I am the person that you always see sitting on the sidelines. In a group of people in real life, or on-line, I will find a cozy little corner, and paint myself into it. Part of that reason is this phenomenon where I have trouble finding my words.
I struggle with keeping up with conversation, or simply find that I have absolutely nothing to add to the topics discussed by most people. Really. I'll search my brain for words to add to the conversation, and all I will hear back is crickets chirping.
Another reason, is that is that I forget to talk to people. Yes, I know. You're probably thinking, 'how can she forget to talk to people? Who does that?' Well, I do that. I literally forget to acknowledge other's presence. I forget to say hello, or a goodbye. I will hear someone else say it to me while I walk by, but if I am not looking to be social (therefore looking for the cues I need to respond to anyone) I will walk several feet (thanks to my usual walking style of power-walking) before it hits me. "That person just said something to me." Then, I have to switch gears in my head from my usual, and comfortable mono style thinking, to paying attention to my environment. This takes several seconds, and by then it is likely the person is already gone, or is awkwardly awaiting my response. Now, I am dubbed snotty, and anti-social at worst, and spacey, and weird at best.
Not only do I forget to greet people, but I forget to share anything with them, much at all. This means no small talk (which is what most people do as an introductory to friendship), but it also means that I come off as uninterested, and sometimes selfish. I forget to ask them how they are. I forget to inquire about how this, or that event went in their life, or how their mother, daughter, pet, husband, ect.. are doing. It's not necessarily that I don't care. I care about others, and how they feel a great deal. I just don't remember to ask them about stuff. I don't remember to share any of these things about myself, much either. I will occasionally, but mostly... no.
When I was a child, and a young adult I did not know you needed to do these things. I did not know that one had to be proactive to find friends. I thought that somehow the more outgoing people just knew that I wanted to be included in their group. I don't know how I thought they knew this, but nonetheless, I did. Not only did I think they knew I wanted to be involved with them, I concluded that because they never included me that it was purposeful. I thought they understood my need for friendship, and belonging, and were mindfully choosing to leave me out of their group, and their fun. I felt rejected. I became bitter, and resentful. I still carry a bit of resentment (I am embarrassed to admit) toward anyone that appears to be this cheerleader, popular type that represents, in my head the people that hated, and rejected me.
These are not just character defects that I can just get over. These are direct manifestations of autism in many people. At the end of the entry, I will post the DSM V criteria for autism spectrum disorder. What I am saying in this entry is mentioned in there. Not understanding how to interact with people is a direct manifestation of autism. Not everyone will get depressed, and bitter when they can't, but many will, especially if we don't know we have autism, and why we keep getting left out. I think a lot of people will go on the assumption that I am negative, and self loathing. That is probably true, but it is not what is causing my issue, like most would say. It's a direct result of my disability. It's something I can work on viewing differently as I learn, and grow. What I find the most difficult are the people that don't understand that autism social issues are not the same as someone with an anxiety disorder. I don't avoid people because I am afraid of how they will see me. I don't avoid talking to people, because I am afraid I might say the wrong things, or that my anxiety will go too high, and I'll be embarrassed. I simply forget, or have nothing relatable to say. The negativity doesn't help me, or my self-esteem, but it's certainly THE cause of the problem, either. The times I have heard someone say that to me! "You need to change the way you think." or "You can't because you tell yourself you can't". It's not as if I choose to not be all that interested in people around me, or join in on groups, ect... It's not a choice, and it has never been one.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about why some FB pages seem to be quick successes, and why some aren't. I wouldn't exactly call my page, or my blog (I get about 300 hits a day on my blog, which isn't too shabby) a failure, but I don't have a few thousand followers, either. I spend a lot of time posting interesting things, and being sure I am always making my page a nice environment. It is. There is never any nastiness, or anything on it. All the members seem to be there for the common good, and are always respectful. But, then I wonder..... why then do pages that are much younger than mine have the same, or more members? Well, my friend told me some things that can help promote a page. I do almost none of them. One was to make, or share a lot of photos/graphics. I see these things as small talk of the internet world, especially FB. I find some of them absolutely hilarious, and some truthful, or inspiring. I do share them, and sometimes, even make them. But, in the end, I see them as not high quality interacting. I have people on my FB page that post photos of this or that page all day. I have no idea who they are, because they never really talk about themselves, their families, or life in their statuses. I yearn for real, personal connection with others. The superficial is fun sometimes, but it feels limiting to me.
The other thing she mentioned was sharing. There's that word again. I do share pages on my page, and on my Twitter. I try to do one a day, as I see that as more personal. I like to feature one page a day to promote that I really think deserves to be shared. I don't like to do a bunch of shares at once. I don't mind that others like to do it. I just know that I don't like to. The other sharing she mentioned was sharing something you thought might be interesting with other pages. Like, for instance, if you saw an article, or video about something you thought might interest someone, you might post it to their wall. I know this is part of what makes ours a cooperative, friendly society. We typically have the feelings, and thoughts of others in our minds, and use that info to make decisions on our behavior. I don't always have the best access to that area of thought. I'm not mean, or rude. I don't know what others would like, but disregard it. I simply once again, don't think about it. I have to make it a conscious effort to do so. I have to cultivate it as a habit, but even then it's not second nature. It's a learned habit that I may even not get right quite often, but I try.
I don't understand the group human relating experience. This is not news. I am in my 30's, so I have definitely figured this out by now. I don't think this applies to all autistics, either. Some seem to be swayed by popular opinion, or beliefs. Some are very religious, for example, or I have seen it many autistics get together, and decide whether they will leave a group on FB. I am autistic, as were they, but if I decide to leave a group it will be by myself, and I will probably not announce it. Again, I don't care that others do. I just don't understand it. I tend to do my own thing, by myself. Yes, it gets lonely, as I posted about before, but the other way is tiresome. I find that when you are tired from everyday relating, and find that small things seem like huge tasks it may be due to living in a way that is not authentic to your natural state. Being social, and initiating social contact with others wears me out. It's something that needs to be done at times, but it would be living a lie if i pushed myself to do it everyday. So, I will take my smaller circles of friends, and my less populated FB page, and blog. It's who I am, and a reflection of my inner-aspie.
Proposed DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorders
An individual must meet criteria A, B, C and D:A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, and manifest by all 3 of the following:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and response to total lack of initiation of social interaction.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction; ranging from poorly integrated- verbal and nonverbal communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body-language, or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to total lack of facial expression or gestures.
- Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships, appropriate to developmental level (beyond those with caregivers); ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit different social contexts through difficulties in sharing imaginative play and in making friends to an apparent absence of interest in people
- Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).
- Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change; (such as motoric rituals, insistence on same route or food, repetitive questioning or extreme distress at small changes).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
- Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment; (such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or spinning objects).
D. Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning