Adulting and Peopling… while #autistic

Photo Credit: Christopher Burns on Unsplash - People Walking In Underground Corridor
Photo Credit: Christopher Burns on Unsplash – People Walking In Underground Corridor (modified slightly by me)

As an adult, I have to go out and deal with people on a regular basis. I have to join conference calls with people all over the globe and talk on the phone for 6-8 hours a day, some days.

Yes, it’s extremely difficult. Yes, it wears me out. Yes, I hate it.

But it’s part of my job. And until I can find another position that gets me out of the “flow” of people, I’m stuck with it.

I like having a home and regular meals, you see…

I also have to physically go out and deal with people.

The picture above is a pretty decent representation of what it’s like for me to walk towards a group of people — in or out of an enclosed space.

My vision doesn’t work 100%. It’s narrowed, fuzzy, focused primarily on a single point ahead of me, with everything else in a blur. I have to keep focused on that single point ahead of me.

If I don’t, I may lose my way. Literally. Yes, even in a small, enclosed space.

Forget where I’m going.

Run into things.

Run into people.

Succumb to the mounting anxiety that I know will pass, once I’m out of that tunnel and free of the constriction. I just have to hang in there… just have to stick with it, till I’m out in the clear again.

There’s no escaping it, so don’t waste your / my time feeling sorry for me, feeling my pain. There’s no point to that. The pain is the pain. The confusion, overwhelm, anxiety… it’s all background noise. Just that. Nothing more. It doesn’t define me. It doesn’t ruin me. It just is. And I deal with it. Like anybody deals with bad weather or an unexpected turn of events. When things turn out differently from what you expect / plan for, it doesn’t help to throw yourself down on the ground and pitch a fit. You may feel better, or that response may be unavoidable if you’re prone to melting down, but it doesn’t actually change the circumstances you have to deal with.

Flipping out over your shoes getting wet, if you step off a boardwalk into a boggy swamp doesn’t make your feet any less wet.

I just get on with it.

Blurry as I am. Foggy as I am. Anxious as I am. This is all just part of it.

An so it goes.

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Sharing : Rethinking Autism: From Social Awkwardness to Social Creativity

Instead of viewing people with ASD as “socially awkward” individuals who need to be “fixed,” we should instead conceptualize them as socially creative. They may not do things the “right” way, but they do them their way.

Read the rest of this great article here

Five-day business trip coming up – pros and cons and #autistic preparation

view of city street with people milling around

So, I’m flying across the country for a business trip. It’s a user conference for a new technology I’m helping to implement at work. The application is on the leading edge of its field, so this is a good opportunity to “peek under the hood” and see what all is there.

It might also be a good opportunity to connect with other people in my field… to see about jobs… I’m treating this like an extended job interview of sorts.

I’m both dreading this trip and looking forward to it. My partner can’t come with me 😦  and I hate traveling without her. She hates it, too, but it just wasn’t going to work, this time.

On the upside, I’m the only one from my work group traveling. Usually, for my business trips, I usually get stuck traveling with my co-workers. It seems to calm them down to move as one group, but I find it a source of irritation. I’d much rather move at my own pace, on my own time, and not be subjected to their non-stop inanity. Seriously, how much blather can a person stand? Apparently, they can stand a lot. And it’s not blather to them, for some strange reason.

Well, that’s not going to be my problem, this trip.

I’ve been preparing in fits and starts. I made my list today — and a very long list it was. Had to turn it into two columns for it to fit on the 4×6″ lined stickie note. I’ve done the vast majority of the things, with a handful of more involved stuff still pending. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do in the morning, too, before I leave at 6:30 a.m. It’ll get done. I just need to make sure I’m up early enough to do everything and not make myself more frantic than necessary.

