Saying things we don’t mean is a part of masking. ‘Masking’ is what lots of autistic people (especially females) do in social situations. The main positive of masking is that it allows the autistic person to get by in a largely neurotypical society. The negatives of masking include the autistic person experiencing intense anxiety and exhaustion, but arguably the worst consequence of masking – which isn’t always talked about – is that it has the potential to destroy relationships.
If you are not being your true self when around others, then how can you expect to have meaningful relationships?
It’s all very well trying to fit in and trying to get people to accept you (indeed, it might actually work!). But it’ll probably lead to unhappiness, stress and exhaustion, and you probably won’t be able to maintain the relationships that you are in. Hence why lots of autistic people say that they can quite easily make friends but can’t keep them.
‘Hyperfocus’ a skill commonly said to be had by lots of people with ASD (or, interestingly, ADHD). It can be the most amazing ability and means a person has enormous potential! Let’s look at what hyperfocus is, some positives and negatives of it, and how to successfully obtain hyperfocus!
What is hyperfocus?
Hyperfocus is the state of deep and intense concentration for a period of time. When hyperfocusing, a person may have very little awareness of anything else going on around them. The graph below illustrates this:
The Change Curve is used to understand how people might respond to and move through a period of a change. It’s helpful when businesses are undergoing organisational change but it’s helpful for people personally too. I was wondering how this curve might differ for autistic people and whether there are particular things we can do to better support autistic people when change happens.
This curve is used when thinking about big difficult changes, such as: getting a new job, leaving a job, moving house, moving to a new school, relationship breakup, suffering from serious illness, organisational changes inside the workplace that affect team members, etc. Even receiving your ASD diagnosis could fit this curve (‘the loss of being neurotypical’).
Here is a simple version of The Change Curve that shows how most neurotypical people (green) will generally respond to change. This is the curve widely documentated.
*The Change Curve is based on a model originally developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to explain the grieving process
The most common definition of to criticise is: “to express disapproval of the perceived faults or mistakes of someone or something.” People on the autistic spectrum are often described by other people, as being too critical. Someone who is too critical can be a difficult sort of person to be around. I know that I have a tendency to annoy people by pointing out their mistakes all the time, and that I can ruin other people’s enjoyment or experiences if we are out somewhere or doing something and all I do is find faults with the situation…
This article was inspired by some comments on my Facebook page. It seems very common that, when an autistic person tells someone else that they are autistic, the other – neurotypical – person is likely to say one or some of the comments listed below. In this article, I’m going to look at why a neurotypical person might say these things and how I personally might respond to them in order to achieve the ‘best’ outcome. You can use my responses yourself too if you want.
When people say the following things to me, instead of feeling offended and becoming frustrated, I use these times as teaching opportunities to educate someone else about autism in an informed, respectful, patient but firm, manner. It is up to the other person to take what I say seriously. We can’t change other people’s reactions, but we can always change our own. I always think, well, even if they don’t believe what I say or take what I say seriously now, it might sink in and help them some time in the future should they come across someone else who is ASD.
I have noticed that other people are much more integrated to their surroundings and their relationships. They can mix their family and their friends (and often involve their family and friends in their work and hobbies). They can mix friends with other friends. This is in contrast to me, in which the different aspects of my life are kept separated. I’ve noticed that in particular it is easier for me if my relationships are kept separate from each other.
I’ve learned that neurotypical people can feel quite excited by the prospect of meeting new people and introducing them to their social networks and vice versa. Surely this is exactly why people enjoy parties and social gatherings, because of all that “mingling”!
I have had quite unusual relationships. I once dated someone for about 2 years and in that time I never met this person’s friends or got involved in his social life. I remember my friend thinking this was weird. This was long before I knew I had ASD. It might be a bit weird but it makes sense now why it was this way!
Another example is the two people that I used to spend time with when I was at school. Spending time with both of them together used to make me feel uncomfortable; I much preferred to spend time with only one of them at a time.
I’ve never been part of a group. I avoid all group/team interactions.
A lot of people with ASD have very strong, powerful emotions. For me, I have many, many ups and downs. It doesn’t take a lot to make me feel VERY positive or VERY negative. I drew this graph to illustrate how I think the emotional pattern is of an ASD person vs a neurotypical person:
The definition of small talk is ‘polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters.’ Most of us have to make a lot of it! I know that lots of autistic people dislike small talk (including me), but I think it has its benefits and I think there are a couple of tricks you can do to make it a bit easier.
Why small talk causes difficulties for people with ASD
It might involve discussion of things that don’t interest you
This is a common problem for people with ASD as our interests tend to be unusual and narrow and different from neurotypicals’.
Small talk doesn’t animate me. Popular conversational topics are usually things I am not interested in. There are many ‘normal’ things that interest neurotypical people (weather, news, arts/entertainment, family, holiday/travel…) that just don’t interest me. This makes actually participating in the small talk difficult too, as it can be impossible to know what to say if I have no awareness or knowledge of whatever it is the other person is talking about, such as what’s in the news.
It involves some degree of ‘masking’
Following on from the previous point, I have to ‘pretend’ to be interested in or to know about the subject of conversation. Small talk also requires me to ‘pretend’ I have social skills. This is stressful and exhausting.
I am thinking about whether people go through different stages or emotional responses after they are diagnosed with ASD. I found that at first I was quite elated. This stage lasted quite a long time (at least a couple of years). I was happy because there was an explanation for why I was always different. That I find life “unbelievably hard” can now be described as “believably hard”, if that makes sense.
I’m definitely massively relieved and comforted that I have my diagnosis as it explains my whole life and everything about me, and I have been able to make adjustments that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to make. My relationships with other people and with the world at large are much better now. However, I don’t feel quite as happy about my diagnosis anymore. In fact, I can now actually understand a bit more why someone (especially someone who was older) might not want a diagnosis.