You know that vacant look people have when you tell them you have Asperger’s syndrome? The look so very vacant that even an aspie can read it?
Why do we tell people about our autism in the first place? In my case, it’s because I want them to understand me better; I loathe being judged as difficult or callous or intolerant – when actually I’m making a pretty good job of coping. But I’ve realised I’m addressing the issue in the wrong way: when I mentioned Asperger’s to a new friend recently, the vacant look appeared and he quickly confessed, “I don’t really know what that is.” Apart from the instant honestly (which is refreshing), the scenario is frustratingly familiar; but I haven’t got all day to explain about autism and, let’s be brutally honest (I’m told I’m good at that), my friend isn’t really interested. If he wants to know more, he’ll ask, (and I’ll have to judge, or possibly ask, if he wants the 30-second answer, the three-minute answer, or the hour in the pub over a couple of beers.)
But really, all people want to know is how my having Asperger’s affects them. Some of my close friends are brilliant in this respect: they know to wait until I offer the hug first; they know I’m not trying to make a fuss by asking for the music to be turned down (I hate fuss. Obviously); they know that even a late birthday card from me is a sign of my enormous affection. But they have worked all this out for themselves, and bother to make these small consessions (plus many others no doubt). And I am grateful. Conversely, I am less stressed in their company, and they see more of the happy, relaxed, jovial me, which is what they want. The friendship is strengthened. Everyone wins.
Just a little bit of understanding, and a few tips, can go a very long way. But we spend too much time trying to explain what autism is, and how it affects us; we should spend more time explaining to others how it affects them, and how they can get the best out of us with even just a tiny bit of insight.
To this end, I have chosen a twitter hashtag, and am tweeting tips for better interaction, for example:
But it’s not just about what I want for myself – it’s about AS/NT interaction everywhere.
I am inviting you all, aspies and neurotypicals alike, to offer your own ideas on how we can better get on with each other. Please join in at: #iamaspie.