Is there an #autistic way of being friends?

four groups of four people, with one person in front
Friendship means different things to different people

I want to take a step back and reconsider something that comes up a lot in discussions about Autism / Aspergers – the concept of friendship. I’m not sure we’re thinking about this clearly. It could be that we’re applying neurotypical measures and values to the criteria for who’s a friend and what friendship constitutes. And I’m not sure it’s serving us. I think it may be causing a lot of us to think we’re lonelier (and more alone) than we really are.

I am beginning to suspect that Autism / Aspergers comes with its own unique brand of friendship. And that distinct “friendotype” is no less valid than the neurotypical type — it can be every bit as fulfilling, and it might just help to make the world a better place.

The sooner we stop measuring our friendships by neurotypical measures — and we quit feeling badly about who we are because we “don’t measure up” to non-autistic standards — the happier we’ll be.

At least that’s what I think.

Let me speak for myself. I suspect others will agree. Hear me out.

Let’s look at the dictionary to see how “friend” is defined:

friend
noun
a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Most people would not say they “know” someone until they’ve spent a great deal of time with them, been through a number of good and bad experiences with them, and have “gotten to know” them. But most people aren’t autistic. Most people aren’t empathic. Most people aren’t so highly sensitive to others, that they can “pick up” on what’s going on with that other person in an instant.

As for the bond of mutual affection, most people (in the neurotypical model) spend a lot of time withholding their affection. They’re stuck in the idea that they’re separate and apart from everyone and everything around them. And crossing the chasm of interpersonal differences is a monumental effort for many. So, bonds of mutual affection don’t get created for quite some time, until certain criteria are met.

Exclusive of sexual or family relations — that’s actually easily dispatched with many autistic folks, as we don’t automatically interact with others in a sexual way. Unless we’re hypersexual autistics (it happens — I used to be that way, years ago)… then things get trickier. But nowadays, I have no more interest in having sex with random people I meet and connect with, than I have in having surgery. The two seem equally intricate and intimate to me, as well as potentially painful and … fraught.

So, on those three official criteria strike me as particularly neurotypical in nature. And they don’t allow for any autism (or empathy, for you non-autistic empaths in the audience) in the definition. Again, it’s a case of mob-rule assumptions about how people are, how they behave, and what “should” happen as a result.

Now, let’s talk about the “folk” definition of friendship. Friends are people whom you feel you can talk to about anything, who can — and will — step up and support you in your hour of need, thanks to the personal bond you have with them. They’ll come to your assistance, no matter what. And they’ll put up with your sh*t with long-suffering grace, because, well, they’re you’re friend.

And you’d do the same for them.

Here’s my issue with this model:

First, not everyone is completely unable to connect with others, except under select circumstances, after years of history with them.

Some of us can actually connect with others on a deep personal level, regardless of how well we know them or how long we’ve known them. It can happen very quickly. It does happen very quickly for many autistic folks. We can be highly empathic. We can sense our similarities and connections with others. We can co-experience others’ moods and state of mind/body/spirit. And we can establish a really close bond with those others almost instantly. (It’s a lot less wonderful than it sounds, by the way. It can be pretty confusing, frustrating and tiring.)

Because we can empathically connect with others, we actually meet the first official criterion for friendship — we know (yes, literally know) other people on a deeply personal level. And it can happen much, much more deeply than in neurotypical cases.

Second, we actually can have “a bond of mutual affection” with the people to whom we connect instantly.

Not only can we feel a bond with them, but they can feel a bond with us. We see them. We know them. We can co-experience their lives and widen our own in the process. And others may really respond to that sense of connection. People crave understanding. They crave feeling known and recognized. They hunger for the type of acceptance some of us can offer them, and they thirst for that sense of being “seen” as who they are. They get what they need from us, when we’re empathically connected with them. And that can form a close, almost uncanny bond that’s a welcome change from your standard-issue alienation that most folks marinate in, socially speaking.

For the record, this is not a “faux” connection. It’s real. It’s genuine. It’s unique. And for some of us on the spectrum, it can be a way of life. Everyday autistic life.

