“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”
This proverb is traced back to the Cherokees. It defines empathy, which can be understood as understood as the ability of a person to understand others or to “see where they are coming from.”
We non-autistics need to understand what living with autism in a non-autism society is like.
I’m a non-autistic.
Maybe you are, too.
And I’m blessed to have many autistic clients, a son, and many of you in the Thrive with Aspergers/Autism community.
If we want to be even better friends, both as autistics and non-autistics, it helps to refine our ability to understand others’ experiences.
Hearing people’s stories and experiences is one of the best ways to learn empathy.
I came across this thread on Quora, called “Autistic people of Quora, what is something you’ve experienced that you’re sure a neurotypical person has never experienced?”
I’ve chosen five responses, or stories, to help both autistics and non-autistics better understand what living with autism is like.
Sit back and enjoy!
Literal Thinking: Romance and A Clash of Signals
shared how he helped a fellow school teacher out when she moved from South Texas to Michigan (where he lived).
I read his story in this podcast episode: you’ll have to listen to get the full account, which will be worth the listen!
In The Lowdown on Literal Thinking, Bec Oakley shares why understanding different meanings of speech can be difficult.
She also shares tips to help non-autistic parents and partners help autistic loved ones navigate this maze-
- Realize it can be stressful (trying to understand the shades of meaning)
- Talk about types of figurative speech
- Be careful with the words you choose
- Lend a hand with humor, but don’t use sarcasm
Social Skills: Turning A Challenge Into A Strength
He begins his story by sharing this picture:
Here’s what he said:
You are right. It should not happen. It is not against nature for an aspie to learn social skills, but it is supposedly impossible for an aspie to compete with an NT socially.
The blue area deals with speech comprehension. As you can see, aspies get a 10x smaller version. This is why aspies focus more on *what* was said than *how* it was said.
This is not a a kid that was bad at math but somehow stuck through it and aced numbers. Physically speaking, I lack the brain hardware to perform socially.
I read the rest of his story about how he’s become comfortable with social skills to the point of coaching others.
If you’d like to listen to a similar story, check out these two interviews I recorded with Daniel Wendler, an Aspergian young man who is on his way to becoming a clinical psychologist:
Multicultural Advantage: Comfortable with Being Different
Amanda Tendler shared that she has honed her powers of observation to a degree that she is able to pick up on the “rules” in a new culture much faster than non autistics.
She is much more willing to notice and adapt her own behaviors to align with a different culture than non-autistics.
She’s also noticed that non-autistics then go on to complain how hard it is to adapt.
Or, as another commenter on the thread observed, perhaps its because non-autistics have become comfortable having everything come easily to them as the neurological majority.
Heightened Sensory Sensitivity
Aspergian says that she experiences beauty more often and intensely than non-autistics she knows.
Chelle Gordon-Krohling, who suspects herself as being autistic, writes
We are so sensitive to stimuli that it is easy to become overstimulated. As far as I can tell, it’s just too many signals firing in the brain. Thinking seems to make it worse.
I experience minor overstimulation like a horrible feeling of static that’s filling my brain and body. I’ve learned to recognize it and reduce stimuli, if possible, or stop thinking.
Fortunately, I don’t get badly overstimulated as an adult. When it is moderate, I tell everyone around me what’s happening and reduce stimulation even if it inconveniences people. I’ve also been known to borrow my son’s weighted blanket.
As a child, there are stories of me screaming wordlessly for hours. In retrospect, we’re pretty sure it was a meltdown. That’s what happens when the static takes over and becomes everything.
Painful Challenges: Noise, Textures, Anxiety, Fear
Damara Ortega shares some of her painful challenges as an autistic in a non-autistic society.
With regard to what she has experienced that non autistics typically don’t, she writes:
Confusion and almost pain when people speak while their car radio is on.
Headaches and anxiety at overly Christmas decorated stores.
Generalized sadness when you look around and at a group of people that think you are their friend, but you know that you ended up where you are through (poetically speaking) killing your childhood self, destroying both negative mannerisms and uniquely gifted possibilities at once.
The feeling of incertainty that after years of modification to become socially acceptable, you find that you could have spent becoming amazing at something. That now, you are like everybody else… sorta. And that’s not always a good thing.
The fear. That you’ve build this face that withstand aquaintance, but is exhausting and you know it won’t hold for long extensive periods. So you’re terrified to begin a relationship because you’re afraid that your partner would feel that they have been lied to, tricked.
Preferring foods based on texture rather than flavor.
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