By Tom Welch
We know there is no malicious intent.
High-functioning autistics like me suffer from having very limited access to the accepted social conventions of the populace within which we reside. The dance of manners and speech which we observe and admire in others, as you go about your business of establishing relationships of all different kinds and intensities, is an obscure art form to us. “Oh, I see why she said this, but why did she say that and how did she and her companion arrive at this unstated but very real agreement to a more intense level of relationship?”
This appears as magic to us, an alchemy of interaction, almost a conspiracy of life-force to exclude us.
The dance of relationship building is just something that we have no ability to understand except at the most basic, transactional level. Take courtship as the most profound example. We autistics can be thrilled to watch this magic happen over weeks and months, but confounded as to what is going on. Even if it were to be explained in detail (which of course no two would be willing to do as it would seem to be almost an invasion of their newly-formed intimacy, achieved so artfully) there would be parts of the dance that we cannot see or understand, even in hindsight and with complete and careful explanation.
This is the most difficult part of being autistic.
This is the reason most autistics come to the sad acceptance that true intimacy is somewhat beyond the scope of our abilities, the frustration of trying and failing having built in us a final understanding of our lack of full competence. This happens at some point in our lives, a point that comes very much sooner than later for most of us, often before or during early teen years.
This is one of the reasons we autistics seem to you set apart from our common social environment. In our minds there is complete understanding and peace, and we use this peace to develop our own mostly solitary interests, to which we devote ourselves with what seems to you to be an uncommon focus, given the more or less tedious nature of the area of interest.
Who of you, after all, would even want to able to list all the types of commercial ships, or airplanes, or trains, etc. which we may choose to learn? Or memorize ‘pi’ to forty decimal places? While we may often demonstrate wonderful memories, to what purpose is such knowledge? This is quite an unanswerable question.
So, should we, or do we, ask for pity? Do the blind or the deaf ask for pity?
No, all we would like is acceptance and some amount of compassion and forgiveness for the social errors we inevitably commit as we try for as much social integration that each of us is personally able to make, into this beautiful world of people.
Tom Welch has an M.A. in Education from Stanford University and is a former high school math teacher, US Army Specialist 5, executive at General Motors, and has 10 years experience leading groups of parents and children in a community education program that explores the effects of addiction on families. He has also worked for several years with adjudicated teenagers using these same program materials. He has published a book available on Amazon entitled “Raising Healthy Children” which is available as an e-book and soft cover. His blog contains this story and many others. His wife Gitta’s Husky, Spirit, is 14 years old and loves cold weather, the colder the better. It is Tom’s assignment to walk the dog every morning without complaint. Tom loves to write as ideas come to him. This story came to him as a title, and he wrote it straight out, from top to bottom with only minor wording revisions.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak