempt to liberate ourselves from arbitrarily imposed expectations and obligations to “socialise” by getting closer to anyone.
    Further, I don’t feel at all that being “cool, distant and conspicuously uninvolved” which are all within the definition of “aloof” is in any way a damaging misconception, or an “invasive weed”…
    Also, I don’t think that “being aloof is merely an observational approach” but the way many of us feel comfortable, and not at all “borne out of the desire to appear more likable, not knowing how”. I do not have at all any desire to be, or appear “more likable”. I do see, and therefore know what the NT world does in order to be “likable” and I have always found it reprehensive, hypocritical and altogether undesirable.
    Once again, please be kindly reminded that although your writing talent is way above average, regardless of the intensity of your own experiences, when it comes to the Autistic Spectrum, generalising did cause and still causes so much confusion, that it should be avoided or considered only with extreme caution, unless it is supported by an irrefutable body of evidence.
    Otherwise, genuinely valuable personal experiences such as yours, could turn into unwanted and most probably unintended, confusion sources for others…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your perspective, my friend! I always respect those with viewpoints that differ from my own. 🙂 I certainly don’t mean to generalize. I definitely don’t want to cause confusion. ❤ And of course, as you know, I've stated from the beginning that I can really only speak for myself. I may edit that post to make that point more clear; I think I might have subconsciously thought I started to sound like a parrot, who keeps on repeating myself lol 🙂 So I may have left that out of this post. But I do realize that each post may be the first post that someone sees on this blog, and so that disclaimer might not be known and the absence of it might indeed cause issues.

      I'd like to clarify where my viewpoint comes from, if I may. It comes from my own experience, yes. Which is, after all, only one person. Absolutely agreed that one person does not a world or spectrum make. My experience also encompasses what I've encountered on social media, such as Facebook groups or the Twitter community, as well as other blogs I've read. A lot of the sentiment I've encountered along the way involves feelings of loneliness, a desire for human contact (but human contact with people similar to us, as tends to be the nature of humans in general), a desire to make friends, the alienation and isolation I've seen from people who feel *too* "cut-off" from the world at large (there've been a few conversations on here about this topic over the past couple of days), and so on. I'm only summarizing the vast patterns I've witnessed, but I agree in that that is in no way representative of *all* people, and maybe not even *most* people, on the spectrum. 🙂

      There IS the flip-side of all that, which is not necessarily an opposing side – the desire–and indeed *need*–for solitude, for Alone Time, and whatnot. I perceive (as have many others I've talked with) that this time alone is a crucial part of self-care (for those of us who have said as much) and our own psychological/emotional wellbeing. A time to rebalance, recharge, etc. I totally get that. And I also think it's perfectly OK not to desire lots of friends, or close ties with everyone. I get that, too. I've been overwhelmed at times myself, and spreading oneself too thin can actually lead to instability and stress, which is counter-productive to wellbeing. I don't think that one should feel the pressure or need to have to "live up" to whatever measures society has deemed "standard", whether that's social connection, depth of emotions, or what-have-you. I don't think any less of anyone who operates differently from anyone else. I think that so long as one is not harming oneself or others, they should be able to live their lives however they want (even the "harming oneself" is up for debate, as it's not my place to judge how someone else treats themselves; it's just my *hope* that they wouldn't, but in the end it's none of my businesses). If that means being hardly social, that's fine. If it means being very social, that's fine. They could be social online but not offline, vice versa, both, or neither. There is no set "standard".

      Please understand that my mental energy has been very thin lately, and I don't always have the words to express something perfectly 🙂 I do feel the desire to continue to write, because I do see evidence that it is helpful for most of the readers (at least those of whom I'm aware) at the end of the day. And since there've been so many posts on this blog, I'll usually forget these days to include disclaimers about speaking only for myself, or other phrases like "based on what I've heard", etc.

