The Life Autistic: What We Do When You Don’t Talk to Us

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If you’re neurotypical, what words does this scene evoke? Lonely. Isolated. Ignored. Alone.

If you’re living The Life Autistic? Normal.

Sometimes that’s fine. Sometimes it’s discouraging, even disconcerting. Sometimes we’re just off in our own thoughts. Sometimes it’s our way of saying “come talk to me.”

But it’s always productive.

When you’re in a spot like this as often as I am, you learn some coping tricks, some of them clever.

I’ve made an art of treating it like a multi-input listening exercise, the aural equivalent of a panopticon.

In college, I didn’t come to conversations with seat mates easily, but I learned an awful lot about them, picking out details, concerns, insights.

At work, same story — I’m a reliable tag along, even if I just end up listening to everyone else talk and putting their stories in my back pocket.

The real trick is when I bring it back, to everyone’s surprise.

“How did you know that?”

“Did I . . . tell you about this?”

“Wow, I’m surprised you remembered that.”

I’m no good at breaking the ice. At least not right away. When no one talks to me, I just listen. And remember. And recall.

And that all makes one heck of an icebreaker.

Fast forwarding to a recent endeavor:

I’ve started getting back into the Sunday School habit, since it’s a smaller group, more of my age cohort, etc.

There I sat, as each of the couples there found their own little pockets, surrounded in discussion, finding other normal people to talk to.

At first, it discouraged me, since I’d thrown myself in the mix to try being more social.

But I know who I am at this point. It isn’t going to change. Neither are others.

So I listened.

Picking up what others say, things they share. What they’re about.

Maybe later down the road I’ll be looped into a conversation.

It’ll be a while, but it’ll pay off.

“So you’re Hunter, and — wait, well, how did you know—”

It’s . . . what I do when you don’t talk to me. 🙂

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Oh, No, not EYE CONTACT!

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This one’s almost made it to the “common knowledge” domain: Autistic people typically don’t make eye contact when they’re talking to you because blah, blah, reasons, difference, awkward, reasons, etc.

Ever wonder why?

I’ll tell you!

It’s hard for us to process multiple senses at once.

Unlike the rest of y’all, we autistic folks devote significant mental resources to engaging in conversation. Saying the right thing, planning our next sentences, avoiding awkward pauses, trying to guard ourselves from over-talking, and reading your face.

Making eye contact? That’s like the camelback-breaking straw.

It often feels like too much at once. It’s not that we’re too shy – we just need to devote more to our conversations with you.

We’re intentional, so we can’t just “rest” our gaze by making eye contact.

I mean, we could make eye contact.

If it were a staring contest.

If the goal is “maintain eye contact until predator backs down” or something weird.

If we were talking about, well, your eyes.

Lastly, we’re on our guard and averse to being “analyzed” 

I’ve a lot to learn about myself, but I know I’m different. 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel that, and I feel others can see it.

So the eye contact thing? It doesn’t help – it’s like people stare straight into my autistic reaction, that visceral feeling of “stop gawking at me.”

That said, I do have a way I’ve worked around this.

You might notice that, at times, I have no problem holding a conversation and looking right back at you.

How?

I’m practically blind now, y’all. Without my glasses, I can stare straight into your face and be A-OK with the blur.

No eyesight, no eye contact, no problem ^_^