Fine

(This was written a while ago but another blogger posted something with the same title right before, so I’ve waited to post this.)

Somebody asks, “How are you today?”
I answer, “It’s been a hard day, actually.” But in my head I’m saying “You’re supposed to say fine. You’re just supposed to say fine. Don’t say anything more than fine.”
I can’t say “Fine.” It’s not fine. I’m not fine. It has not been a fine day.
So the other person says, “Oh, what’s wrong?”
I don’t answer. It’s not a good question, but I realize I have gone against the script and have prompted it. It’s all my fault for deviation.
In my head I try several responses.
“You probably don’t want to know the gory details.”
“You probably shouldn’t ask unless you really want to know.”
“I’m not very good at only hitting the high spots.”

I know this about myself, but depending on “how I am” – what kind of day it has actually been, and how tired I am, or if I’m anxious or overwhelmed, perhaps have already been barely coping all day (all week, longer) and am at my limit – it may be very difficult to impossible to come up with a suitable response. A response that allows you to save face and not be subjected to the actual truth. A response that lets me not feel guilty and agonize over responding in the wrong way.

I’ll probably struggle to say, “Oh, nothing.” But this is not really acceptable to either of us. You feel bad because I’ve made it obvious that I know you don’t really want to know. I feel bad because I didn’t say it to make you feel bad. I just wanted to let you off the hook.

If you continue and ask, “What’s wrong?” you’re likely to get the whole story with footnotes to make sure you not only understand the issues, but have the necessary background information, in order, play by play, in gory detail.

This isn’t because I’m completely anal or narcissistic, though I will immediately realize that’s what you think. It’s because I’m not really sure what information is important to help you empathize with me. To connect with me in a meaningful way. That’s probably a lot more important to me than it is to you. I know my empathy is often different than other people’s because different things are important to me. It’s one of the reasons small talk is so damn difficult.

So, if you ask an Aspie/Autie how they are, be prepared for the truth. Understand they will pay you the compliment of being honest, of trusting you, and will appreciate your sincere interest.
Or don’t ask. It’ll save you both a lot of frustration.

(This is autisticmotherland’s “Fine”. Different angle and perspective. Go read it!)

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Small Talk

I was reading an excellent post on M. Kelter’s experience of conversation and social input in general – Sorting Social Data (Go read it!) – that resonated with me on a lot of levels.

It’s always so helpful to hear other autistics relate and try to describe their thoughts and experiences on processing issues as it’s so difficult (BECAUSE of processing issues) for me to describe and understand them. I find reading other’s ideas and experiences triggers memories and realizations of my own.

In reading the above post I was reminded of an incident that had happened just the night before. An old friend of my oldest (also autistic) daughter was in our area playing with his band and she had come down from Oakland to join us in going to see them. We picked her sister up from work and, with a couple of hours to kill before the show, went out for Thai food. I love the fact that we can talk about all kinds of random things together, or not talk at all, and (at least as far as I’m aware) don’t feel stress or awkwardness in either case. I think we are completely comfortable together.

About halfway through our meal, two women came in and sat at a neighboring table. My daughters were discussing something, but the conversation at the other table was interfering with my ability to keep track, though I wasn’t purposely or even consciously listening to the other conversation.

Until I was.

I was trying not to laugh. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies and a script that we – both daughters and myself – use frequently:

Mashed Potatoes and Tall Actors

Except they were talking about shopping around for churches and cooking and other unrelated things. One woman had a slow, lugubrious voice and repeated herself several times on seemingly unrelated topics. It was hard to tell whether the other woman was talking too softly for us to hear sometimes or simply wasn’t responding to everything the other lady said.

I looked to see if my daughters had picked up on it and they had, their expressions looking very similar to Sandra Bullock’s at the end of the above clip.

At that point it became impossible for me to focus on almost anything else. It’s just a good thing that we have very good senses of humor. And while I don’t in general like making fun of people, sometimes it’s impossible to not find them funny. We were laughing.

I got to thinking about it today, though. As funny as it was to overhear it, it would have been absolute torture to actually be a part of it. I have a short attention span for such conversations and little of the right kind of imagination or patience to participate in topics I’m not interested in. If it’s a case of showing interest in a friend’s interest, I can do that. I can think of pertinent questions to ask and respond appropriately (I think) because I care about my friend and am able to be interested (however temporarily) for their sake. I am interested in their interest, not necessarily the topic itself.

It’s harder to monitor interest when the topic is shifted in my direction. I can talk at great length about the subjects that fascinate or affect me deeply. The subject of autism creeps into almost everything if I’m not careful. It’s such a huge part of my life – how I live, how I process things, how I teach, and so many of my students are also autistic – that I have to closely monitor myself and the people I’m talking to, even my own family. Music and teaching in general, likewise. I think I’ve gotten much better at self-regulation lately, but I still get carried away and too passionate for some people sometimes. That is always followed by anxiety and self-recrimination, which I try very hard to avoid.

