A Dozen Ways You Might Be Misunderstanding the Autistic Person In Your Life9 min read

Why do autistic and non-autistic people misunderstand each other so often? 

Because our brains are wired differently, and the way we interact with each other and the world is different based on our neurotype. 

Here are 12 of the most common types of misunderstandings that occur between non-autistic and autistic people:

1.  Why?

When an autistic person asks why?, we literally mean it as a question.  There is no hidden agenda.  We are asking for more information so we can comprehend what is being said to us and carry out the task as requested. 

For non-autistic people, however, asking why? can have a double meaning.  It could literally mean they need clarification, but it could also be a purposeful sign of disrespect. 

In the second scenario, the neurotypical person is not really asking “why?” for clarification, they’re questioning you or your abilities and/or what you’ve asked them to do in an attempt to be insolent.  They are passively implying that an idea is ridiculous.

Most people on the spectrum don’t think this way.  For us, “why” has only one meaning, and that is to gain clarification so we have a complete understanding of what is expected of us. 

2.  Meltdowns vs Tantrums

A tantrum is a purposeful attempt to get something the person throwing the tantrum wants.  It is a tactic.  A meltdown is an uncontrollable explosion of emotion that usually follows multiple experiences of sensory overload.  It is a neurological phenomenon that can’t be controlled. 

If you’re having trouble telling the difference, watch the next time a neurotypical child throws a tantrum because someone has told them, “no.” They will likely have minimal-to-no tears, and they will look up at the people around them to see if their actions are producing the desired response. 

If, however, the child is careening into walls, sobbing, screaming, and banging their head, and if the child makes no attempt to look at others around them or even seem to perceive or recognize others around them, that’s a meltdown. 

3.  Details, Please!

The neurotypical brain is really good at filling in the gaps when somebody is telling them a story about their day or something that happened to them in the past.  The autistic brain often has difficulty with this.  Most of us need detailed explanations in order to understand what is being said to us in order to form a complete picture in our minds. 

When a non-autistic person is in the middle of telling a story or describing a rough part of their day, and they keep being asked for details that they do not deem important (What time of day?  Who were you with?  Did this happen first or did that?), they will feel interrupted, interrogated, and unheard. 

The autistic person, however, is asking those questions so they can relate to the neurotypical person.  It’s not an attempt to cut the person off, it’s an attempt to connect.

Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood and can lead to communication issues on both sides.

4.  Who Are You Again?

Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is common among those on the spectrum.  Some of us have a really difficult time recognizing people out of context.  For example, if we are used to seeing you at church or school, but we see you out in the grocery store or local park, we may feel we recognize you, but we can’t quite make the connection in our minds. 

When an autistic person asks who you are or seems to struggle to remember you, this is exactly what’s happening.  There are no hidden agendas.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t important to them or they have not paid attention to you. 

However, neurotypical people may take this behavior to mean that they are not worth remembering or not worth the bother.  They may mistake the autistic person as being snobby, uppity, or acting “too good for them.”

5.  Solitude

Most autistic people need lots of alone time to recharge after socializing or working.  We need to spend time on our special interests and stay in our routines to feel calm and centered.  Differences in autistic brains make processing social input much more difficult and can become overwhelming.

Unfortunately, this need for solitude can be misconstrued as us not liking our friends and family or acting as though we are “too good for them.”

This is simply not the case.  Again, there is no hidden agenda.  We just need rest.

6.  “Blank Face”

Many autistic people have what is considered a “blank” facial expression or, in more clinical terms, a “flat affect.”  This is that far-away gaze, slack features, and mouth-slightly-open or expressionless look you’ve probably seen quite often. 

Unfortunately, to someone who doesn’t have much experience with autistic people, a “blank face” can cause serious misunderstandings and misconceptions that can lead to hostility and even abuse. 

An autistic person who appears to have no facial expression and a far-away gaze can be mistaken as disrespectful, purposely ignoring others, not being interested, not even trying to understand, or even contemplating murder

Yes, you read that last one correctly.  People who have little experience with individuals on the spectrum may mistakenly believe that someone without some type of facial expression is thinking dangerous thoughts and is, therefore, a danger to others. 

This could be very harmful to the autistic person as it could prompt abuse from those who misinterpret and feel threatened by this lack of facial expression. 

A face devoid of expression could mean many things, including, but not limited to:

  • The autistic person is taking a sensory break to deal with sensory overload.  It’s a mild form of disassociation that helps reset the brain and calm the nerves. 
  • We may be concentrating deeply on something.  This means we are 100% into whatever it is we are doing, and we’re not holding a facial expression.  (For many autistics, maintaining a facial expression takes concentrated effort.)
  • Many autistic people have a lack of connectivity between the parts of the brain responsible for processing emotion and those responsible for coordinating facial expressions, so they might be extremely interested, excited, upset, or angry, but their face won’t reflect their emotion.  Controlling facial expressions can be even more difficult when they’re tired.
  • Some of us don’t use facial expressions until there is someone to use them around, so if we’re not aware you’re in the room, our faces may default back to expressionless.  I know mine does!