Well, I’ve gotten plenty of practice at this, so far, this year. This is my 4th flight in 6 months. I flew out to Texas in January and March, then flew to Atlanta in May, and now it’s off to California in June. I’m hoping I’ll find another job before I have to make another trip, but I may need to fly out to Texas again before the summer is over. I’ve learned a lot about how to breeze through all those lines… checking in online, packing super-light (so I don’t have to check a bag)… wearing the proper clothes to quickly and easily slip in and out of shoes and jackets in the security line… figuring out how to get around airports, figuring out public transit, taxis, etc.

Business travel is always so grueling for me, but I do it.  I could probably become an expert at it (actually, in the past, I was approaching expertise, when I had to fly to France all the time). But it still wipes me out and destroys my peace of mind, equilibrium (literally – I get very dizzy and vertigo-y), and it burns up all kinds of resources I need for other things. Especially when I’m traveling for business. I need to be at my best. I’m in unfamiliar settings, dealing with other people who are unfamiliar to me, as well. I can’t stop the steady stream of intrusive thoughts and concerns. Will I mess up? Will I blurt something out? Will I make a fool of myself, or appear untrustworthy or unprofessional?

These are not unwarranted concerns. I’ve done it before, and I may do it again. Just handling those thoughts and managing my anxiety adds a whole other layer of difficulty to it.

I would love to say, “Well, I’m all grown up now, so I’ll just suck it up and do my job.” But there’s more to it than that. And frankly, being autistic and not having a lot of models or examples from others to follow doesn’t help. If anything, it just makes it all worse. Because I should be pleased with having an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco. Because I should be excited to see the sights and hob-nob with other industry leaders. I should be looking forward to the change of pace.

But I’m not. Not at all. I do feel some of those things, but more than that… just a steady sense of dread. Dread. More dread.

Well, I can’t keep dwelling on that. I need to get ready for the trip. Take care of business. Make some calls. Get a few logistical issues settled. And get to bed early. I’ll have 8+ hours to myself tomorrow, which will be lovely. It will give me time to review the proof copy of my sensory overload memoir that I’ve written and plan to release later this summer. It’s not every day I have that much time to myself, but tomorrow I will. So, that’s good.

Bottom line, I’ll do what I need to, and I’ll try to keep balanced — and focus on the good that may come out of this. It’s just a lot to process, but it’s not all bad.

I’ve done this before. I survived. I’ll do it again.

And when all is said and done, it’ll be more experience for the record.

My Gift is Time

I can really relate to this!

Autism and expectations

My gift is time. My time. It’s always a balancing act. I want to give you my time, but how much will it cost? What will the toll be? How will I know?

I’m not antisocial, I love to talk and discuss and put the world to rights. I would like a person, not any specific type of person, they can be short or tall, fat or thin, any race, any age, any sex, any neurotype, but they will be someone who I can talk to over a cup of coffee. Maybe once a week. Maybe once a fortnight.

The cost of my time will be half an hour’s preparation (low if I’m going to a familiar place with a familiar person), two hours at the meeting and a couple of hours to process everything that happened afterwards. Four and a half hours for two hours’ pleasure.

But that relies…

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Getting left behind… Now what?

skyscraper ground view upEvery week, since 2008, I’ve been seeing a counselor in the same building about an hour’s drive from my home. I’ve worked with two different counselors on a variety of everyday issues — most of them logistical, a few of them emotional. They’ve helped me through a lot of difficulties, helping me to find my way through the maze that is my ultra-autistic life, and make positive changes that have really made a difference for me and my partner.

I worked with one for about 8 years. And for the past year, after the first one moved away, I worked with another, who was a colleague of the first. Neither of them ever acknowledged or addressed the important role that autism plays in my life, but I worked around that. I managed to extract from them more than enough help with my issues, so it almost didn’t matter that they didn’t “get the whole autism thing”. The important thing was that they were there.

Now that’s changing. It turns out that this current counselor is changing her business model and will no longer be working with certain patients. I’m one of those patients, and unless I’m willing to fork out the equivalent of two days’ pay for a one-hour session (not worth it to me, in all honesty), I’m on my own.

Okay, fine. So, I’m on my own.

