adult autism

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Things to take in consideration when communicating with an autistic person

This was written with my autistic perspective in mind. Autism is as unique as the person diagnosed with it. Some things may ring true to your autism or your child's autism, and some may not. Some things here may be more true to me than other days. It is part of the nature of being autistic. It is my hopes though my articles that I captured enough to form some groundwork to help those who are not autistic to have a better perspective. One that differs from what the media likes to portray. The media likes to portray autism as either a sad thing deserving nothing but pity or a glorified person who's some kind of "angel" or otherwise set apart from the rest of the world.

 

1. An autistic person usually is not aware of social boundaries. In theory this sounds great to feel free of restriction, but in practice it almost always backfires... For me, this can produce a varying degree of embarrassment.

After reading a number of posts dealing with concerned parents and their autistic son/daughter's behaviors such as hand flapping, biting, injuring self in some way, I think back upon myself and I realize as a child, even now I still am learning how to express my feelings appropriately in public. Most people use facial expressions.

For the autistic it is not as easy as it sounds. When you're in the midst of an anxiety attack, anything goes. If anyone is aware of a socially acceptable way to have an anxiety attack, let me know...I'm still working on that one.

2. Trying to understand someone's point of view is difficult because people outside my point of view seem to be perceived by my mind as objects in the environment. Sure they come and talk with me. I know they are people, but to try to understand where they are coming from and what is on their mind may be a strain. I cannot readily see into their thought process. My mind just takes them as if part of the setting. I communicate with the person and they communicate with me if I am doing things right. Hopefully I am not making a fool of myself or frustrating the person… Being human I still have the need to interact with people and socialize. Nobody can live in complete isolation. Some people may seem to, but I doubt there is really anyone out there that can live their life without the need or strong craving to reach outside the scope of their own mind.

Oh boy this is going to be a tough one to explain, but if you understand what I'm trying to say, I am really happy that I make sense. This was something I struggled with as a kid. I could not explain it. Even today I get blank looks when I try to explain this into words...

Okay, I see things from my point of view. I see my hands in front of me. I "hear" or know my thoughts. My voice vibrates in my throat. I cannot see my face, unless I look in a mirror. I see everyone else's face. If they have a facial expression, I see it too, though I may or may not pick it up.

Up until about 12 years old, I did not understand I was not the only person who cannot see their own face unless there was a mirror to look into. I was also unaware that people can see my face, even though I cannot. To them I would look like an outsider like any other person outside of themselves.

As a child I was trying to learn if this is true by going around and asking people if they have to look in a mirror to see their face. I’d also ask, if they can see their own eyes without looking in a mirror. I should have asked if they could see my face and see my eyes. No matter what it seemed my answer was almost always a very confused look and possibly a “Huh, what do you mean?”

Okay, that doesn’t help… I don’t know what kind of expression my face would be making, but I sure feel frustrated… Perhaps it would be best explained if I handed everyone a video camera (provided I had the budget to buy a bunch of them) and ask them to put it in record mode and hold it in front of their face. Each camera would record the perspective from the person holding it. If I had everyone stand on each corner of the room, then there would be at least four different perspectives. If I had each camera set to point to the other, then we’d see camera person 1# looking at camera person #2. Now let’s look at camera #1. We see camera #2 looking right at us. From camera #2’s perspective, there is camera #1 looking at us. From camera #3 and camera #4, we see both camera #1 and camera #2 pointing at each other. We cannot see the outside of camera #1 from camera #1’s point of view because of the way the lens is set up. A camera cannot record itself. The same is true from camera #2, #3 and #4. Even though each camera cannot record itself, it can easily record the outside actions of any other camera. What it cannot do is record the same thing the other camera is recording from that camera’s perspective. This is what I am describing as the physical act of looking at another person.

Let’s go one step further in my effort to try to explain thought process. I can think my own thoughts but I cannot think other people’s thought processes. Their thought process is hidden within the person. All I see is what is going on outside.

Let’s imagine each camera is hooked up to a monitor on a very short cord just next to the camera. None of the camera people can see any of the monitors except their own. I cannot see what camera #3 is recording by looking into camera #1. I can only see what camera 1 is recording if I am operating camera #1. I can see what camera #1 is recording as long as I am operating that camera.

3. Putting this into perspective, it is awfully hard to make facial expressions or be aware what kind of impression I leave on someone if I cannot see for myself how I look. I don’t have an outside monitor to see my face. People have told me in the past, I looked sad or had an unusual expression on my face. I wasn’t aware of it. To me I was busy thinking and perceiving the outside world around me. I wasn’t paying attention to how I look. It didn’t matter because I cannot see my face anyway. I guess the result was a blank, empty expression on my face that disturbed people. I guess it disturbs people to see no expression on someone’s face. Then again how do I know I have no expression on my face? I can’t see my own face.

It makes me wonder if perhaps that could be one reason behind hand flapping and other obvious behaviors in autistic people. A hand flap could be a way of expressing anxiety or happiness. It is something visible to the person expressing it and it may come more natural to that person than making an expression that they cannot see.

For me, I had to learn facial expressions. I had to practice them in front of a mirror. Even now I don't know if I have it right... I can't see myself make an expression. Once I do learn an alternative way of expressing myself, such as using language, it becomes easier to communicate, though I’m afraid I still blunder at times because it does not come natural for me to see inside someone else’s head.

It’s amazing I can write stories with characters outside myself from my observations of other people. I have a feeling, I must be using a different part of my brain when I observe people and imagine their thoughts in a more scientific like method. Something else could be going on that is connecting there but not connecting on an emotional level.

That’s it for raw, random thought typing.

© 2008 MJI

 

(PS feel free to tag this. I had tags but the last time I hit the save I lost everything...)

 

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