7.  Lack of Eye Contact

For many autistics, eye contact is almost physically painful.  For example, in my case, any time I look someone directly in the eyes, it gives me that “stomach flip” feeling as though I have missed a step going downstairs. 

I can’t maintain long-term eye contact with anyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m disrespecting the person, I have something to hide, or I’m not listening.

In fact, I listen much better when I don’t feel pressured to make eye contact because the sensory overload caused by the eye contact completely skews my ability to process auditory information. 

8.  “White Lies”

From a young age, most all of us are taught that lying is bad and unacceptable, and that we should be honest and speak the truth.  Well, autistic people tend to take that moral lesson a bit more literally than neurotypicals. 

This means, to most autistics, there’s no difference between a regular lie and a “white lie,” which are untruths told to spare someone’s feelings. 

It seems this is something that neurotypical people can easily differentiate between without being told.  Autistic people, on the other hand, need to have this explained because it doesn’t come naturally to us. 

Furthermore, once we learn a social rule, it essentially becomes written in stone for us. 

In other words: Don’t lie.  Full stop. 

We don’t realize there are exceptions or know when to apply them, which means if you ask us how your breath is, and we think it smells like the business end of a yak, we’ll tell you. 

If you ask us how we liked your cooking, and we think it tasted like boiled slug, we’ll tell you.  If you ask us what we think of your new haircut, and we think you look like Ronald McDonald after a 3-day bender, we’ll tell you. 

As you can see, I really enjoy humor.  Most of us probably won’t get that descriptive, but it also won’t even occur to us to not answer you truthfully when you ask us a question.  After all, if we ask a question, we are expecting honest feedback and not seeking validation.

9.  Observing Out Loud

Speaking of the truth, some autistic people make out-loud observations about our world with mixed results.  For us, we’re simply pointing out what we are seeing with our eyes.  It’s not meant to be, but some of these observations may be seen as intentionally rude or offensive. 

Think of it this way, if a child of any neurotype pointed and said, “That dog has a lot of spots!” when referring to a Dalmatian, it wouldn’t sound offensive. 

However, if that same child pointed and said, “That lady has a lot of spots!” when referring to her acne, that would sound very offensive. 

The thing is, for many autistic people, there’s no difference in these two sentences.  Both are just observations, no offense intended. 

As with any type of social etiquette rule, this difference is something we can learn, but the understanding of it doesn’t come automatically to most people on the spectrum.

10.  Tone of Voice

Many people on the spectrum have what is considered a monotone (flat) tone of voice or they speak a bit louder than those around them.  This flat and loud tone can be mistaken for aggression or disrespect when it is neither.  This is just the way the person speaks.  Oftentimes, autistic people cannot hear the tone of our own voices and/or don’t realize how it sounds to others. 

Personally, I used to have a very flat and monotone voice, but I’ve learned to add inflection and pitch changes as I’ve matured.  I’ve also learned to lower the volume, but only after years of practice.  I used to overcompensate by speaking too quietly, and this didn’t work, either. 

This may be something the autistic person in your life can also learn to do, although not everybody on the spectrum is able to change the tone of their voice, and that’s OK, too. 

11.  Vagueness

If you’ve made plans with your autistic loved one, and they don’t show up when you expect them to, or they turn up in another part of the building completely, you may mistake this as lack of caring or attention or even think that the person is messing with you. 

The truth is, vagueness can be quite confusing for many autistic people.  When making plans with a person on the spectrum, give concrete information. 

Instead of, “I’ll meet you at the restaurant downtown about 5ish,” give us more, otherwise we may have questions we’re afraid to ask.  For example, “Is 5ish a little before 5 or after 5?  Am I meeting him by the door?  In the parking lot?  In the building?”

These unanswered questions swirling around in our minds can cause us to panic and appear distressed when we finally do meet up, which may lead to even further misunderstandings. 

Instead, try this, “I’ll meet you at Sam’s Restaurant on Main Street on Saturday at 5 PM, and I’ll be waiting for you inside at the bar.”

12.  Autonomous Initiative

This is a concept I recently wrote about on my Facebook page.  Somebody else came up with the phrase, and I expanded on it.  Basically, autonomous initiative is the ability to see something that needs to be done and do it without prompting or reminders. 

For example, you may wonder why the autistic person in your life doesn’t do the dishes, or put the laundry away, or take out the trash when it obviously needs to be done.  The thing is, many of us can’t see that it needs to be done.  Seeing those things might not prompt any response at all because it’s just background information to us like the couch or the TV. 

It’s very easy to mistake this behavior for purposeful laziness, but it’s not.  Autistic people often need to be told very specifically what is expected of them and given reminders either verbally or set on their phone.  Once a chore becomes a part of our routine, it usually gets done without prompting. 

However, everyone is different.  Some may need more help and others may need less. 