The thing that’s upsetting is not that she’s no longer accessible. Some days, I can take her help or leave it, to be honest. It sounds harsh, but I’m much more upset about the schedule change. I count on Monday afternoon being my me-time, when I focus on my issues and figure out ways to handle things with another person whose job it is to help me. Whether or not we discuss Aspergers, is moot. The main thing is that I can talk things through and get some honest feedback from a trained professional.

And that I keep my schedule going the same as usual.

… pause to reflect …

Actually, now that I think of it, this change is probably for the best. See, I burn up so much energy on Monday afternoons and evenings, getting to her office, that it kind of sets me back for the rest of the week. First, I have to leave work early (which bothers me), then I have to drive about an hour. Then I talk to her for an hour. Then I get back in my car and drive through Boston rush hour traffic to get home, about 2 hours later. It gives me a chance to stop and buy a good piece of fish (Monday is “fish night” in our house), and I don’t get home too terribly late. But by the time I’ve “landed”, I’ve been driving about 3 hours total through Boston traffic. And that’s a drain.

The worst thing about it is that it wrecks my chances of doing anything else all week. There are different things I’d like to do during the evenings on other days, but I generally don’t have the time or energy left for them, because of the Monday demands. Don’t get me wrong – I have benefited from all those sessions (more before, than recently). They stabilize me and help me structure my life. But it comes at a price. Everything comes at a price.

Now I have to fill that weekly slot with something.

So,  I shall.

It’s actually not going to be hard. There are lots of things I would like to do, and now I’ll be able to do them. Not ALL of them, mind you. But now I’ll be able to pick and choose. And I’ll actually be able to get more involved in the different autistic support and social groups that I’ve been kept from, because I can’t drive into the city more than once a week, if I want to stay balanced and steady.

As much as this opens things up for me, I’m still unsettled by the change. I’m feeling left behind. Discarded. It’s not accurate, I know, but that’s how it feels. I’ll adjust. I always do. I just don’t want to go backwards. I need to keep moving forward.

And so I shall.

Turning the corner into the blissful void :)

triangular skyscraper with blue sky and clouds behind it

Ha! I thought it was Saturday. (It’s actually Friday)

This short week has been so strange.

I had “off work” on Monday, but I had a massive meltdown, following four extremely arduous days with my in-laws (which included a mini-meltdown on Sunday).

I’ve been feeling pretty dismal all week, really “hungover” from the emotional flame-outs of Sunday and Monday, not entirely here, but still able to function really well at work. I guess that speaks volumes about how well I do when I’ve got hard-and-fast routine, and expectations are clearly stated for me. I’ve actually been doing much better at work, than at home.

Which is why I’m going into the office today.

Normally, I work from home on Fridays, but not today. I haven’t been able to swim at all this week, because of deadlines, sudden requirements popping up, things falling apart, and just not feeling up to making the short drive to the building where the pool is located. I’m feeling it, too. I really notice when I haven’t been swimming. I miss it, my body misses it, and the days become interminable and painful.

So, today — as I got all my wretched deadlines handled and “put to bed” last night — I have an easy day. An open day. A day full of … nothing specific. And that’s wonderful. Because I need room to breathe. Room to stretch. Room to just settle into my work, without constant interruption and aggravation, and get something done.

For the time being, anyway.

My job is very non-secure at this point in time. Supposedly, there are layoffs coming in another month or so, and it’s going to be “BIG”. Huh. Whatever. I have scrimped and saved and shaved down my costs of living, so I can save aggressively. And in the past 2 years, I’ve cobbled together six months’ worth of living expenses, which is regal, compared to where I’ve been for years. I mean, seriously, it’s been a loonnnnggg time since I’ve had this amount of money in the bank. Medical issues, job issues, terrible commutes that drained my coffers via my car’s fuel tank (and drained my physical energy as well), and just a long string of bad choices and unmanaged expenses from the pre-Aspie-awareness days… they really sucked the life out of me.

But in the past couple of years, I’ve been able to save (and save and save), and now I have enough money to float freely for six months — six months! And that’s being conservative. But it’s best to be conservative. Not doing that, is what got me in trouble in the past.

