We need to know when we're getting it right.
As young autistic people, particularly undiagnosed, we often don’t realise what it is that we’re feeling or thinking because just as non autistics compare us to themselves, we do the same.
As children, our point of navigation for ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ is often our parents and others we are directly connected to, including our peers. And because a large portion of what we experience as people on the spectrum is internalised (thoughts, senses, sensory sensitivity, emotional dysregulation, panic, sadness, anxiety), when we don’t see these things physically manifested or expressed outwardly by others, we KNOW we are different, but we don’t quite know HOW or WHY.
It creates more and more stress for us when we don’t know that others share our anxieties, fears, worries and joys because it creates more of a sense of difference and disconnection.
What connects us to others and has us feeling safe is when others share their own inner worlds with us. Their own fears, worries, joys. This is how we plug into people, with their energy, with the source-the guts of who they are.
This is what we autistics seek out in others.
There is much written and said about us not being able to ‘read’ others. But here’s an aspect attached to this understanding that is often overlooked..
Many human beings are extremely guarded around their inner world-their thoughts, feelings and their ability to be vulnerable with others.
Many autistic people will openly ask questions and make comments about what we are picking up in others such as “You seem really sad today”.
More often than not, the response we receive can be one of annoyance where the other person will respond with almost a defensive stance “No? Why? I’m fine, totally fine.”
Often, this isn’t the truth but the person doesn’t wish to share their situation, which is okay.
But here’s the predicament for the autistic person:
They’ve read you loud and clear, you’ve told them they’re wrong, and they lose their faith in their intuition in how to connect with others and the seeds of self doubt are planted. They then believe themselves to be a person who struggles with reading or understanding others due to their autism.
And it isn’t always the case.
It’s important to recognise in our children on the spectrum when they’re reading situations correctly and to verify and validate this for them by simply stating “Yes, I am feeling a bit down today but people do feel down from time to time. It’s nothing to worry about, I’ll be okay, and I don’t really feel like talking about it right now. But thank you for noticing, you’re very perceptive/clever/tuned in”.
Or you could be open about it and validate that they’re very perceptive.
“I am feeling sad this morning, I heard something on the tele that made me feel a bit yuck”.
What’s also important to recognise is that the autistic person has also practiced in that moment identifying emotions in others and showing empathy; another two characteristics associated with autism that aren’t always accurate.
Please recognise when a person on the autism spectrum is attempting to connect with you and show you empathy and compassion, rather than rejecting their observations.
It validates them as a person and helps to grow their self esteem and confidence in engaging with others.
It might also help to dispel many of the unhelpful myths associated with autism.
Image: Auditory verbal therapy