I want to thank The Aspergain Contributor team for helping me with this one.  I couldn’t get past number 5, and I knew there were a LOT more. 

Can you think of any misunderstandings to add?  What misunderstandings have you experienced?  Let us know in the comments.

Jaime A. Heidel - The Articulate Autistic

Hello, I'm Jaime A. Heidel, The Articulate Autistic. I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2015, at the age of 35. In addition to being on the spectrum, I also have OCD and PTSD. I am VERY grateful that the Aspergian team invited me to join this amazing group of neurodiverse people from all walks of life. In addition to writing, I also have a YouTube video series called "Why Autistic People Do That", so feel free to check it out! Also, I'm a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I identify as a queer femme.
Buy Me a Coffee

102 Comments

  1. I’ve got a MASSIVE one to add.  I didn’t realise how much people do it until I saw my son get confused and upset.

    Teasing.  Please, please, don’t tease us.  If you’re joking, please say that, immediately afterwards, even if you communicate it with a massive obvious wink or goofy face. 

    I don’t know how other people feel about this but to us two, teasing feels the same as bullying.  If we get upset about it, please stop.  Just stop.  It’s confusing and upsetting.

    1. Author

      I’m the same way about teasing.  It’s taken me a long time, but I usually get that it’s a joke now, but if it’s somebody new, I won’t. 

      1. That’s totally me too!  Even at almost 40 years old I still can’t always tell when someone is teasing and it always hurts.  My ASD daughter is 14 and probably better at recognizing teasing than I am!

    2. I’m so glad you added this.  I can take the Mickey out of myself because I know it’s in fun but other people doing it really hurts as I take it seriously unless they goof it up well.

      1. I am a very sarcastic person generally, and always made sure my autistic kids knew I wasn’t being serious.  Now when I make a joke I can see the recognition in their eyes and the, “I know you’re not being serious mum” follows it.  Pretty sure they only get me using sarcasm though lol

  2. I’d like to add something to the “Tone of Voice” topic.  Tone of voice is huge in terms of misinterpretation.  Throughout my life I’ve been told I was detached, argumentative, or defensive when most often I am simply having a conversation, or I am in the middle of a stressful situation (or sensory overload) when someone asks me question.  In the latter scenario, I can’t -not- sound rude.  It is so so hard to get allistic people to understand that sometimes (most of the time, tbh) I simply CANNOT control my tone of voice.  And my tone of voice, similar to facial expressions, is not related to my emotion!  I often talk faster when I’m excited about a topic, and this can come off as argumentative or defensive to an allistic person.  Other times I can sound “calm” or “relaxed” when I’m in a lot of pain (because slow, monotone voice) and simply cannot mask my inflection to sound panicked or hurried, so they often don’t even realize I’m in pain.

    I’d also emphasize that many people tell me I’m “interrupting” them not because I literally interrupted them (they were done saying words, they weren’t saying more words after what they just said), but because I didn’t socially or emotionally “acknowledge” what they were previously saying.  It seems like a sharp change in subject (which doesn’t offend me when others do it to me, I’ve had lovely conversations this way) for some reason seems to send negative social signals to allistic people, and this is often perceived as “interrupting.”

    1. Author

      Yes!  I’m the same way with both my tone and “interrupting”.  I often forget to have a response to what someone just said to me before I either move onto another topic or continue the topic from another angle.  I have heard what they’ve said and understand it, but I have to force myself to have a verbal response to it, or it won’t happen. 

      1. This is so good to know.  My partner always does this to me, and I just thought he was being rude. 
        I will tell him a story about my day, and he will respond with his own story about bad traffic, with no response to my story. 
        I feel like he is self-absorbed and only cares about his own thoughts and ideas.  Lately, I don’t bother telling him anything because, why bother?  It is so one-sided.  I might as well be talking to myself if he doesn’t reply.
        Anyways, Thank you for sharing your perspective.  It helps me understand a lot better.

        1. He responds to your story with one of his own because, as far as I remember, that’s what we’re taught to do to show that we’re connecting with you.  Please stop applying neurotypical social standards to autistics.  It’s unfair.  It’s the same thing as expecting a blind person to look harder or a Deaf person to listen better.

          1. Author

            This is true of autistic people.  That’s how we connect.  We may hear what you have said, but we don’t even think to acknowledge it before sharing a story of our own.  This is how autistic people connect.  Neurotypical people connect differently.  They listen and respond to the other person and then share a story if it’s relevant.  He’s definitely not trying to be selfish, and he’d probably be quite confused if you accused him of that.  You can tell him directly what you’d like him to do, though.  That should work fine. 

        2. Author

          You’re welcome.  🙂

  3. Where I have often stumbled and felt misunderstood as an Aspie is when I’ve tried to mimic NT behavior and the result wasn’t the same.  For example, NT friends poke fun at each other constantly, but if I try the same thing it doesn’t work.  Many mimicked “jokes” have gotten me in trouble over the years.  I wasn’t trying to offend, I was trying to fit in.

