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Understanding Through Context

By Out-of-Sync Woman

I often feel like I’m watching television with the sound really low. I can hear part of what’s going on but not everything. I can make educated guesses, however, I’m missing a lot of quieter interactions or more subtle interactions. I feel like I’m missing part of the show and in fact, I am. It often leaves me scratching my head about why something happened or what would happen next. This is somewhat what it’s like to have autism for me.

I’ve learned a lot and I’m pretty good at guessing what’s expected. It’s hard work and I don’t always get it right. I sometimes find it discouraging to work so hard and still be missing part of the pieces regarding what’s going on around me. Sometimes I disappoint other people because they expect me to get what’s going on and I don’t. I feel clumsy, awkward, inelegant in most social interactions. Don’t get me wrong, autism is part of me, however, if I had a choice in the matter, I probably wouldn’t choose to be different. I would choose to be neurotypical because I think life would be much easier for me and I wouldn’t have to work so hard.

This acute awareness of being out of place increases my stress and workload, decreasing my pleasure in being around other people. Hence the fact that I spend less time with people, it makes me feel more awkward and then I often spend even less time with people. I’m trying to get out of this vicious cycle by being kinder to myself and more accepting of my differences.
 This blog isn’t a “poor me, I’m so sad” blog, it’s more of an explanation. It used to be that my family always wanted me to spend as much time as possible with them during family get-togethers so it would be my siblings, their kids, and their partners, all in one small house (or at least it felt like a small house at the time!) The kids were young and they run around being kids in a not child-proof house. My siblings would often ask me to watch the children or hang out and play with the children. I wasn’t their parent and I didn’t really know them that well so I always felt so stressed out because I had responsibilities but no power. I also felt like I was disappointing my siblings and I could never figure out exactly why. They had expectations but they never spelled it out. I would leave these social interactions with my family frazzled, exhausted, and depressed. I desperately wanted to spend time with my family but it always made me feel worse after spending time with them.
My family and I have moved on and we are doing much better. What I learned and now practice: Have an exit strategy. Keep it short and sweet (as in leave before you’re exhausted.) Try to keep a regular schedule. In my case, I always drive my car to the activity so I can leave when I need to go. I’m picky about which social interactions I go to so if I know that it is not a good fit, I don’t go. There’s a quick list of things that I think about before I say ‘yes’ so then I usually don’t regret it.
 In a lot of ways, I’m writing this blog so you can get a peek into my head. If you have autism, this may sound familiar to you or it may not. If you’re a parent, caregiver, or professional and you reading, thank you. I do have one suggestion if you are in the category of somebody who supports someone with autism: watch a mystery or thriller show with the sound really low and then try to do a synopsis based on what you observed. I recommend this exercise to see how much you can pick up just based on context and then compare it to a synopsis on the internet about the show. Even better, and harder yet, turn off the sound entirely and see how much you get. This is an exercise in understanding and empathy. Plus it’s kind of fun to see how much one picks up based on the acting.
 As always, I hope my blog is a good starting point for conversations or a different way to think about your life. Everyone has their own different challenges and struggles. I would suggest, as my mom used to say, to be kind, understanding, and compassionate to everyone. Best wishes to all this holiday season.