Of course, empathicness doesn’t necessarily pick and choose between fun people to connect with and the miserable people who cross our paths. So, we can end up inadvertently connecting with and forming a bond with toxic people we should run from — but who feel a deep connection with us, because we’re co-experiencing (and hence supposedly validating) their experience.

And then we come to the absence of family / sexual relations.

This may actually be the crux of why autistic friendship patterns can be so different from non-autistic friendotypes. It seems to me that non-autistic people are much more closely aligned with people who are related to them by blood, or who have had sex with them. In fact, it seems at times as though some allistic folks use blood ties and sexual relations as a way to build their social circle.

If you’re related, somehow that overrides countless other considerations (is someone an a**hole? are they a predator? a moocher? a problem?) Apparently, there’s some inborn obligation to put up with them, to interact with them, to keep them in your social circle… as long as you’ve got a blood connection with you. Likewise, if you have adopted siblings, others may treat them like they’re not really part of the family. Or if you’ve got a “step-parent”, according to some, they’re not really your parent. It seems arbitrary to me. And it’s based on something you cannot control, you haven’t chosen, something that fate’s pretty much foisted upon you. Maybe you get lucky, maybe you don’t. But according to non-autistic guidelines of who matters and who doesn’t, if you’re connected by blood/marriage, that counts for more than personality and/or what you bring to the dynamic.

And then you have “sexual relations” which are not just just having sex with someone, exchanging fluids, making babies, etc. It’s also about interacting with others in a sexualized way: flirting, innuendo, all those little hints and wink-wink-nudge-nudge vagaries that tend to frustrate and confound autistic folks. It seems sometimes like non-autistic people are constantly “on the make” — always looking for sexual partners, constantly talking about sex, joking and hinting and whatnot. It’s like they use sex as a shortcut to connect with other people… maybe because they can’t (or don’t want to) connect in other ways?

Am I onto something here? Autistic folks connect above the neck… Non-autistics connect below the waist…? Or am I just stereotyping and being unfair? There’s always that chance.

Or perhaps autistic ways of connecting are more… pervasive than non-autistics? We can definitely be more sensitive, more empathic, more connected to our surroundings, and that both facilitates and complicates the relationships we have with people around us… to the point where culturally driven, somewhat chance-driven designations like blood connections and who’s available for mating are eclipsed by the swirling flow of sensory input that override our attention for those social conventions.

Anyway, all this being said, I’m more convinced than ever that autistic folks have different friendship patterns which are not less effective or less desirable than non-autistic friendship patterns. They’re just different from the ways the majority of folks build and sustain friendships.

If we struggle with friendships, it’s not because we’re doing it wrong. It’s because we have different patterns, different priorities, and others can’t accommodate / match us. The problem — again, there’s the social model — is that the relationships we form can become one-sided, lopsided in who’s doing how much work, and who’s actually benefit. An autistic person being drawn to a non-autistic person can be put at some kind of risk if that non-autistic person is incapable of understanding or reciprocating in a decent, humane way. Worst of all, is when the non-autistic person takes advantage of the autistic person, and the autistic person never realizes, because they can’t imagine why someone would do such a thing.

In any case, I’m continuously revising my understandings of things, and friendship patterns are just my latest fascination du jour.

Tomorrow, it might be something else.

I’m sure it will.

But for now, just for today… this is my revised understanding of friendships, on the rebound from my somewhat dismal declarations yesterday.

It’s a process. I never stop questioning, never stop learning. So it goes.

Very friendly… very few friends

person standing along a fencerow with a sunset in the distanceI caught sight of something on Twitter, this morning: A mention of knowing lots of people, but not having many actual friends.

I’m the same way. I know countless people. And even folks I don’t actually know — well I tend to get along with even them. Other people apparently love me, from what I can tell. I’m open, accepting, tolerant, I let them be who they are, and I can find common ground with them, no matter what our differences.