    1. Author

      I understand that completely.  I’m pretty good with humor and sarcasm, actually, so I haven’t faced too much of this particular struggle as an adult (as a kid, I did), but I do know the pain and confusion of thinking you’re saying the exact same thing as an NT person and having the entire room stop to look at you like you’ve just suggested throwing a kitten into traffic! 

      1. I often take a joke too far.  Shoulda shut up a few sentences ago.

      2. My son has Asperger syndrome and I see so much here that is familiar.  I love him so much and sometimes he seems harsh with me, and it hurts my feelings.  I have learned to just not take it personally or to heart.  He does not mean to be harsh.  He would not hurt a fly.  Thanks for bringing this all out.

        1. Author

          You’re welcome.  Thank you for your comment!  🙂

    2. I’ll second that one!  I actually got accused of sexual harassment when I was younger.  A girl I worked with did so after I made the exact same joke that a bunch of other people did, mostly men.  But I’M the one that gets accused of sexually harassing her.  (Stupid joke about our wrist rests made of silicone like boobies)

  4. I feel so SEEN right now.  Thanks very much for the simple explanation of face blindness, as well.  It is something I recognized in myself and only recently realized other people also experience, but I struggled with how to explain it to folks who don’t share that experience. 

    In terms of other misunderstandings to add, may I suggest flirting?  I am usually entirely oblivious to when someone is flirting with me unless they are being very obvious in their intent.  Likewise, I sometimes have individuals (or their spouses!) misunderstand my intentions when I am attempting to be genuinely friendly instead of my usual socially awkward.

    1. Author

      I have had both of these problems!  Not having any idea when somebody is flirting with me or being mistaken for flirting with someone when I have no intention of it!

    2. Absolutely!  I’m always accused of flirting when I’m just being friendly but conversely never know if someone is flirting with me.

  5. Would love to hear more about being diagnosed autistic later in life.  Did everything suddenly make sense with the diagnosis?

    1. Author

      Ah, well, everything made sense when I diagnosed myself back in 2008, so I already knew, I just needed it confirmed.  But, yes!  Every single thing made so much sense.  It was amazing (and heartbreaking and embarrassing) and so many emotions at once!

    2. Yes, as soon as I realised, before I even went to my doctor, everything made sense at last.  I’m still processing that.  I’ve been over a lifetime of memories, looking at them from this new angle.  Its painful, very painful.  But also I can forgive people who I thought were being deliberately mean to me, because, if I didn’t know I was different then how could they know?

      Its a slow painful process but – and I can’t remember who originally said this – it is like I’ve spent my whole life drifting in a vast ocean, and finally, I’ve found land.

    3. Yes, I was just identified as autistic earlier this year at age 57, and it’s been making a huge difference ever since.

    4. Not overnight, but pretty quickly over the months since.  One insight after another.

  6. I just want to say that I really like the differences you spell out between a tantrum and a meltdown.  I’ve never thought to explain that in a meltdown the child/person isn’t looking at other people and there are usually more tears.  I think the key difference is that during meltdowns we really do feel overwhelmed and out of control. 

    Also, you sort of touched on this in your point about “Why,” but one difference I end up explaining very often is that there is zero subtext. 

    Example: If I tell my husband I’m exhausted and stressed about the messy house I don’t mean, “you don’t do enough.”  If that was how I felt I would clearly say it.  I say exactly what I mean, with nothing meant to be inferred.

    1. Author

      Yes, there is a lot of inference among NT people.  I remember an incident where I complimented my aunt and uncle’s positive treatment of me, but I said it around my dad, and my dad thought I was taking a purposeful jab at him.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around it until somebody actually took the time to explain it!

  7. Very well explained, thank you.  I’m still not sure about your point Number 8.  I can see your view on Aspies telling the truth but why are most of the truths they tell negative but honest about poor or ugly things why then not complimentary about things which are attractive or good.  NTs like compliments and appreciation as much as Aspies do?

    1. I have had people not believe me when I say complimentary things or at least they say things like, “I didn’t do well; I made lots of mistakes.”  When they do that, I feel like they are calling me a liar or too ignorant to know what constitutes a good job.

      Another thing that happens is that they think the compliment means more than an observation.  I really liked the pattern on a lady’s dress.  I commented on it to my NT friend that was eating with me and she gave me a weird look.  I didn’t ask her what the look meant.  I know that I did something wrong, but sometimes I don’t even want to ask what I did wrong *this time*, iykwim.

      1. Author

        It’s so frustrating when that happens.  I understand.  It could have been for any number of reasons.  Your tone of voice, if you happened to interrupt her while she was talking, if the comment seemed to “come out of nowhere”.  There are a lot of things that are considered “odd” behavior to NTs, even if it’s not considered outright “wrong”. 

      2. I’d say your NT friend did not agree with your observation if she gave a look.  Her thoughts were likely “really?  That surprises me I think it’s horrid”

    2. Author

      I can’t speak for all ND people, but look through the comments at the woman who made a positive comment on someone’s dress.  We get looked at strangely for making compliments, as well, because we are apparently not doing it in the right tone of voice or at the right time.  It’s very confusing and disheartening for us.  I don’t think either is received very well for a lot of ND people. 