But if there’s no passion in the topic on either side, merely mundane chit-chat – no, I can’t do that for long at all. I will become extremely exhausted very quickly. I’ll try to, as politely as possible, extricate myself from the situation. If that doesn’t work or isn’t possible, I’ll just walk away. If I’m part of a group that is engaging in it, I’ll just leave. I think it’s sometimes taken as rude, but it seems to me that it would be far more rude to interrupt the conversation to say that I’m leaving. Why would I want to draw attention to that fact?

I rarely participate in conversations at work. The staff room is not a place to relax and be comfortable for me. I DO like to connect with people, but I need to do it in small doses and preferably one-on-one where it’s easier to follow conversation and know when I’m expected to talk (notice I said easier, not easy). I can do the “Nice weather today”s with friends and strangers alike if I’m not overwhelmed by other issues, but if I am, you might not get an appropriate response or response of any kind. And please don’t ask me how I’m doing unless you really care and want to know the truth. Sometimes having to say, “Fine” because I know that’s the only response the asker will tolerate, makes me feel like my head will explode.

The other issue with trying to be sociable in the staff room (or other social gatherings/places) is it takes a huge concentrated effort to participate, even on topics I am interested in, and sometimes even just to listen. Sooner or later (but usually sooner) I’m aware that I’m not responding/acting/speaking in the right way. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done wrong but there’s a definite chill in the atmosphere and my brain starts screaming, “Shut up!” or “Disappear!” or “You’re an idiot!”(to myself, not the others!) And most of the time I have no idea why. It’s even worse when I know I’ve said or done something – usually expressed an opinion or preference – that is unwelcome, socially unacceptable, or politically incorrect (though probably honest and true), no matter how inconsequential it is. Then I’m going to suffer for days. Anxiety goes through the roof and I may suffer PTSD symptoms. I don’t need the punishment of others – I do it to myself!

B B Shepherd is a musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog

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Autistics Speaking Day

[Autistics Speaking Day 2015]

I didn’t find out about this until Friday night and would have liked to write a post. I have plenty I want to say. But between trying to get some assignments done on Saturday (college class) and becoming socially exhausted today, I didn’t. There are so many wonderful people who did, though, and I’d like to honor their efforts and spread their words further. Be aware that there may be trigger warnings on some of the posts. Please click on the picture or follow the link to Autistics Speaking Day. I’m going to enjoy coming back to it again and again until I’ve read them all. My goal now is to have something ready for next year!

#autismspeaks10 and #actuallyautistic #autismchampions – part one

The recent attempt of actually Autistic people to be heard above (and in spite of) Autism Speak’s 10 year anniversary has been interesting, to say the least, and obviously not at all what they were expecting. Certain outlets of the media “attempted” to cover the story – including MTV, which I tried to comment on only to realize that the story had been pulled – with disheartening results. This article is reblogged from Jess (Diary of a Mom), one of the most intelligent and eloquent voices I’ve heard out there for Autism advocacy.

a diary of a mom

Screen shot 2015-03-01 at 8.39.02 AM

{image is a screen shot of a tweet: @autismspeaks On 2/25 Autism Speaks turns 10-years-old! Tell us how AS has touched your life at AS10Years@gmail.com #AutismSpeaks10}

Screen shot 2015-03-01 at 9.30.06 AM

{image is a screenshot of a tweet: @stevesilberman Autistic people have taken over the hashtag #AutismSpeaks10 to oppose negative messaging. It’s quite a thing.}

The past couple of weeks have been nothing if not colorful in the world of autism advocacy. It all began when, ahead of its 10th anniversary last Wednesday, Autism Speaks asked its 168,000 Twitter followers and 1.5 million Facebook fans to use the hashtag #AutismSpeaks10 to share “how AS has touched your life.” The response was, I would imagine, not quite what they were hoping it would be.

In an article detailing what happened next, Virginia Hughes, BuzzFeed Science Editor, wrote:

Instead of heartwarming stories of gratitude, the hashtag has sparked hundreds of angry missives from autistic people and…

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The Little Professor is Compensating for Something: Theory of Mind and Pedantic Speech

Excellent post from The Artism Spectrum about why we over-explain.

The Artism Spectrum

“That woman is irritating,” Cara says.

“What?” I say. “Why?”

“She can’t separate herself from her own knowledge[.] […] She keeps saying things like they’re obvious when they are not, in fact, obvious.”

(—Veronica Roth, Allegiant)

pedantictwilightFULL Drawn w/ GIMP. Yes, it’s My Little Pony. Who better to illustrate pedantic speech than Twilight Sparkle?

The inspiration for today’s post comes from… a novel I’m reading, believe it or not. I’ve finally gotten around to reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series this week, which my mother has been raving about for years. It’s actually been pretty great! It’s very Young Adult Fiction, so anyone not used to the genre will probably hate the writing style, but the story is gripping, and I’m loving the diversity and dimensionality of the characters. Plus, I have a soft spot for dystopian young adult scifi.   If you’re a Divergent fan, don’t worry; this post is…

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