Most autistics find themselves in some kind of relationship with nonautistics, whether by design or by circumstance. Both sides can like, love, laugh, and loathe engaging with a partner whose organic wiring is different from their native wiring. It’s not wrong, flawed, correctable, or chideworthy; though, it might be confusing, frustrating, and maddening. It is simply different. Just like you can be right-handed or left-handed, you can have an autistic brain or a nonautistic one.
Left-handed people and autistics, though, have a bit of a different perspective on the overly simplistic tone and implications of the inclusive-spirit of that statement. Neuro-equality is not a current reality. The NT wiring has set the standard by sheer outnumbering and overpowering autistics in the population. Unfortunately, this control has led to mischaracterizations, misunderstandings, and much worse when NTs attempt to interact with and understand the autistic mind.
It is tempting to advise everyone to stay in their lane, their own little haven of neurodiversity. Otherwise, navigating neurohighways produces inevitable collisions: one side bashes the other for being ignorant and rigid and abusive; conversely, that side blames the other for not getting it or faking it or being overly emotional or for being rude.
Asking autistics to think like nonautistics and nonautistics to think like autistics is not simply pointless and unfair. It’s impossible (and unsafe). Rather than switching to the “other side”, or forcing everyone to cram everyone in one lane, expansion of the neurohighways seems most reasonable and safe.
What follows is an autopsy of classic nonautistic-autistic disagreement. We start with the interaction, embedding in the unspoken thoughts driving the dialogue. We follow this autopsy with immediate triage strategies for the most recent miscommunication as well as preventative, long-term care suggestions. It is the work of the latter that starts to excavate space for everyone on the neurodiversity highway.
The following table displays the unspoken thoughts and feelings motivating the actions of both participants in the interaction.
|Nonautistic Person’s Thinking||Autistic Person’s Thinking|
|Thinking: “This morning is awesome!” |
Unaware that autistic person’s morning routine involved an empty kitchen, or that the austitic person started off frustrated/anxious because the routine was broken
|Thinking: "Why are they in the kitchen? I always have the kitchen to myself. If I just wait, they will go away?"|
|Thinking: “This is a great morning! Can’t wait to see my loved one” Unaware that the autistic person waited for the kitchen to empty and became more frustrated as they waited||Getting frustrated. Thinking: “The rest of my routine is getting further behind while I wait for the kitchen to clear.”|
|Thinking: “I’m so happy to see them this morning!” |
Provided a loving morning greeting; expressed genuine excitement for spending more time together
|Thinking: "Why are they talking? It's too early for me to process this. This is why I prefer to do this alone."|
|Thinking: “Didn’t they hear me?” Excitement faltering||Thinking: “Ignore all noises to get back on routine”|
|Thinking: “I’ll repeat it louder to be heard and to amplify excitement”||Thinking: "S$@&! That was loud! Now I'm anxious. Ugh! I'm gonna be anxious all morning now."|
|Thinking: “What the actual hell? There goes the morning excitement.”||Thinking: "Seriously, why are they yelling this early in the morning?!"|
|Thinking: “I feel attacked for expressing love and I’m going to defend myself.”||Thinking: "That was totally yelling!" |
Not understanding that the nonautistic was just trying to be nice.
|Thinking: ”And, now, I’m being corrected, scolded, and kicked out. What the actual heck?”||Thinking "I'm still shaking from that. Holy cow. What the actual heck?"|
|Thinking: “This is my house, so I will defend myself.”||Thinking: "Working from home means startling people in the kitchen?"|
|Thinking: “Rude. Just rude.”||Thinking: “I just want to get on with my routine.”|
|Thinking: “I am pissed.” |
Leaves feeling annoyed, rejected, and angry all because of greeting a loved one.
|Thinking: "Oh crap, now what did I do?"|
|Thinking from another room: “This argument isn’t done. I will need an apology.”||Thinking "Now they're mad and me AND I'm anxious, GREAT! This is gonna be a GREAT day!" |
Feeling anxious, upset, and confused.
To the autistic: Well, that didn’t go as planned. So, now what?
First, restore your routine.
Second, reach out. Before three hours pass, text your loved one: “This morning did not go well. Can we talk about tonight at 8PM?” To prepare for this conversation,
To the nonautistic: Yes, they upset you. So, now what?
First, calm down and ask yourself, “Does X normally try to hurt me?” Remind yourself this is likely a miscommunication.
Second, ponder: “When has something like this happened before?”
Third, wait for them to reach out. Please, just wait.
To the autistic:
To the nonautistic:
We hope this post is the first in a series that seeks to explore and improve NT-autistic communication and relationships.