    3. The examples listed are bad, but people don’t get mad at us for the truth when it’s a good truth unless they were looking for agreement instead of our actual opinion.  White lies aren’t necessary for good things, I would think?  “Oh it was fine” instead of “I didn’t like it” is expected by/from allistic people while an autistic person would say “I didn’t like it” (probably as gently as possible if we knew it would hurt feelings) instead of trying to say it was fine.  If we liked it and they asked, it’s a sincere, “Yes!”

    4. We do give lots of compliments but people think we’re flirting!  ( deposits above)

    5. Because apparently, NTs don’t believe me when I give a compliment.  I don’t have the right nonverbal “something” that makes them believe I mean what I say. 

      I always mean what I say.  But I’m not going to wear myself out trying to convince someone suspicious that I intend no harm with my statements.  I’ll go with honesty, and if it’s negative most of the time, at least it’s honest.

  8. Wonderfully written!  Thank you!  One thing I would add is in the tantrum/meltdown section.  Please include shutdowns as many of us female autistics (and some males too) tend to have shutdowns instead of meltdowns.  It is a total drawing inwards and sometimes includes mutism, when faced with overwhelming overstimulation.  From the outside, NTs may misinterpret it as either agreement (you didn’t say no, so I assumed you were okay with it), or attribute it to something other than what it actually is.

    1. Author

      Thank you for the reminder.  I think I need to do an entire article on this, actually.

  9. It would be great for schools to understand the nuances more.  And that different things happen in different environments.  So he met your eyes twice, does not mean he’s being rude when he doesn’t.

    1. Author

      Exactly.  Agreed. 

  10. Literal Question Asking.  When she moved in, my wife would ask me all the time, can you do this?  Can you do that?  I would think about if it were possible and say yes.  Then months later she would tell me how disappointed she was that it didn’t happen, while I didn’t think I agreed to do anything.

    1. Author

      “Can you do this”?  to neurotypical people is, “I want you to do this”, but they say it in a polite way so as not to sound demanding.  They want it done, and they think that ND people understand this automatically when we do not.  This is what causes confusion and disappointment. 

      1. Ah, the ‘CAN’ thing, which has plagued me all my life.  Now the answer is “I can, would you like me to?”.  This results in me being thought of as a grammar nazi [which is fine, as I am] but at least I get to know what they really, really want 🙂

    2. People need to learn the difference between “CAN you do this?”  (as in, are you capable) and “WILL you do this?”  (as in are you willing?)

      Slang is often the problem, because lazy speech patterns leave too much to interpretation.

  11. Something else about tone – it’s not just how WE sound to you.  It’s also how you neurotypicals depend on us picking up how YOU are using tone and attach meaning to it. 

    Your tone of voice, your facial expressions, your body language – they mean nothing to me.  I usually figure out what they mean anywhere from three minutes later to three years later, but it will never happen in the moment. 

    So if you want me to understand what you’re saying, you must say it in words, clearly and completely.  Don’t depend on how you sound, or how you look, to communicate any meaning.  It won’t.

  12. I ask why A LOT.  And to me it has never meant anything more than asking for a reason.  More so because I want details.  I recently learned my “panic attacks” were actually meltdowns (lack of coping and no hyperventilating.) I don’t struggle with face blindness…I actually have a staring problem.  But my short term memory is fading for sure. 

    #8 is so true it’s lost me jobs.  And it’s probably the most obvious thing about me.  Anything that’s not true is a lie in my mind.  When people say that about me or say I haven’t don’t my research and I have…I have a major meltdown.  Like debilitating. 

    I think #12 is interesting.  Because I can see where I’ve done this and had no explanation.  I have ignored several chores or even showering before.  It wasn’t true when I was a kid because we had routine.  And when my mom got real sick and dad died when I was a new teenager…  people tried to keep my routine even though I felt I was growing up too soon.  (I’m sure I have ptsd from that…)

    Anyways—always good articles and enjoy reading them.

  13. Can I please add this one.

    If somebody says something, and I miss some of it, I ask them to repeat it what they said.  And that’s what I want them to fo …  repeat WHAT THEY SAID.  I am trying to process it in my mind and I need them to supply the missing words for me.

    But no!  Neurotypical people DON’T repeat what they said …  they PARAPHRASE IT!  Or they try to EXPLAIN it to me …  and then I need to take their paraphrase or their explanation and reverse-engineer the original statement from this.  Which all takes time.  And while I’m taking that time …  they take my failure to respond as incomprehension.  And so they launch into a THIRD version or what they said, or attempt to explain further, or ask me what I’m not understanding, or … 

    None of this is helpful.

    Please please please …  if an autistic person asks you to repeat what you just said, then please do just that: REPEAT what you just said.  Word-for-word.  That iS what they asked you to do, after all …

    1. Author

      Yes!  Agreed!  Trying to explain it will just confuse me more. 

