Understanding me is hard because communication in general is hard for me. I struggle with social skills and facial expressions that come so naturally to a large majority of the population. So, when people deal with me, they often treat me like they would any other person. That would be fine if I wasn’t Autistic.
As a child, I was told to pay attention quite a lot. But honestly, that phrase confused me. I was paying attention—to the thing that distracted me from what they wanted me to focus on. It had my full attention, in fact. But apparently, that was wrong.
This is my perspective. This is the reason I used to give a blank expression back when people got frustrated with me. I simply couldn’t process what they were telling me. To this day, vague comments really confuse me. I’m not sure why exactly, but it really helps when someone explains what they want me to do instead of a hint or frustrated quip.
Please be specific. Tell me, “I’ll be there at six to pick you up,” or “Make sure you have all the materials with you for D&D today.” That structure is important to me.
So, why then is it surprising when I get distracted? “Please focus back on the book.” Oh, yes, there is a book I need to pay attention to. Sure, I can do that. Instead of just, “Pay attention.”
Sometimes, my mind wanders again because of a sound, or because my clothes are itchy. “Can you focus back on the book?” Honestly, it’s times like this that I need to get up and do things, but I never tell anyone because I think everyone feels that way… How can anyone just sit still that long? Thankfully, when I was younger some people understood that and I was able to do jumping jacks between lessons or take a break. Even now,as an adult, I dance to music or watch a show while I do chores.
If I ever focus too much on one task I start getting overstimulated. I don’t know if it’s because of my ADD, autism, anxiety… But I do know when I’m struggling with focus and I need to expel that extra energy. If I don’t, my anxiety does take over.
So, I change my main focus to what they find so important for me to focus on. This gets me questioning why is this so important. I don’t find it important. There must be something wrong with me. My self-doubt sneaks in. If I don’t understand and they keep saying the same thing, it spirals. I feel like I’m dumb and in the wrong, and I start getting depressed. I figure, I can’t do anything right, and then my anxiety kicks in and I sound aggressive. People who don’t know me well enough think I’m a bully.
To help combat some of the more common things that happen with me, I compiled a list. While these hints may not help every Aspie, I’m hoping they can be of some help.
Please never give me too many choices.
Never ask me what do I want to do today without having an idea of your own. Because if I don’t have any ideas, I will need some from you. It is easier for me to pick between choices then it is to think of every single thing I want to do that day, especially if I’m having a bad day.
The same thing with, “What do you want to eat? What do you want to drink? What do you want to wear?” It’s so much easier for me to answer that I want “that one” versus all of the choices that I have. So, “Would you like almond milk or regular milk?” It’s a simple question and I can answer because you know I like both. “Which would you like to do, go to the park or go swimming?” If I have something different in mind that’s not in the choices, I will tell you. For instance, I will say, “Can we do a walk instead?”
Please never mock or laugh or tease me when I’m wrong. Even if it is meant to be In good humor, I don’t understand and it simply aggravates my anxiety. When I don’t know proper facts, just gently explain how I am misinformed. But be ready for a debate because I am autistic and change is hard. And that includes change of information. Instead of yelling or being mad that I am debating with you, you’re going to have to be ready for it and explain the facts in a way that makes sense. I’m sorry my brain can’t always process the things you say.
Sometimes, I AM the one who is right. For instance, one time I got into a debate with a woman who insisted dogs were not mammals. Anyone who knows science knows she’s wrong. It is really hard for me not to come across as rude or arrogant, but to me a lot of my knowledge seems to be common sense. So, it confuses me when people don’t know the same facts as I do.
If I am rude, I really am sorry. I really mean no harm. I am honestly just not able to understand your point of view. When I chuckle or roll my eyes, that is literally me processing a foreign perspective. It’s not usually a personal attack, but it is often misinterpreted that way. I’m just trying to comprehend someone who is able to think of something so different from my way of thinking.
When I’m having a bad day… usually staff and family members are the first to notice. But sometimes their good intentions can make things worse. During days like this, please give me space. Instead of bombarding me with questions like, “Do I want…,” let my brain process what’s going on and don’t give me things that I already struggle with. Let me do things that I find easy and fun. That way, I won’t struggle with something new because I’m already struggling with something else.
Make simple choices for me. Put on music, or the TV. Or let me play a game. Put food by me, or water. As an adult, I like being asked if I ate already, rather than what do I want. It might just be that I forgot to eat, and I don’t feel well. It happens when I am stressed about something.
The problem is, I don’t often know I am stressed. I just know something feels wrong, which often makes everything feel wrong. I live alone, so my cat is the best therapy. He simply snuggles, and purrs away my bad mood. I then calm down and realize what was bothering me… though some days I never know what was wrong. Patience, unfortunately, is one of the only suggestions I have for this situation.
Please use your “I feel” sentences. Even when we’re young. We really can’t put ourselves in your shoes, without a whole lot of training and understanding. So, when you get upset at us for things, our first reaction is to wonder what we did. But if you say, “I feel frustrated when you break your new toys,” instead of “Why did you do that?” we can apologize and understand why you’re mad.
Also, please accept our apologies and tell us you understand that we didn’t mean to do it and that we’re not bad. Sometimes we don’t know our own strength. Things break because we don’t know how to play with things. Sometimes we get curious and learn the hard way that the doll’s head does not turn that way.
Honestly, observation is key. If you notice we seem surprised or scared, it really was an accident and we just need to be taught how to play with the item. But if it’s done out of anger from your perspective, it could be due to a lot of different reasons. First, anxiety is often mistaken as aggression. Second, why are we angry?
As an adult, I no longer break items because I learned to be gentle, but I sometimes hold things too hard or get upset because they’re not working the way I want them to. Because I don’t process things properly or filter things properly, it really is a split-second between “This is not working” and “I hate it!”
I had to be taught to pause and calm myself when things don’t work. I had to learn that I cannot control everything. I had to learn that the only thing I can control is myself and my own reactions. And honestly, that is a comfort. Even though it’s confusing when things don’t work the way I want them to, I no longer throw things or break things because of it.
And finally, please stop trying to normalize me. I’m autistic, I will not ever be “average.” I may be learning social skills… a lot of them make no sense to me and they will never come naturally. Be patient, and understanding with that fact. My needs will always be my first thought; my disability will never be “fixed.” And that’s NOT a bad thing.