That’s great for the dynamic, but it doesn’t really do much for the actual relationship. I don’t know many people who actually know how and what I think about things, because it’s hard for me to put into words what exactly is going on with me. Writing is easier, but not everybody likes to read, these days, and anyway, social interactions are largely verbal, so…

The long and short of it all is that I have a lot of people who want to be my friends, but I have no interest in reciprocating. My friendliness is the extent of my interest in them. It’s not even necessarily interest in them, rather keeping the social interaction going. The vast majority of people I know would probably be pretty uncomfortable if they knew the truth about me and my challenges, which would end up isolating me a lot more than now. It’s just easier to mask and camouflage and simulate interest in interactions, rather than being authentically myself 100%.

Yeah, I know I should be past that. But seriously, I have a lot on my plate every day, and I just don’t have the energy or the interest in going that proverbial extra mile for the sake of authenticity.

Just get the interaction over without pain and bloodshed. That’s all I really want. I have no interest in being stigmatized, in being pushed aside, in being seen as less-than or disabled (even if I am really struggling, much of the time). And I’m a terrible activist. I lived in that world as a kid, and I’m done with it.

I really just want to get on with my life and do my thing, without having to worry about the fallout from my surroundings.

So, I continue on my way — very friendly, almost no friends. I’m very comfortable talking to strangers and striking up conversations… “connecting” with others in an impersonally personal way. But telling people what’s really going on with me? I’m not there… and I may never be.

So it goes. So it goes.

 

Ugh. Spring.

flower growing out of a bookYeah, I’m supposed to be elated that spring is here. I’m not going to capitalize it, because — much as it’s the convention, and being a formal season name and all — I don’t want to give it the “power”.

I’m supposed to be elated, but I’m not. If anything, I’m irritated.

Pollen is coating my car. That’s not good.

I get “gummed up” and mucus-laden.

Everybody’s running around like feral chickens with all this kinetic energy.

The days are (thankfully) not as long as they eventually will be, but they’re longer than I like. I need a better balance between night and day — preferably with a little more night than day. Longer days are a significant adjustment for me, and by the autumn, I’m pretty well worn out with my circadian rhythm skewed towards daylight.

If I had my d’ruthers, it would stay April forever – not because of Autism Awareness Month (heaven help us), but because the length of days and the temperatures and the precipitation are just about right for me.

But I don’t get my d’ruthers in this case, so I guess I’ll just need to be an adult about it.

Anyway, this is all just me being cranky about seasonal changes. Me being brittle about my life. Things have been busy, lately, and I’m feeling pressed and hectic, and I’m off my schedule, so that’s no fun.

I just have to remember that change is a constant, that I’ve dealt with this transition many times before in my life, and as challenging as it is now, I’ll adjust to it and move along.

Until the next big change, of course.

The body is the vehicle – vessel – the path

Rather than the body being
collateral damage in
this process of awakening,
it is instrumental.

The biggest shift in the entire
process of Waking Up to the
new reality is realizing
the body is the vector
for enlightenment. It is
literally the delivery mechanism
by which we experience
the vastness of
who we really are.

– Lori Ann Lothian

#Autistic Body #Autistic Brain

electricity voltage sparking across gapsI’m not sure why more isn’t discussed about the physical autistic experience. Maybe it’s because the folks getting funding aren’t aware of how big a role our physiology plays in shaping our psychology. Maybe they don’t know how much their own bodies affect their thinking.

Maybe their creed prohibits them from admitting it, and they take as gospel the disavowal of the body for the sake of the soul — never asking, never plumbing, never peeking beneath, what the source, the root, the base of that rejection might be:

Pain.

Discomfort.

Overwhelm.

The kind of pain-discomfort-overwhelm that overrides the will, that injects the sudden need to think something – do something – imagine something – block something into the process of living, even before conscious thought has a chance to form.

The kind of unsettlement that blocks the awkward thought even before it has a chance to register, which protects us from our own silent suffering with a blanket of unawareness. Distraction. Something Else to think about that has Nothing To Do with what’s happening now. Right now. In the body. In the system. In the vessel, the container, the vehicle for our daily lives.

Autism is like that — at least, for me. It’s a never-ending stream of impressions and sensations and clues and cues that my body cannot ignore. And it doesn’t want to. Waves … Yes. Waves. That. Those. The continuous connection to All That Is, in every conceivable way — especially those that have nothing to do with what the average block-of-wood body walking around freely admit exist… numbed and succumbed as they are, in the ways they can tolerate.