    2. Yes!  I’ve had arguments with people a out this.  I mean what I say—so when I ask some one to repeat it it’s cause I need more time to process it.  People are so judgmental when things need to be repeated.

    3. For NT people it’s really hard to repeat exactly what we said verbatim.  Once the words are out they’re usually gone.  That’s why we go into explanations or try to reword it because it’s really hard for us to say something the exact same way twice.

      1. How can it be hard to say something the same way you just said it?  That makes no sense.

        1. Author

          Maybe neurotypical brains can’t do that??  If so, that’s not their fault anymore than our brains being wired the way they are. 

          1. As a NT, I am guilty of doing this as well.  No, I don’t remember the EXACT words I may have just said.  I remember the idea of what I said though.  I don’t think all NT are the same–for example, introverts and extroverts approach conversations differently.  I have introvert friends who think deeply before they say anything and many extrovert friends who just say whatever comes to mind.  I do both depending on the situation.  It is difficult to remember my exact words if it was over 4 or 5 words though. 
            Thank you so much for this article and this discussion!  Your perspective helps greatly in my marriage!

          2. Author

            I’m so glad it’s helping!

        2. I think the autistic brain better holds onto what’s been recently said (A combination of echolalia and really thinking through before speaking) than the neurotypical brain.

          A lot of people just start the mouth motor running and say whatever version of what they want to say that first comes to mind, without retaining it.  I doubt that there are many autistics in that category, though!

          1. That makes no sense to me at all.  NTs don’t think about what they’re going to say before they say it?  They don’t plan out what they have to say?

          2. Author

            From what I understand, they really don’t.  I could be wrong, though.

        3. I can relate to a lot of these different topics on what autistic people do.  I also agree with a lot of these items because I have ADHD and I am on the autism spectrum for having it.  I am also 18 years old and I was diagnosed with it at the age of 8 years old.  This has given me a lot of new knowledge about what my Neurodiverse brain does and why it does why it does.  Thanks so much for the Information it was very useful to me.

          1. Author

            Thank you so much for your comment!  Actually, if you have ADHD, you are on the neurodiverse spectrum.  Autism is a different branch in the neurodiversity spectrum.  😉

    4. Yes Jeremy, I can so relate!  Sometimes I want to say “I missed the topic sentence, just repeat it.”  Yet they think you misunderstood.  I have trouble switching my attention right off the bat and almost always need the first thing repeated, otherwise I’m lost.

  14. I think the empathy misconception is an important one.  Whether it be because of lack of facial expression in response to sad news, or distancing oneself from sad news due to empathic distress, people are often led to believe that autistic people lack empathy.

    1. Author

      Yes.  Exactly.

  15. Follow up to the tell the truth/white lies bit: I know that if I ask neurotypical people for constructive criticism they may default to reassurance regardless of what they actually think, which means I find it very hard to trust that compliments/positive feedback are honest.  So compliments often make me feel very uncomfortable since rather than getting a self esteem boost I’m trying to gauge whether the person isn’t lying or not. 
    My mom and I (both self diagnosed aspies) were discussing this; she in particular really values words of affirmation BUT also has a hard time believing them, unless they are provided anonymously or she hears about it from someone else, or if someone compliments her work without realizing it was her work.  If it’s a compliment to her face, well, we all know how neurotypical people lie.  (Rare compliments from my aspie dad are trusted, because he is incapable of white lies!)

    1. For NTs we typically use the sandwich rule when constructive criticism is being made..compliment, criticism, compliment..it makes criticism easier to swallow for us..

  16. – NTs tend to imply a lot and to “not say” a whole lot of stuff.  This makes me paranoid.

    Example: My boss brought me to the computer at work the other day, saying something like “Oh look what I found on the internet yesterday!”.  When I checked the screen, it was a job offer for a whole other job than I do (I roll sushi, it was for a job in a museum near my mouse.).  So I read and say yeah, that’s a noce job.  And just go back to work.  A bit later, I remember how people try to say things without saying them.  Is she trying to tell me in a nice way that she wants me gone?  Is she trying to tell me that they don’t have enough work to keep me?  Or did she just stumble on this and thought I might be interested, out of pure niceness?

    – NTs tend to look for a hidden meaning.

    Somehow, saying “I’m tired” or “Please pass the salt” mean a thousand other things.  Explaning over and over again that when I say a word, it’s the actual litteral word that I mean and not some other twisted unsaid mysterious thing that you have to investigate and extrapolate.  It is so exhausting…!

    1. Author

      You’re right.  It’s absolutely exhausting.  To be blunt (sorry), your boss seems like she’s trying to nicely find you a new job because you’re not working out at this one.  I would look into the other job, just in case!

      1. Under normal circumstances I would agree with you, but in this case I think she just genuinely was trying to share something that she tought might interest me.  I’ve been working there for more than a year and they regularly tell me that I do a good job and that they like my work.  Also, with the extreme staff shortage in my region, I would have to suck a LOT at my job to lose it.  They have spent the whole year accomodating my special needs and they are very kind, comprehensive and collaborative.

