Most people walk through life observing and reacting, following social rules and norms without a second thought. For a person with autism, it’s a constant battle of the mind.
“Should I hug this person? Is that the right thing to do? Maybe I’ll wait and let them hug me and if they don’t then I know next time that this situation doesn’t require a hug. Oh wait they look like they are waiting for me to give a hug. Or are they?……. We’ve been chit chatting for a few minutes now, are they just being polite? Should I end the conversation? What if they aren’t ready to end it, then I’m being rude? Maybe I’ll just wait for them to end the conversation. But I really need to go. How do I go without making them feel like I don’t want to talk to them? Ugh I must have said something wrong because they are looking at me different than before. What was it? Was I too blunt? Should I not have said something? Or did I react to their comment the wrong way? Should I ask? Should I ignore it? Oh good they are saying they have to leave. No hug this time.”
The next time you talk to me and you think I look uncomfortable, know that I very much am but it’s not because of you. I am processing the entire situation from the very first hello to the last goodbye. I analyze previous encounters in my memory bank to ensure I am following social rules of engagement. And even then I may come across as rude or blunt or crass. If I do, please tell me because otherwise I’ll never know. It will not offend me for you to say that I was a bit rude. I will apologize and I will sincerely mean I’m sorry then I will continue with the conversation.
Once our conversation has ended, my mind begins replaying every minute of our encounter. I stop and replay the moment you said I was a bit rude. I create other ways I could have said something or done something. So when I look distracted or like I’m not paying attention, when I seem oblivious to my surroundings, it’s because I’m working out this ‘problem’ in my head. I’m trying to ensure that I am following the rules set up by society as “normal” ways to have conversation or react in social situations. Most time I still hear everything being said and I see everything being done. I just need time to process and make sure I’m reacting properly. If for any reason I didn’t hear what you said, I will say I’m sorry I didn’t hear that. Please don’t get upset with me, I’m not intentionally ignoring you. I just have a lot going on in my brain.