I am not like them. I am not like most people. 67 other people, for every one of me. IF the numbers can be trusted, which I’m not sure they can.

I am not the sort of person who can block all that out, or pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m not the kind of human who can ignore the signals I pick up — even if I wanted to, my body is tuned to them, attuned to them, always able to sense and decode and interpret and then pick up some more again… a never-ending stream of electrical impulses running through my system — body and brain — shaping me, connecting me, affecting me.

It doesn’t stop.

It never stops.

Even when I sleep.

If you wish to plumb the depths of the autistic brain, look to the autistic body. Consider the effects of traumas — large and small, starting from the very moment we begin to become aware. Consider the effects of stress — of every ilk, including the “stuff that shouldn’t matter”. Because it does. It most certainly does. To those of us who cannot block it out — who tried, for years and years with drugs and alcohol and all-consuming passions and self-abnegation… and now (once we’ve acclimated and discovered Better Ways to modulate it all) wouldn’t, even if we were given the chance.

The autistic brain starts with an autistic body.

Before the mouth says strings of words that make coherent sentences.

After the mind learns how strings of words made into sentences — whether spoken or read — can soothe the burn of the Surround.

Before the expectations of Everyone Else are decipherable as express demands, they register with us as wordless wants.

After the Tyranny of the Collective makes itself known as that indecipherable amalgamation of arbitrary caprices, all of which have thorns that prevent us from grasping — at-tall — they pre-register with us as a looming storm cloud flashing with electric threats — will that pinpointed fork of searing failure strike close or far? will it strike us at all? or can we obliquely slide on past with pre-rehearsed stock answers to questions we barely hear and cannot interpret before the askers need our Reponse?

The brain, the body — both work so tightly in concert with one another, it’s impossible to separate them. Not for us. Not for anybody. But for autistics, it’s inescapable. We’re wired. We’re connected. Within. Without. To ourselves. To everyone and everything else, God Help Us.

Seriously, neurotypical world, you’re a mess. Clean up your act. Why do you think we’re so autistic? Because we have to deal with your trashy, unkempt psycho-emotional lives, the trashed-out world you force us to live in, the detritus of your egos, the flotsam and jetsam of your latest attacks on whoever appears to be floating by your panic-stricken hair trigger lust for destruction.

You’ve declared war on your own bodies, and consequently, ours. And the results… well, just look at them. You don’t much like them. But rather than addressing the issues you’ve caused — pollution, destruction, malnutrition, indentured servitude at every level of society — oh, no — you’d rather “cure” us. Eradicate us. Send us off to be electroshocked, or ply us with junk food till we comply with your selfish, self-centered, self-delusional versions of “what should be”.

That shouldn’t be.

Nor should we be subject to your whims and wishes. You’re a trash fire, you neurotypical head-cases. Cutting yourselves off from your bodies, cutting yourselves off from the natural world, cutting yourselves off at the neck, and pretending nothing exists below.

. . .

Ah, never mind… what is… well, that is. That rant is just the corticosteroids talking. I’ve been on a topical application for poison ivy for two days, and I’m experiencing an interesting mutation of “roid rage”. I’ll stop now. Take a breath. Remember, that’s my body amping up my mind.

Again.

. . .

Where was I?

Oh, yes — autistic bodies, autistic brains.

Long story short — the foolishness about how autism is All About The Brain needs to stop. The hallmark of our essence is an all-pervasive connectedness with everything. Everything, I tell you. You cannot separate the autistic brain from the autistic body, and you cannot solve the mysteries of our being, unless you look at our physiological state — first and foremost. The body, its pre-conscious, anticipatory, protective instincts are what compel and propel many of us in our own unique ways. And until you wrap your heads around that, you’re never going to “get” us. Nor will you accept us. Nor will you accept yourselves.

Autistic bodies — autistic minds.

Come to terms with us and our reality, and you might just learn a thing or two about yourselves

#AutismAwareness Month – What others think of me, is none of my business

Herakles and the Hydra Water Jar (Etruscan, c. 525 BC) - Herakles clubs the Hydra, while a crab assists it by attacking Herakles
It’s much easier to not even engage. Or is it?