        It was more an example of a situation than a real “threatening” situation in this case.  But I have been in that kind of position in the past, under different circumstances and yes, I did lose the job.  lol

        Also, I am currently beginning a new career in translation.  Restauration is very hard on the body and sensory disorder.  When I was younger it was doable, but now I find it too hard and exhausting.  Working on my computer in the comfort of my home will be a huge improvment.  🙂

        1. Author

          In that case, I’m happy for you.  🙂

          1. Thank you!  And thank you for your blog.  I share it often because it synthetizes well some ideas that I struggle to explain and my NTs understand some stuff from time to time when they care to read.  lol

            Keep up the good work and take care xxx

    2. I hate when I don’t understand what people are implying until its too late.  Last week my hubby asked if I would be around on Thursday because his aunt and uncle wanted to stop by.  I said my sister and I had a beach day planned.  He asked if I would be home by 5.  I said maybe, I wasn’t sure.  Conversation over.  I did not realize I was supposed to try to be home by 5.  When he called me at 4:30 and I said we hadn’t left the beach yet he was mad, and still mad when we finally got back around 7:30 and his aunt and uncle were long gone.  In retrospect, I guess I should have known they would want to see the kids, but it didn’t occur to me that day and my hubby didnt specifically ask me to be home by 5.  I thought he would say it outright if it mattered so much!

  17. I’m a mom.  My son, who is seven has autism.  Two things I think people struggle with are #1 his receptive language (delay?) He doesn’t respond to most people, and can’t be asked a million questions (like lots of adults like to do with neurotypical kiddos)
    #2 he has a hard time with speach, and I can’t even understand what he says most of the time.  Sometimes he LOVES just rambling on at people about whatever he wants, and they don’t really know what to say in response.  Some people look at him strangely.  I’d hate to know what they were thinking.  This again makes it difficult when people are asking him questions, and trying to make conversation with him. 
    He isn’t being rude, he isn’t weird or ignorant. 
    He generally really happy to chat with people.  Most people are sweet and patient with him.  If your lucky he might quote and act out a movie for you.  😆 He’s brilliant. 

    Love this topic.  Thanks for writing it.

    1. Author

      Thank you for your comment!  Your son sounds like a sweetheart.  🙂

  18. I found the point about ‘autonomous initiative’ really interesting, and it’s absolutely something that’s been a struggle for me.  I recently had a conversation with my mom that covered much of the same ground, specifically around household cleaning.  She explained how, when she sees an area like the kitchen counter, she sees the individual objects and categorizes them by where they should go – dishes for the sink, food for the pantry, garbage for the, well, garbage, etc.  Meanwhile, I look at the same area and just see a mess.  It’s a little disheartening!

    1. Autistic people tend to see all the individual details, whereas non-autistic people see the big picture (ex.  how everything relates to each other).  Categorizing items or tasks in regards to cleaning in order to break big general tasks into small specific steps is more natural/intuitive for non-autistic people, but it can be learned.  For example, you can make a list of the steps for cleaning the kitchen and then follow those steps every time you need to clean the kitchen (rather than having to try to figure it out every single time like it’s the first time).  This has helped me to reduce the panic I feel about cleaning that comes from feeling so overwhelmed by all the details, possibilities, and questions that it feels like I have no idea how to do something.

  19. I have one to add: stress and pain.

    Non-autistics use all kinds of hyperbole to describe their pain.  Autistics often understate what we’re going through, especially those of us who have been gaslit or ignored.

    If a non-autistic person says “I can’t deal with this anymore,” it might mean that they’re tired or frustrated.
    If an autistic person says “I can’t deal with this anymore,” it might mean that they’re on the verge of a panic attack or meltdown.

    My family seems to think that I’m exaggerating when I say that the sounds of stone dishes hitting each other is really painful.  (Either that or they don’t care that much if they’re hurting me.)

    If a non-autistic person says they’re extremely distressed, it could be true, or they could be exaggerating for comedic effect.
    If an autistic person says they’re extremely distressed, then they probably feel way worse than they’re letting on, and you need to take it very seriously.

    1. Author

      This one!  Yes!  If we say it, it’s REALLY a problem!

    2. Have you heard of hyperacusis?  A decent number of autistic people also have hyperacusis, very likely genetic for many of us (physical ear pain with moderately loud sounds).  I have the same problem with dishes clanking as well.  I’ve found that it helps to have a word to describe it – so I can say I have hyperacusis which makes it a little more tangible for other people to understand.Unfortunately it’s not something that’s really well-known at all, even among audiologists.

      1. Yes, I’ve heard of it, but never knew what it is exactly.  You say it’s physical pain associated with loud noise?

        If so, I totally have it.