Anyway, the way things are at work, either I’m going to get promoted, or I’m going to get a severance package. A package or a promotion — how Aspie of my professional life. I literally have No Idea how I stand with other people, so I just make it up as I go along. And I’ve now reached a kind of  “Office Space” frame of mind, like the main character who sees how things are going with layoffs and decides, “Oh, fck it! I’m just going to play along and not give a sht about the consequences!”

It’s actually quite freeing, I have to say. I mean, I’ve always been so conscientious about my job performance. And for what? Please. I’ve been dragged by proverbial corporate horses for years and years, my foot stuck in the figurative stirrup as the Overlords have done as they pleased. That’s how it works. Anybody who thinks differently is in for a rude awakening. I look around me and see my coworkers all so invested in their jobs, their identity, their roles. Huh. How ’bout that. I can’t see the point. I can see the point of a paycheck, that’s for sure. And having a pool to swim in. That, too. But getting my identity all “interlaced” with this nonsense… yah, that just doesn’t make any sense anymore. At all.

So, whatever happens, happens. I’m going to let it play out. If I get laid off, I have six months’ worth of living expenses in the bank, sitting in a secured account. If I get promoted, that’s fine, too. Whatever. It’s all pretty much of a farce, anyway, which just gives me the freedom to write when and how and whatever I like, without needing to worry about editors and publishers blocking my path. I can schedule my life as I please, do the things I love to do, and hang out during the day with smart people who are also in the Paycheck Continuation Program, and would jump at the chance to go on vacation or spend more time with their kids.

Oh, yes… this is freeing indeed. It totally relieves me of the burden of illusions about what the corporate world is about, these days. It relieves me of the burden of feeling responsible for the Way Things Are, feeling responsible for things that are really out of my control, and feeling like I should be doing something to make everything better for myself and my household.

Nah. That glorious over-optimism is an artifact of my youth, my bright, shining, hopeful youth, when I had no idea how things were structured or organized. That youth has persisted over the years, and it has stayed with me until relatively recently… as has the rigid thinking that stuff is supposed to be A Certain Way, and it’s My Responsibility to make it That Way. Time to split the difference, cut my losses, just let the shtty things be shtty, and not worry about it. Just focus on what I can control and influence, and leave the rest.

One of the great things about my newly liquid financial situation, is that I have living proof that I can live comfortably at my current salary. I’d been thinking that I needed to trade up and make a better salary. Granted, more money would be nice. But the range I’m in right now has a lot more job possibilities in the market, than the higher rate, so I could keep going at this rate and still be relatively solid, money-wise. And I might actually be able to pay for some of the house repairs that are sorely needed.

Oh, all this thinking is getting too involved for me, now. I really need to just chill out and quit fretting about the future. How I’ll get by has been a constant, daily, nagging worry for me, for the past 10 years, which has worn me down.  I’m tired of that. I’ll be celebrating another birthday in another couple of weeks, and it’s true — when you get past 50, you start to get happier. At least that’s true for me.

After so many years of being miserable, driving myself and pushing myself towards MY GOALS, it’s time to just let myself live. All that striving… and for what? For what? Nothing much came of it, really. And I ended up worn out, used up, depressed, melted down, and so forth.

I can do better than that.

It’s perfectly fine if I just let myself melt into the void — in the most proactive way possible. It’s not about ending it all or disappearing, but simply drifting into the Flow that carries us all along… letting good things happen, along with the bad, not trying to control the outcomes the way I have been… finding out what happens when this-or-that happens. I really just want to do science with my life at a very high level — on every level, actually. Drop the judgment and fretting. Observe. Learn. Take the hard lessons, learn from them, and reap the rewards that come with the learning.

Just go with it, see what happens, and let things develop along the way. Let myself be gloriously autistic, let myself be glorious, period.

This dumpster fire of a world has gotten me down long enough. I have a choice. I can suffer terribly, or I can just live my life and glean what goodness I can get from it. And there’s a lot more goodness there, than I generally realize or accept.