It’s April. There’s a ton of mixed information about Autism churning through the aethers.

Lord help us.

I was getting all spun up about it, over the weeks leading up to April. Bracing for the onslaught. Girding my loins for war. Bristling at the thought of how often I’ve been told I can’t be autistic, frustrated at the lack of information — and the disinformation that’s being spread by ve$ted intere$t$ out to make a buck. Getting tweaked about what others think of me, or would think of me, or how they’d respond to me.

I have to say, I would love to rectify a lot of this, myself — inject some elightenment and enhanced autism awareness in the general populace. Even in my own family.

The thing is, a lot of what I think other people think / feel / assume about me, is inaccurate. Let’s face it — autism, in my case, is accompanied by social cluelessness and a really compromised ability to interpret what others are saying / thinking / feeling on the surface. Plus, I’ve got a supremely heightened awareness of what people are saying / thinking / feeling beneath the surface.  So, in some cases, I know more about them than they do. And that just leads to more confusion and “crossed wires”, when I try to engage with them.

People generally aren’t in touch with whats’ really going on inside of them, and when you interact with them on a deeper, more authentic level, it scares them. Because they can invest a whole lot of time in overlooking, denying, avoiding what’s really going on inside of them.

And it occurs to me, maybe this is really the crux of “social disconnects” between autistics and non-autistics — we autistics relate to how people really are, on the inside, while non-autistics expend huge amounts of energy avoiding how and what they truly are, deep down inside. And autistically authentic interactions scare the crap outa them.

Hmmm… maybe I’m onto something here… Well (shrug)… whatever.

Anyway, here’s the thing — I’m not getting spun up over all the ignorance and discrimination towards me, this month. Yes, it bothers me tremendously that there is still so much ignorance and lack of acceptance. Yes, I know it causes pain. The thing is, I’m not going to let it cause me more pain than it really does.

As in, I’m not going to fret over the rest of the world not “getting” me, not accepting me, not recognizing me for who I am. The rest of the non-autistic world frankly has no clue, and they have no reason to get a clue. They’re wrapped up in their own self-centered worlds, their own limited visions, their own officially sanctioned versions of reality. I have no control over that. And I’m not going to make myself miserable, living in constant reaction to that.

I have to advocate for myself.

I have to make it plain what I need from life.

I have to take responsibility for caring for myself, managing my environment and situations so that they don’t make me miserable.

I have to do my part to minimize my misery, to tell others what I need from them on a case-by-case basis, to not expect them to read my mind and anticipate what I need — because that’s so very different from what they expect and assume.

I have to put my “big girl pants” on , and deal with it. Because no one else will do it for me. Sorry. No government agency, no charity, no organization, no support group, no team of helpers is going to come to my rescue. They’re just not.

And that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

When it comes to the whole autism awareness / acceptance thing, it seems to me that people assume certain things are going to result from an up-tick in both those things. That people will be more considerate. That they’ll understand more. That they’ll be more accommodating. That they’ll be more open and receptive.

I must be living in a very different world, because I expect none of those things to happen. People are self-centered — especially non-autistic people. They feel overwhelmed and put-upon in general, and they (from what I’ve observed) make every effort to surround themselves with like-minded people with similar characteristics and personality profiles.

And that doesn’t include autistic people, for the most part. Unless they have no clue that you’re autistic. Then you can be their friend.

Maybe that’s a Terrible Thing. Maybe it’s not.

Anyway, where that leaves me is with a divine indifference to the opinions of the general populace, when it comes to me and people like me. That also extends to opinions of the autistic “community” (such as it is), who may or may not agree with my point of view. I’ve been attacked. I’ve been blocked. I’ve been criticized and called “irritating”. Okay, fine. People are free to believe what they like. In then end, we all find out if what we think actually works. If others want to devote their lives to anger and outrage, that’s their lot. Not mine. I’m certainly not devoting my life to their anger and outrage.

