I just had dinner with two good friends, one of whom is moving away soon. It was a lovely evening and helped me feel happier and more relaxed after a stressful week. My friends and I share a few key things in common, mainly in that we are Autistic self-advocates and so move in a similar social and professional groups. Conversation was easy, we all acted with respect and there was a bunch of reciprocity and other good things which Autistic people and our parents are often told we can’t do well or at all.
Autism is described as a social commotion disorder (or difference if you are being respectful to Autistic folks who mostly prefer not to be seen as disordered). Autism is believed by many to make social communication impossible or very difficult. We tend to be viewed as loners, isolated and lonely. We are also seen to be self-centred, thoughtless and rude. As lifelong awkward singletons who don’t know how to have a conversation and need to be taught a bunch of skills around eye contact and small talk and other supposedly essential parts of social communication.
have a few difficulties with this model of Autistic social communication:
- Difference should not and does not equal deficient. If an Autistic person does social commciation differently it is often assumed they aren’t ‘doing it right’ while in fact they are just doing it differently to the expectation.
- Autistic people are not generally intentionally rude or thoughtless. We communicate differently so sometimes we might say something which comes across as blunt. We rarely mean to cause offence and are often very thoughtful and considerate. Sometimes non-Autistic people can be very thoughtless in communicating with us but we are the people usually thought to be at fault. We tend to want to be kind and supportive to others. Issues can occur if they misunderstand some of our words or deeds and we don’t get the chance to set it straight.
- Autistic communication does tend to be different to non-Autistic communication. We state things clearly, focus on facts and information, do not notice or understand multiple layers of meaning or non-verbal communication. Our communication is often direct whereas non-Autsic communication is more subtle or nuanced. None of this equals an inability to be a good friend. I see these communication differences as cultural differences. If someone speaks German and you don’t understand them it is not because they are broken or deficient, it is because you don’t speak German. If you learn German the two of you will be able to converse. This is similar to differences around Autistic and non-autistic communication.
- Autistic people often find friends amongst other Autistic people. Most of my friends are on the Autism spectrum and this works well for me.
- Autistic people might be very introverted and / or have less need for direct social interaction as others might This is not the same as isolation or loneliness although some Autistic people are lonely or isolated too).
- Non-Autistic people may find the communciatio of Autistics awkward or odd. In their mind that person is not like them and probably is not friend material. They can exclude the person as a friend, not realising that the Autistic person might have a very large social network of others on the Autistic spectrum or in relation to their interest or passion. It is almost as if the Autistic peer group is invisible to others. They might think somebody could not possibly have any friends, despite the fact that they do.
- Many people don’t care about social expectations and make friends from outside their own neurology – whatever it may be – and find meaningful friendships from another neurological culture. We are all people after all, sharing a vast amount of experience.
Tonight my friend and I were sitting next to each other talking but also looking at our phones. She remarked that a lot of non-autistic people don’t cope well with this but for us it was fine. There is a lot we share as Autistic adults. I spent years at school being ostracised and called weird. Now, 30 years later, it is nice to have friends who I can be ‘weird’ wth and who get it without any need for explanation. Friendship is a great gift and Autistic people can offer and receive that gift just like others can.
My friends are awesome 🙂