Well, honestly, it’s more the volume of it that has always been a tricky thing for me. Many autistics struggle to regulate the pitch and tone of their voices as well. We often end up too loud or too quiet–never just right.
Monotone is another word we hear thrown at us. It’s part of what I think convinces people autistics have no emotion. Our speech tends to be spoken with little to no inflexion. For what it’s worth, we also struggle to understand the subtle inflexions when a neurotypical speak. (And let me tell you that leads to a lot of ‘fun’ if you happen to married to one.)
You can’t learn to add the inflexion either.
Trust me, I’ve tried.
Add to these issues my inability to instinctually grasp the flow of normal conversation, you can start to see how difficult group settings can be. I often end up either monopolising it or not contributing my thoughts at all. I never quite know when I’m supposed to interject.
I tend to speak too quietly to be heard in a group situation. I know don’t regulate my own volume well, so I prefer to err on the side of quiet. There’s nothing so embarrassing as shouting when you don’t know you’re doing it.
That’s the thing about being an autistic adult.
I’ve lived long enough to understand when I’m standing out–and not in a good way.
The other additional issue with group conversations for an autistic is that we usually need time to process what is being said in order to respond. If you have three or four people conversing, it becomes impossible for me to register everything being said and formulate a response. I get overwhelmed and since group settings don’t happen in a void–my brain is usually trying to decipher this through the prism of all the other sounds in the surrounding environment.
On any given day, I probably ask my husband to repeat himself at least twenty times. Not because I didn’t hear him the first time, but usually I need the extra time to process what he said. I often end up answering his question in the middle of his repeating it for the second time. It frustrates him.
And it frustrates me as well.
If I could tell the neurotypicals in my life two things, the first would be to have patience with the neurally divergent. We’re doing our best. Our best just might not be your idea of ‘best.’
The second thing would be–don’t tell us that ‘we’ll be fine’ when we’re expressing a frustration or concern. It feels dismissive. For most autistics, dealing with ‘normal’ life isn’t a matter of ‘it’ll all be fine.’ We’re going to push through the situation and on the other side of it, we’re going to struggle to decompress.
That’s the thing I think a lot of neurotypicals miss out on completely.
Can I go out in public and deal with large crowds?
Yes, I can. I’ll probably look just like everyone else when I do it as well–unless you know me well and are looking carefully.
But what you don’t see is me afterwards. The migraines. The long, long hours I spend watching the same episode of a TV show over and over until the stress bleeds off.
So, don’t be dismissive. Sometimes autistics just want to know their fears have been heard. Maybe instead of ‘it’ll all be alright,’ you could say ‘wow, that sucks’ or ‘That’s rough. Can I help?’
This ramble was brought to you by the letters R and T.