One of the most popular posts on this blog is Steve Summer’s 10 Tips on How to Communicate with Autistic People. Well, Steve has done it again and, kindly, has given me permission to post his latest note here. Thanks Steve.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
While this is a great goal to seek, it is not always an easy thing to do for many, and it is an extra hard goal for Autistic people to try to follow. We have to work very hard to decipher conversations and interactions with other people. We spend a lot of time processing and reprocessing conversations. Sometimes this post conversation processing can last hours or even days.
Often, it seems like I have inadvertently said something that gets misunderstood as rude or causes someone to be offended. Because of this issue, I spend a lot of energy on self-monitoring. I spend a lot of time analysing the things that I have said in an effort to be sure that I haven’t said something wrong or that may offend someone. I try to be polite and respectful. It takes effort since social skills don’t come naturally for me.
People are routinely inconsiderate and rude to me. They don’t seem to even consider that something like walking away while I am talking to them is rude. I have often been mid-sentence when someone else walked up and the person that I am speaking with will turn and start talking with the new arrival. That is so incredibly rude! It happens time and time again. It would be rude to do this to anyone, but, in my case, it is like opening an old wound. It taps into all of the the pain caused by all of the other people who have done this and all of the times that this has been done to me in the past.
I have watched a person go around saying good bye to everyone except me. Is this because I am Autistic, and thus considered “Other?” Is it because they don’t consider me “normal,” therefore I don’t count in their mind and they can simply ignore me? That kind of thing is hurtful and rude. Or have I unknowingly offended them at some point?
After a lifetime of these difficulties, it is easy to see why someone being rude or dismissive to me would trigger much more anxiety than the current issue would seem to warrant. A seemingly small infraction taps into a lifetime of social rejection and pain. One small mishap can send me into a cycle of self-analyzing to try and figure out what went wrong for the rest of the day or even longer.
So you see, often these seemingly small issues aren’t “small stuff” for me because I am trying so hard to do the right thing. I have a hard time following the goal of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I have to put in so much effort to do the “small stuff” that it becomes “big stuff” for me.
I hope this note helps you to understand this source of anxiety for me, and for other Autistics. Please consider this issue when you see us appearing to over-analyze, or worry, over something that seems like “small stuff.”
I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (part of the Autism Spectrum) as an adult. I was diagnosed following my 11-year-old son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I am happy to have my diagnosis. It was like a light being turned on that illuminated my entire life in a new way. Now I understand why I never really ‘fit in.’ It is like having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders to have my diagnosis.
I don’t feel that people should make divisions between parts of the Autism Spectrum. I am autistic and I want to work to make the world a better, more understanding and accepting place for all autistic people. We need to work together for the benefit of all on the Autism Spectrum.
I wrote this list due to continuing difficulties that I have had with the give and take of communicating with others. Many people seem too easily offended because they fail to understand these things about me. We all need understanding and acceptance.
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Steve, in recent months I discovered that the guy I have been dating for two years has a form a autism. We would argue about what I thought were trivial matters. This was more frustrating for me then him. I also, would cry and later apologize trying it to understand what I did wrong. After reading your articles, I feel relieved that I am not losing my mind. He is a wonderful man but I want to better learn how to communicate and have enjoyable conversations.