Sunday, September 16, 2007

Can we talk?

This is what happens. We meet. I don’t talk much. For a long time, I say hardly anything and when I do it’s cryptic or odd to you. After a period of time, probably months, I start to say more things, but the things sometimes are even more strange, and now there is chirping and trilling and repeating. Here and there you may recognize a line from a very old movie or TV show. Then comes a period of time where I seem much more “normal” to you with less chirping, less repeating. Even my jokes make sense during this time. And then it’s over, and back to Gilligan’s Island and the birdhouse.

Let me break that down:

Phase 1. Quiet.
Phase 2. Less quiet, more odd.
Phase 3. Less odd with variable quietness.
Phase 4: Less quiet, more odd.

This is how some people interpret that:

1. You are shy.
2. You are shy, but getting used to talking to me. You are nervous due to the shyness, so you behave oddly.
3. You are over the nervousness. You are finally okay and we can relate like regular people.
4. You don’t like me anymore. You are being as annoying as possible to push me away. Why don’t you just tell me it’s over?

Or it can be seen this way:

1. You are shy
2. You are really weird, but that’s okay with me.
3. You understand it’s not okay to be weird all of the time. You are making the expected efforts to fit into society and this is good. This is what a person of good character does.
4. You have “decided” you are autistic, even gone so far as to get a diagnosis. Now you don’t care about fitting in anymore. You are using this as an excuse for bad behavior. Why don’t you just grow up?

This is how it looks from the inside:

1. I don’t know why it is, but I’ve never been comfortable talking. Some days it takes all my energy just to say a little. I am almost never able to communicate what I actually mean by speaking. I am surprised you are even still trying to have this relationship with me. Most people give up after one conversation.

2. This is part of the way I relate to the world. Sometimes the repetition is a means of communication, sometimes the chirping is my way of expressing happiness. If I am doing these things around you, I am starting to get comfortable with you. If you accept me at this stage, you may have a friend for life, but if you get angry or ask me to stop, I will know that I will never be able to truly relax and be myself around you. It’s okay either way. I am not so invested in this friendship yet that rejection will hurt very much.

3. You are still here? That’s great. I appreciate that you like me for who I am. You know what? I can sometimes have what appears to be a normal conversation. If I am well rested and not stressed, I am more likely to be able to do this. There are lots of factors that play into this. The medicine I take for depression made a difference for a long time. Not so much now, but that’s fine with me, that’s not what it’s for anyway.

4. It has been a while, I understand so much more about myself and my communication style than I did when we first met. I have found that there are other people like me, too. I am autistic. Don’t worry, though. I am exactly the same person I have always been. I can take care of myself better now that I understand I am not a defective person. I have to play the “normal” game a lot at work, but when we are just hanging out, I can be myself and relax, right? Right? Hello?


  1. Bev, I think of your posts whenever my son clicks his tongue or make this soft rhythmic puff of air out through his nose. It helps me understand where he is and accept the noises. Thanks.

  2. It's taken me a long while to accept 5 hours of wordlessness and just the contented mouth clicks, but they're no longer irritating [most of the time] it's just the ambient measure of happiness.
    Best wishes

  3. There is a sequence that goes through my life sometimes when I meet someone, but I have a hard time describing it. I've tried (such as ping-pong examples), just haven't managed it yet.

    Part of it in my case involves being swung back and forth in their minds between "HFA" stereotypes and "LFA" stereotypes, with them filling in all the gaps with whatever stereotype they have in their head. Then they get startled when something doesn't fit what they filled into the gaps. Then they usually either switch to the other stereotype, or get mad at me and accuse me of misleading them.

    The really irritating part about that is, I kind of want to live my life, I don't want to have to explain detailed detailed stuff every time someone gets an assumption wrong, but then if I don't bother correcting them (because I really can't be bothered to correct everything anyone says to me about it) they take it as as good as agreement.

    Frustrating, and I haven't figured out a good solution yet.

  4. I have always used the second interpretation, without the way you described number 4.
    Before I knew about autism, I would think, what did I do to upset my new friend? They are so weird and cool (it's really hard to find weird friends), I should try and figure it out.

    Which would make it worse. Then I would figure, maybe they will like me again one day, and I would leave them alone.

    Now I think...hmmm. I wonder if it's me. Or I wonder if I should let them have some space.

  5. I have noticed myself "regressing", i.e., becoming less sociable, since I've been married to Leif. It occurs to me that my friends -- and my family especially -- are probably noticing that I'm not as socially “adept" as I managed to be for a while, and that's probably seen as a bad thing. They may even see it as me making unfair accommodations for him, since he’s more overtly uncomfortable around people than I am. But I take it as a sign that, thanks to him, I'm more comfortable in my own skin. Leif's about the first person I've been with who doesn't seem to be annoyed by (and, admittedly, the first person I've significantly let loose on with) my little repetitive song sequences and finger-peeling and face-pressing and whatnot. He even sings and flutters with me sometimes. So while I occasionally worry that I’m losing the rather Herculean social skills that I finally managed to develop and hone over the last few years or so, it occurs to me that I don’t value those skills as much as I value his companionship.

  6. Maybe not directly related to this post Bev, sorry. I have come to like hearing autistic sounds coming from others than my son. We were camping over the weekend, and a Mom came by pushing a stroller and the boy in it was "singing" the same way as our boy. Amanda could likely describe the tone in appropriate language. I'd say a range from cooing to howling. It makes me smile knowing Ezra is not alone in this expression.

  7. Bev, still here....still listening.

    I make odd sounds....clicking and humming. I sway in place when I am relaxed. I try not to do it when people are around....but my staff are OK with it and seem to think that my behavior is normal. When I was little I tried to hide these behaviors but I do that less nowadays.

    It is what it is.


  8. That's a lot of clicking going on here. I do that one a little, not as much as some other sounds. I used to work with a man who could make the loudest popping sound with his mouth. It could be very irritating, but now, from time to time, I miss it.

  9. Wow.... this explains a lot of what my son does. It also explains a lot of how I feel when I'm trying to form a friendship with someone.

    Bev, can I ask you what you had to do to get your diagnosis? I have a son who's receiving services at school for autism, and he is a mini-me. I'm wondering if I'm not that far from the spectrum myself.

    I enjoy reading your blog very much, especially the humorous pictures. :-)


  10. Michelle,

    I'd be happy to discuss that with you. Click the "email me" link near the top of the main page.

  11. Beautiful. And oh-so-clear. Thank you!


  12. Sometimes I feel like "don't mind me" but then I also feel like "don't dismiss me", then, ok, read my mind won't you? Can't you see I like you? No, I'm not ignoring you. Yes, I'm still your friend. OK, time to break out the universal translator. :-T


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