For the past few years I’ve been seeing a private psychiatrist who has helped me a lot with my anxiety, depression and trauma. I’ve left university now, and been kicked out of the university’s social group for Autistic students, and all the similar groups I can go to are patronising, pathologising and difficult for me to access. Me and the psychiatrist both agree that the main thing contributing to my depression at the moment is my isolation and loneliness.
I’ve given up on achieving the necessary amount of meaningful human interaction at groups for Autistic people, and started looking for groups aimed at neurotypicals. (Of course these groups don’t say they’re specially aimed at NTs, but I think in practice they usually are.) I’ve found a birdwatching group that runs regular talks that have an interval where people chat over cups of tea. At the first one I went to, someone approached me and talked to me because I was new. The room was noisy and distracting, so I forgot to look at her, and I think she misinterpreted it as meaning I didn’t want to talk to her. I find it hard to know what to say in those situations, and in general I’m bad at human interaction and relationships.
My psychiatrist said I should try to learn conversation skills from books – there are social skills books aimed at NTs, as well as at Autistic people. I said I was worried those books would teach me to behave like an NT, and I wanted to interact Autistically, but I couldn’t explain what I meant by that. He said I needed to learn social skills if I was going to make friends and that refusing to do it was like moving to France and refusing to learn French.
I don’t think that analogy is right though. My situation is more like being a native speaker of a language that’s been suppressed, like Welsh or British Sign Language, and growing up being bullied and punished for using your native language. You’re told you have to learn English, the language of the people who mistreated you, if you’re going to have relationships. But you’re incapable of becoming fluent in English – you make a lot of mistakes when you speak it, you can only understand part of what people say to you, and you manage by parroting phrases you’ve learned but don’t fully understand.
I know I need to better understand and use neurotypical communication, but I want people to try to understand my language as well. I also see a difference between passing skills that help me avoid discrimination and smooth over interactions with NTs I don’t want deep relationships with; and social skills that help me have meaningful relationships as an Autistic person. I want to learn both sets of skills.
It’s probably inherent to the field of psychiatry that the aim is to fix people’s brains and bring them closer to being NT. That approach works for my actual brain problems like depression, but not for difficulties caused by being Autistic.
The psychiatrist thinks I’m being stubborn. But I like my stubbornness. I think it’s helped me get through times when everyone else thought they knew what was best for me, even though I understand myself better than anyone.
I think my concept of ‘interacting Autistically’ comes from Jim Sinclair. In their article about how they founded the first Autistic community, Sinclair wrote about Autistic people connecting with each other using the things they’re passionate about, and interacting by stimming together.
This is what I mean by incinerating Autistically:
- Sharing information about things we’re interested in
- Sharing our stims
- Using and accepting atypical body language, and trying to get to know other people’s body language
- Being literal and saying what we mean, and/or communicating through echolalia
- Typing to communicate – online and/or in person
Even though I’m Autistic, not all of these things come naturally to me. And I know most people aren’t going to interact with me like this all the time. But I want to try to learn, and to find people who’ll accept me and my communication style. The problem is I don’t know how to learn.
Note: I don’t know the correct pronouns for Jim Sinclair. I used singular they in this post, but I’ll correct it if I find out the right pronouns.