Close your eyes.
Now open them, but this time, notice everything.
You’re in a big room, full of people.
You can hear people moving about, the stretching of the leather fabric on the chairs as they sit down.
You can hear them talking. You wonder what they are talking about. You wonder how their conversation feels so dynamic.
There’s a scuff mark on the floor? How did it happen?
It curves, it leads to the leg of a couch. Someone moved it and it dragged on the floor. Obviously.
There are lights along the ceiling. Large string lights, similar to the ones at Christmas time, but replaceable. Every light can be changed.
Some appear to be burnt out. Why are they burnt out? Why don’t they fix it?
You step out into the hallway. It’s got a tiled rug pattern, full of squares. You count the squares that you walk on, being careful to make sure your whole foot is within one.
The ambiance changed, too. There’s no echo, you can hear the gentle hum of the ventilation system.
Your friend walks up to you. It may take you a moment to recognize him, but he is your friend.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much, how are you doing?”
“I’m doing alright.”
You’ve rehearsed this before. This is how you handle any similar conversation. This is your script.
“Good, man, good. Hey, we’re all going to Cookout, you wanna go?”
Panic sets in. You had your plan for the day. You were walking back home to watch a movie and have a quiet night. You didn’t have time to prepare for this, this wild change.
“Nah, man, I…can’t.”
“Okay, no worries, I’ll see you around, then!”
Your friend cheerfully smiles and continues on his way, likely to Cookout. You continue to your destination, too, but you wonder if that was the right decision.
I was made aware of this reddit thread a couple of days ago and found it a very fascinating read. It was posted on the askreddit subreddit, where users can ask questions to the whole userbase of reddit and receive answers from users based on their experience. At the time of writing, posts asking users about their best petty revenge stories and asking night shift workers about their creepiest experiences are there, so you’re sure to see a variety of questions. Autism, though, is not seen as much, so reading the thread was something very different. Reddit does have its own autism-centric communities, such as /r/autism and /r/aspergers, but seeing it on one of the most subscribed-to subreddits felt good.
Many of the posts in the thread talk about how social interactions are this big thing that’s a totally unknown concept, and mostly, that’s how it goes. You can be susceptible to sensory overload, something very common in autistic people, but usually, it’s social interactions. I wrote above that my customary response to “how are you” was my script, and honestly, it’s the best analogy I can really think of when it comes to how autists handle conversation. As user /u/baconlightning wrote in the reddit thread, “I feel like I’m part of a play where everyone has the script except me.”
Conversations seem more dynamic from an outside perspective because I really don’t know how a conversation is supposed to feel. I’ve been told I’m great at holding conversation, but I really don’t know what that means. I don’t know what a conversation looks like, because, to use bacon’s analogy, I don’t have the script to this scene. I’m making it all up as I go along.
But I can learn. With time, I’ve learned to deal with not knowing. It came from a couple of different realizations. For example, I realized that people aren’t staring at me as if I’ve made a mistake. People aren’t like that, people don’t wait for you to screw up. We all screw up, and the more we hold ourselves to impossible standards, the more we will only be hurting ourselves. I discovered that I really like acting because then I actually have the script. I learned to not be afraid to ask questions and to realize that maybe other people, neurotypical or not, may also be experiencing the same thing.
So what is it like? I would say it’s a learning process. At least for me, anyway. I learn what I have and how I deal with it. I learn how to tackle problems in life, I make routines and plans, and it all works.
See you next time.