There is a mum in the school playground and she seems a little different – you could say she is quirky.
There are a few small visual differences – maybe she has cool, coloured hair, the odd piercing or tattoo, and isn’t following the fashion sense of most of the mums; there’s an air of quietness about her that makes her seem aloof. But that’s not unusual, right?
Lots of people have body adornments, and don’t follow the fashion pack; and may of us are introverted.
But it’s not just that there’s something slightly different about her appearance and body language, when compared to most of the other parents and the adults at the school.
How people interact with autistic individuals
There’s a difference in terms of HOW people interact with her. The fact that she is autistic, and the other neurotypical adults know she’s different even before she speaks, is apparently ‘to be expected’, and normal – human nature. It has been proven that neurotypical / NT (non-autistic or non-neurodiverse) people subconsciously know that an autistic individual is different, and respond accordingly, usually in a subconscious manner. (Read more in the Scientific Reports’ paper: ‘Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments’.)
An unusual facial expression, a pause in the beat of conversation, a relaxed face instead of a forced smile, a perceived-aloof demeanour – any number of tiny subtle differences that a psychologist would notice (but that untrained eyes do not), mark this woman out as slightly different.
If the woman does not know she is autistic, or is ‘Aspie’, she may well develop low feelings affecting her confidence, and may experience feelings of loneliness, rejection and other issues like depression. She may even style her body differently, in terms of adornments or hair colour, just to pre-empt other people’s perceptions of her, or create a kind of barrier or field around her – again, this may be subconscious, almost like another level of autistic masking.
The in-crowd of alpha females
She is aware of the dismissive behaviour of many of her peers. In any case, she probably has no wish to fit it with the in-crowd of alpha females. But she’s spent years being a people pleaser, so probably keeps on trying to make the effort to be friendly at some level. (It should be noted of course that some of the ‘dismissive’ behaviour could itself be caused by THAT individual’s own insecurities, or social difficulties!)
Not everyone blanks the autistic woman, of course. The mums that have taken the time to have a conversation know her a little better; and there are always the other quirky types that she fits in with – maybe they have OCD, anxiety, addictions or low-moods; somehow, they spot a fellow neurodiverse individual. Perhaps they’re just attuned to the more fragile mind? Perhaps they’re NT, but simply kind and open individuals who make an effort to include others socially?
NTs find autists ‘different’
Whatever the case, these dismissive interactions are generally subconscious. Put simply, NTs find autists ‘different’, although they may not know why – communication is a two way thing, and these two individuals – autist and NT – are speaking different languages. It’s no one person’s fault if communication breakdowns ensue.
Yes, it’s agreed that autists experience communication difficulties; however there is a wide assumption that the communication difficulties in a group setting are the autist’s fault. Not true!
It takes two to tango, and it takes two to converse
Current studies like this one: ‘Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments’ – show that the issue is in fact between the two parties conversing. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to converse.
But to what extent do specific personality or neurology types make a difference? Is it fair to assume that most of the difficulties occur between autist and neurotypical individual? Or maybe just between autist and non-empathic (or impatient) neurotypical individual?
What if a Japanese person met someone fluent in the little spoken Creole language, Taki-Taki, from South America? Would we automatically blame the South American for the difficulty in mutual communication? That would be foolish, as both individuals would struggle, based on what is known to them linguistically, and their communication abilities at that time.
The above report states that many aspects of social presentation are ‘atypical’ in autistic individuals, including abnormal facial expressivity, irregular use of gaze, lower rates or unusual timing of expressive gestures, and unusual speech patterns.
It concludes: ‘The reluctance of ‘typically developing’ individuals to engage in social interactions with their ASD peers further limits the opportunities for individuals with ASD to practice their already fragile social skills. This can have a significant negative impact on the ability of socially aware and socially interested individuals with ASD to improve their social communication abilities.’
Our conclusion? Autists aren’t FAILING at communication. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for perceived social faux pas. We’re simply communicating in the way our autism allows us to communicate. Just as the NT individuals who don’t engage with us are doing what comes naturally to them. Importantly, IT’S NOT THE AUTIST’S FAULT. They’re not weird. Or rude. They just see the world a little differently, and communicate in subtly different ways.
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!
Interested to read more? Find out about ‘social hangvers’ for autists at this blog…
Also published on Medium.