It’s quite freeing, really, to let it go — to not get spun up over what others thing (good or ill). Not worrying about the drastic dip in my blog stats (“Augh! Nobody’s reading my stuff! Boo hoo!”) or the lack of follow and likes on Twitter and Facebook (“Oh no! Nobody’s noticing me! I’m so alone!”) … letting go of those standards lets me really, truly concentrate on the work itself, the writing in and of itself, the projects I’ve got going that add so much to my life and help me live the best way possible — for me.

I’m considering going for a whole week without checking my stats… not sure I can do it, but my stoic practice my require it. We’ll see how that shakes out.

Anyway, when it comes down to it, getting twisted up over what others think of me, is a recipe for despair. I have no control over it. I have no influence over strangers’ opinions. Everybody believes what they believe for very, very good reasons, very few of which I can discern. So, it’s best to let that go. Live my life. Write my words. Put them out there for others to read (and hopefully benefit from)… without getting too invested in a specific outcome.

It sounds a bit zen-like, and maybe it is.

At the core, however, it’s logic. Just reasonable logic. And I like that. Logic works for me.

When all else fails — including my estimation of others’ states of mind.

Okay, so it’s April… let the awareness onslaught begin

rear view mirror of a line of military vehicles driving through the snow
It’s hard to not feel like “they’re coming for us”.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

I’m starting my day out right – with exercise of two kinds: riding my exercise bike for 20 minutes, then following with 10 minutes of light weight training. I had my “fluffy egg” — a whipped egg I cook in a non-stick pan with a plate laid over the top, so the egg fluffs up and turns into a kind of souffle (till I remove it from the stove and it collapses). I sip my 1/2 cup of coffee while I eat my fluffy egg, I take my Vitamin D3 and B-Complex, then I sit down to write and read, with a banana, a big cup of water, and what remains of my coffee.

It’s April! I need to take care of myself, for sure. The whole turn-on-blue-light-bulbs thing is, well, a popular thing. It means different things to different people, and to autistic people, it doesn’t always mean something good.

At work, we’re encouraged to wear blue on certain days to “show support” for autistic people and their families. Because, well, they’re all apparently young boys who make their parents feel “blue”, and we want to be supportive of the poor suffering families. Bummer. I have to figure out which days those are, because I don’t want to wear blue on those days. I’ll wear #RedInstead. But blue clothes are a significant portion of my very limited work wardrobe (5 pairs of slacks, 5 tops, all of which I mix-and-match, so I don’t have to figure out fashion sh*t, first thing in the morning). So, that complicates things.

Augh! I hate complication. Especially when I’ve got a great thing going with my routine, planned execution, and anticipated outcomes.

In April, especially, I really have no idea what the outcomes will be, so that’s disorienting. Ah, well. It’s a good reason to brush off my stoicism and put it to good use.

The major part  / lion’s share of my activities this month will be self-preservation-oriented. Taking good care of myself and my home (spring cleaning to get my mind off things!) as well as stuff at work. Winter is now in the proverbial rear-view mirror, and it’s time to kick things into action again.

Kicking things into action is very much about setting the direction for my own life for the coming month — and beyond. I can’t be derailed by misinformation programs, propaganda, etc. I have no control over the people behind it. I can provide alternative views — and post videos and other information on the company intranet, when people start waxing eloquent about the trials and tribulations of autism.

There are things I can do.

But I can’t control the outcomes. So, I need to really focus on my own self, my own direction, my own priorities, and not let my life be derailed by the underhanded agenda$ of people who don’t want what’s best for me.

Yep, self-care is in order. As is stoicism.

And actually having fun with stuff. It’s been snowing for 24 hours, now, and there’s more snow coming down on top of the slush that built up overnight. A lovely snow day, for sure. And Saturday, on top of it!

April is showing up with its unique challenges — which I accept.

I accept my autism and all the intricacies of daily life that come with it. I accept my uniquely challenging situation, given my singular temperament and personality. I accept the difficulties that go along with being unrecognized and unsupported by the standards of mainstream society. I have no problem with being on the outside and being misunderstood. And as such, it’s incumbent up on me to “hold my sh*t” in the course of my daily life and live up to everything that crosses my path, for good or ill.

April is one of those “things”. So, here it is. I won’t say “Bring it on!” because it needs no encourage from me. It’s here, whether I like it or not. What I choose to do with it, is up to me.