I thought I would take questions/interactions from recent posts and reprint them here. Always seems like comments are really where a post comes together; people reliably make terrific points, develop ideas even more than the post itself. Click here to see the previous Q and A post; and for a perfect example of comments developing the ideas in a post, check out this discussion about managing sensory issues.
This is a very new blog, so I really appreciate you guys for reading, commenting.
There is one thing that is a constant in your posts that I am having a hard time understanding…”body language” and your lack of it. I guess I just don’t “get” what you mean? And how this interfered with your socializing?
Answer: It’s true, with the newness of the blog, I have not gone into a lot of detail yet about the body language issues, so I appreciate the questions. In future posts, I’ll be developing that description, hopefully explaining it in more detail. The short version: when most kids began to develop nonverbal communication (this seemed to become more prominent around 6, 7 years old)…that is, when they began to make social connections, learn cooperative play, learn to work in groups…I wasn’t able to do these things. I tried very hard to make friends, but did not successfully begin to have friendships until High School.
I now understand that the other kids were using non-verbal social skills that I lacked. Their words were only a small part of their interactions; they were also communicating without words, in a variety of subtle ways…using body language, more and more, but also communicating with play-style, with vocal inflection, etc. My mind just wasn’t developing the more subtle forms of social communication, including body language. I was very literal minded, and because of that, I wasn’t meshing with the other kids around me. So when i tried to play, I tended to clash…or push kids away without meaning to, just because I wasn’t on the same page, socially speaking. Let me know if this is still unclear; it’s an issue I will definitely be trying to develop over time.
Question (or statement, in this case)-
It seems so often the stories of people who live in a world within the spectrum have people, parents, family writing about how the world needs to understand them. The misconception is that people in the spectrum do not always understand social relations and interactions.
Answer: I couldn’t agree more. It’s definitely a misconception that people on the spectrum do not understand social interactions. It’s not that it’s 100 percent false, it’s just that the reality is so much more complicated than that, and the misconception can cause people to write autistics off as “socially blind” or “shut down”, which is unfortunate.
I think people hear labels, or diagnostic criteria…and because they lack a true understanding of the spectrum, they assume that these labels define autistics permanently, forever, end of discussion. But the crucial point here is that the diagnostic criteria are often based on observations of children…and kids change as they grow up. They interact with the world, have experiences…sometimes positive experiences, sometimes negative…and in response to those experiences, they can change in all sorts of ways.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and I know in my case that I did struggle with social mechanics as a kid…this led to a lot of rejection, bullying…so my brain went into an intense problem solving mode in an effort to understand people better. And as that happened, I began to move away from the diagnostic criteria.
My social deficits weren’t going away, however. They were just evolving into new forms. Lacking support with these particular issues, I developed coping strategies that were not all that beneficial; I basically taught myself to hide in plain site by mimicking body language, scripting conversations, etc. The point being: people on the spectrum, at every level of it, have minds; they think, change…so you’re absolutely right that there are misconceptions, all because we throw out labels (“they can’t socialize”) and ignore the complexities.
It’s infuriating to me that, in general, people view autistics as “shut down” or “anti-social”. I think it’s the other way around, in many cases. I think many spectrum kids have a strong desire for friends; they want to share their thoughts, interests, but because they lack the social mechanics, they can have bad experiences and lose interest. What many people label “introversion” or being “shut down”- sometimes, it’s the exact opposite; it’s a strong desire for connection that has just collapsed in on itself due to rejection. (This is what happened to me, anyway. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that there are a lot of spectrum kids out there- kids perceived as robotic, shut down- who would love nothing more than to have a friend or two).
It just reinforces your point, that people on the spectrum are capable of a lot of things that they’re not given credit for. And it’s because we define people using criteria that are currently too rigid, too inflexible. Autism issues look very different as people grow up; they look very different for different people; and we just need way, way more stories about what happens to people on the spectrum as they move through life.