  20. I get seen as uncaring when experiencing burnout.  It is not understood that my empathy has actually been overloaded because I feel too much on a regular basis.  It causes me to hault all giving of myself emotionally speaking, which is necessary in order to get my emotionally triggered sensory issues under control.  I just can’t people proper when I am distressed.

    1. Author

      I can completely identify with this. 

      1. Hurting people are drawn to us because we go there with them.I have had to present as callused out of self preservation.  Those same people are so uncomfortable with my pain, they have nothing for me and in a situation like this, as petty as it seems, you better be keeping score.

  21. WHY is such an important question to address.  Most autistics genuinely NEED to understand the whys of just about everything.

    Not all of us have blank expressions.  Some of us are overly transparent, and cannot avoid showing EVERYTHING.  This is also often misinterpreted.

    The part about details also often goes both ways.  We need details, and it’s hard not to include them for others as well.  Especially if it seems the other isn’t understanding, we try to fill in so that the truth is more evident.  Repeating and filling in details is an attempt to make the truth clear to all.  But it isn’t always appreciated.

    Truth and consistency matters.  Always.  Society is so very arbitrary and difficult to understand.  We depend upon honesty in others to know how to respond.  We are generally open and “deep” (we cannot do small talk well, so we instantly plunge into the depths of whatever subject is currently being discussed).  We are not necessarily unkind, but we are so often misunderstood that it can seem that way.

    And when non-autistics shun us suddenly without telling us why, it can hurt us more deeplly than you know.  Please talk to us and let us know why.

    1. Author

      Yes to all of this!

  22. Great reminders as I live with my Asperger son and husband.  One addition about talking.  I’ve had experiences where people assume my son is slow because he won’t talk to them.  No he only talks to people that have earned his trust.  And he only talks when he has something important to say.

  23. I found that really helpful.  Wish I’d learned it a long time ago, I made so many errors of judgement learning this

  24. Medicine – take 30 minutes before meals.  My Asperger’s son would use a stop-watch after taking the medicine so that he would eat at the right time.  It only means you should have the medicine at least 30 minutes before eating so that the medicine is absorbed on an empty stomach.  An approximation is fine.  They don’t put all that on the label!

  25. Thank you for “A Dozen Ways…….”  and the associated comments.  I strongly identify with so much of this – it’s had me laughing one moment and crying the next.
    I self-diagnosed as having Aspergers some years ago at the age of 68.  It was such a relief!  An explanation at last for why my life had been the way it was, why so many relationships had failed.
    I’ve done a lot of reading since then about Aspergers, but this post has explained so much more.

  26. I was not diagnosed until I was 79 years old.  It was a relief to be able to look back and understand all the stuff ups I had experienced …and there were many!

    1. Author

      79??  Oh, my goodness!  That’s amazing that you were even able to get the diagnosis!  Have you been masking for a lifetime, or have you just always felt like the “odd girl out”? 

      1. What ever I Tried to do always fell in a heap .  I use the term the wheels fell off.  of course I put them back on and would have another go till they fell of.  This has been my life for the last 60 yours.  People have said to me ‘you have a problem’ but never told me what it was.  Even my wife of 59 years knew I had difficulties but did not know what it was.  I did not know that I had a problem .  I just thought the way I acted was normal to me anyway.  As for masking I am hopeless.  I had a saying ‘I can upset people without trying’.  Now I knot I am an Aspie I am learning the cause of the wheels falling off and how to prevent that from happening.  I was diagnosed in November 1918, best thing that ever happened to me.

        1. Author

          1918, huh?  How old are you again?  lol!  😉

          1. I am 80 years and looking forward to another 20!

  27. I’m 50, and it seems I am autistic from reading this.

  28. If Autism is “the extreme male brain” (Simon Baron Cohen) – then isn’t lack of automonous initative related to why men don’t iron?  Why men don’t clean to the same standard or whatever it is that stereotypically drives women to do it?

    1. Author

      Oh, goodness.  Is that “extreme male brain” theory still floating around? 

  29. RE: the face blindness… 
    I have mistaken strangers for people I know, failed to recognize people I know, and mistaken people I know for each other.  I often have trouble keeping track of who’s who in TV shows or movies with lots of characters.  And while it doesn’t matter if i get lost in a TV show, I have had serious professional consequences from being partly face blind, including losing job opportunities and real problems at work.  I rarely use names of people in conversation so it covers me for that extra time, when I am speaking with someone but I am not sure yet who they are.  It doesn’t affect me at all with close friends and family, but it is brutal with acquaintances, people who are out of context, or work contacts I’ve seen once or twice. 

    And I can’t read emotional expressions until they are cartoon character exaggerated.  So I can be annoying someone without realizing it until they’ve really lost patience.  And of course when someone tells me to “read the room”…  that doesn’t end well.

    1. Author

      I know this feeling.  Just the other day, I went to the bank and a teller said she saw me at a different store where she works, and she said, “I don’t think you recognized me.”  I just told her I don’t recognize people out of context and gave no further explanation.  She didn’t seem upset, but I do know what it’s like when people do get upset over it.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?