Time to change that around. My perceived misfortunes aren’t doing anyone any good, most of all me.

I’m free to come and go as I please. I’m free to do what I need to do with my life. It’s taken me decades to get to this point, but now that I’m here… why not just go with it?

Why not indeed…

My very ordered “disordered” life

cable span bridge sliced in three sectionsIt always puzzles me, when people call Autism a “disorder”. Seems to me, a lot of autistic folks have a hell of a lot more order in their lives than the rest of the world.

I have my routines. I have my regular stuff done at regular times of the day. I have my regular activities pursued at regular intervals. I have a really great cadence which, unless it’s interrupted, allows me to get a whole lot done in a very small window of time. In the course of an average day, I can have a to-do list that runs off the page of the 4×6″ stickie note I keep in my daily minder. And I will get everything done — and then some — in a seamless flow of “Okay, that’s done – what’s next?”

I tell people what I do each day, and they shake their heads and tell me that I do “too much”. But for me, that’s just how things flow. In fact, everything works better for me, if I have a whole lot of stuff lined up in a seemingly impossible jumble of imperatives.

Something about “juggling” (it’s not that at all, come to think of it) stimulates my visual-spatial thinking, prompting me to see the world in a very different way than the verbal, sequential folks who surround me. My way may look like “controlled chaos” to some, but it’s nothing of the kind.

It’s all very orderly, I have to say.

It might not make a lot of sense to others. Of course it doesn’t. Not if those others are neurotypical. Not if those others are not visually-spatially inclined. Not if those others’ priorities are with skating along in a standard-issue life, doing what they’re told, living up to others’ expectations, and fulfilling the requirements laid out for them by society at large. In some cases, you need only meet the basic requirements of mainstream society, to get by. Assemble the right kind of family. Get the right kind of job. Wear the right clothes. Drive the right car. Buy the right stuff — and make sure everybody knows about it. And you’re set.

That doesn’t work with me. I have priorities other than social acceptance and accruing stuff. Even if I do try to pay attention to those things (and I do try, every now and then), I rapidly lose interest, because they really serve no greater purpose in life, other than to make me feel a little better about my lot. I want to change my lot in life, not make a grudging peace with it and make myself comfortable till the grim end comes.

And so, the rationale and the reasons behind creating certain kinds of “order” in my life evaporate. Because they just don’t work for me.

Now, if you turn things around and turn a lens on the rest of the world from my perspective, all the “disordered parts of my life start to look very ordered, indeed. There’s an excellent reason for everything I do, and chances are, I’ve given it a whole lot of thought before starting to do it. Even the things that I haven’t deliberately put in place, if they’re in my life, they serve a vital purpose. Or they wouldn’t be part of it.

The ritual I follow each morning serves to get me up and going in the morning in an efficient and energizing way, without needing to spend too much time on reinventing the wheel of my morning activities.

The specific sequence I follow to get myself groomed, exercised and fed each morning, I’ve developed over years of practice and trial-and-error. It would take too long to explain each step, to go into it now. Just know that the specific sequence I’ve developed has been for a very good reason.

How I get to work, how I set up for my daily activities, the times I eat, the things I do to perk myself up or calm myself down… it’s all for a reason. For a number of reasons, actually.

If people (friends, family, loved-ones, clinicians, researchers) would look more closely, they’d see the reasons. And if they could spend a day in my shoes, living in my own experience, they’d totally see the logic of it. And they’d congratulate me for coming up with such an elegant system.

Ultimately, I think the origin of at least some of the “disorder” talk is the lack of understanding among researchers. And parents. And loved-ones. And, well, anyone who isn’t privy to the logic of my / our systems. Those who don’t understand Autistic ways and thought patterns. It’s easy to be put off by something foreign and unfamiliar, and (often-times) that would be us.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t have to verbalize everything for folks who see us as disordered… if they could actually experience our lives as we do. Maybe virtual reality will make that possible, someday. I think it already is, actually. But it’s going to take more than a VR session to get people educated and informed.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.