      I'm probably headed for a hiatus of undetermined length at some point in the near future, but I'm trying to push everything out that I can before that. 🙂

      Thank you again; I value your viewpoint and your cautions ❤

      Like

      1. As always, I genuinely appreciate your balanced consideration of different views.
        Nevertheless, having a “autistically natural” talent (others call it curse…) and also having been trained, in finding eventual inconsistencies, besides respectfully acknowledging the reasons you provide in your reply, which I again consider absolutely valid from your perspective, I must better clarify with the following example why and where I believe the generalising occurs, regardless of any emphasised disclaimers.
        Quote:
        “The truth is […], that most of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum would actually like to be able to feel comfortable getting closer to more people. Speaking for myself, I usually do crave more social contact and deeper relationships.”
        So, the above quote swings within the span of two consecutive sentences, from a very general “most of us would like” to an individual “speaking for myself” which for a detail oriented mind such as mine, is the real cause of confusion, not most of the general content, with which I do easily identify. As I see it, the second sentence, even if emphasised as a disclaimer, doesn’t reduce the generalising statement of the first.
        What I do boldly affirm though, is that most autistics have an extreme affinity for fine detail perception, whom after reading your posts could miss the real point(s) as they keep munching on one inconsistency…
        When one perceives reality as an aggregate of extremely small and fine cogs, a grain of sand becomes a mountain.
        All the best 👾

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see and relate to many points, though I think, for me, it’s less a longing for getting closer to more people, and more a longing to be able to be who I am without feeling guilt dumped on me for who I’m not. For myself, I seesaw between loneliness and just wanting to be left alone. Some days, especially in times I need help working through thoughts or have one of my “fear of abandonment” moments, I do want companionship-in small numbers, of course. And strictly ones I can safely allow to peek into my world. But, other days-I venture to say most days-I am anxious to be alone, unhindered by society constructs, able to think and create freely. On those days, it is all I can do to exchange pleasantries and, whenever possible, I find ways to escape quickly. Funny enough, this doesn’t really affect my interaction with kids and teens much unless I am under extreme stress. I can hang comfortably with younger ones most of the time. Maybe it is the lack of judgment or the sense I actually have something I can pass on to them. I guess that is why I loved teaching and probably would still do it if I thought I could handle it physically ( and if I had minimal adult meddling to juggle). My oldest seems to lean towards my personality, too, whereas my husband and my next to youngest are more as you described. They both very much crave more interaction.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story 😘😘. I can relate, of course 😉 I crave those tiny doses of interaction, on my terms, with people I’ve pre-screened and pre-selected, for a predetermined amount of time; it’s almost a wonder that I get out and about with friends at all! 😂 Every decision is so carefully made. I think that for me, it almost has to be, in order for me to be able to do it. It’s funny–the very factors that “regular” society might consider to be hinderances to socializing are actually what make my socializing possible! 👍🏼🌺💖

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on reachingoutforfreedom and commented:
    I relate to this, although I have two approaches, one is to stay back, try to avoid being noticed and the other is acting daft/loud/irriatating/hyper which is just as frustrating because neither of those reflect me truly. Granted I can be exciteable with my friends but my genuine excitement (jumping and clapping) takes much time to feel comfortable to show. In some ways, luckily for me, those that get past the initial stage of friendship where I am somewhat terrifying can usually cope with my genuine excitement and other moods. I love that I have one friend now who I can just be honest with and say (without her being offended) that I need to not see people today, and she doesn’t get upset nor call me boring etc, there is no one else in my life I have ever been able to do that with. Sometimes though I get stuck in the role that I started in eg in the school yard, and then it’s hard to change and the school run gets harder and harder, especially on the days where talking is a challenge and the energy it takes to put on that show is utterly draining. If only there was a way of getting past the awkward early stages of friendship and jumping into it fully fledged when everyone knows the rules and each others foibles, it takes so long to get to those bits and sometimes they never do. Anyway, I waffled, my point is I relate to this, I like people, but I feel very awkward, a lot.

    Liked by 3 people

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