It’s funny how the most mundane of conversations can lead to an opening of awareness.
I went for lunch with two friends and whilst I tackled my masala dhosa, I recounted a conversation with my youngest son. He had accused me of thinking he was stupid. That he had already told me that (the thing that I had just said to him). Why did I keep taking his ideas and presenting them back to him as if they were mine?
Cue beam of light brightening the dark corner of “I’ve done it again? What did I do wrong?” that has plagued my social interactions for as long as I can remember. Little bits of information coming together to make sense of this mystery.
“No, no,” I said to him. “In my head, I’m not telling you to do something. When I repeat what you say, what’s in my head is affirmation. When I repeat what you say, I’m either confirming that I agree with you or I’m repeating it as a means of processing what you just said.” (Little bit of back story; I have problems with auditory processing, which until I read more about autism and sensory overwhelm, I had labelled as a-bit-deaf-when-there’s-background-noise-of-any-kind.)
Penny-drop. Echolalia. My kind of echolalia. It doesn’t sound like the classic autistic echolalia that we read in text books, but that’s what it amounts to. And why I think I do it; either an attempt at reciprocity or to take in and understand what’s being said. That’s what’s inside my head. This may or may not be true for other autistic people.
Back to my masala dhosa lunch…
These two friends are part of a small handful of people who I’ve told I’m autistic since I self-identified three years ago or got a formal diagnosis a few months back. (Late diagnosis; I’m fifty five and spent fifty two of those years thinking I’m broken.)
They’ve listened to me as I’ve tried to work out WTF is going on. It’s a big ask, as the saying goes.
Earlier in the conversation I told them that I was appreciating more and more just how often I am off-the-mark in everyday conversations. How much I hadn’t realised it and blithely carried on, thinking I was good at this communication lark.
I asked them to let me know when something I said was off because the last thing I wanted to do was hurt them.
One of these friends confirmed that she had been getting more and more annoyed with me. She hadn’t told me. We were in the territory of losing another friend and not knowing why. She couldn’t remember any specific examples, or was wanting to be kind. Probably the latter; she’s a kind person.
At the telling of my son’s I’m-not-stupid.-That’s-what-I-just-said! story, she sat up straight, looked at me and seemed to come to a decision. “That’s what I’ve been feeling,” she said. “That you think I’m stupid or something”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My attempts at social bonding come across as insufferable-know-it-all-ness, whether it’s down to echolalia or my pin-you-to-the-wall enthusiasm for my latest favourite subject. It’s not my intention, but that’s kind of irrelevant. It’s how I’m perceived.
So, I make a plea to all neurotypical people reading this. If something seems off, tell us, with specific examples. Be courageous. Be honest. Or just be plain, bloody, mad at us, but tell us. We can’t read your minds. You can’t read ours.