In the meantime, I’ll go about my business and tend to my systems, my own individual order.

Regardless of what others have to say about it.

Everything has its place, I suppose

line drawing of a laptop and papers hanging neatly on the wall behind it
I like my stuff properly arranged. Of course, not everything is going to line up exactly. A little asymmetry can be creatively inspiring.

Last evening, I saw a handful of folks I haven’t seen in a while.

It was good to reconnect. They’re all a bunch of Aspies, and it was cool to just hang out and talk about what’s going on in our lives. It’s pretty wild, how many similarities there are, with detailed variations, of course. We got to trade tips and tricks on stuff that stumps us. There were some ah-ha! moments that we all enjoyed. And some laughter. And we all got to reassure each other that we’re not completely alone in a world that can’t seem to be bothered to understand us.

It’s Friday! I’m so looking forward to this weekend. Getting back on a schedule, after a week of surprise meetings and stuff not going according to plan. I have to get my routine fix while I can. I’ll be traveling in less than a week to spend time with family in the Atlanta, GA area. It’s crowded there. And hot. And busy. And there’s a lot of family drama going on, which drives me to distraction. People whipping themselves into a frenzy over a perceived slight. Where’s the logic in that? We’ve got three days of that to look forward to (so to speak).

I don’t want to go. I dread it. I really want to just ditch the whole thing, and I’ve shed anguished tears at the prospect of what’s ahead. But there’s no avoiding it. It’s important to go. So, I’ll steel my proverbial nerves and just hang in there. Focus on one small thing at a time. See what I can learn about myself and the world. Treat it as an anthropological expedition — and always-always-always keep in mind that it’s only for a few days. All I have to do is keep steady, keep an even keel, keep a level head, eat right, get enough sleep, and persevere.

I’m good at persevering. It’s what I do. It’s a much-practiced skill.

So, this upcoming trip is just another test. Another chance to learn a thing or two. I still have to do some basic things — like reserve a car at the airport. Figure out what to pack. I’m less concerned about the car situation, since, well, it is the airport. I need several hours of free time to sort through my options and pick the best one. And after I figure out my part, the overall logistics have to be figured out and solidified with my partner and her family, so we know where to go, what to do, and in what order.

The dysfunction of family dynamics is so tiring. I’m trying to not pay much attention to the lying, cheating, sneaking-around people who are trying to manipulate the whole event. That’s fruitless. I’ve learned that over the past 26 years. I’ll just go with the flow and enjoy myself as best I can. If nothing else, this will be character-building.

Just think how much character I’ll have at the end of it all! 😀

Oh, and then I have another trip to San Francisco less than a month later. That’s for work. A conference. Learning and working and — most importantly — no family involved. It’ll be a challenge, because it is travel, it involves business, and I’m headed into unfamiliar territory.  I used to live in northern California, years ago, so I may see some of my old “stomping ground”, but probably not much. I’ll be traveling alone, pretty much, which is fine. But that means I’m probably not going to range far and wide and see the sights like I used to, when my partner was with me.

Or, I may see some sights with my co-workers. Who knows? I’ll need to figure that one out, I suppose.

Anyway, so it goes. I’ve got a nice empty schedule today. And my 8:30 meeting just got moved to Monday, so that gives me even more flexibility today, to catch up with everything I haven’t been able to get done this week.

And have a little routine. Get to the office around 9:45, settle in, eat some cereal at 10:15, respond to pending emails and prep for my noontime meeting, have some lunch, do some more work, go for an afternoon swim, then finish up the day with getting outstanding stuff sorted out. Sounds like a plan.

Oh, and plan. Plan. Plan some more. Things rarely turn out exactly the way I anticipate, but having a plan helps me organize my thoughts and at least have the general impression that I’m prepared for whatever comes along.

It’s all good. It’s Friday. I get to move at my own pace. Quietly. Swiftly. With everything in its place. As it should be.

Oh, sweet peace.

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.