Autistic People Often Don’t Realize We’ve Deeply Hurt a Neurotypical Person’s Feelings (The Library Story)

Sepia-toned photo of person with short hair staring into the camera with text that reads, "We often don't have any idea that we've deeply hurt your feelings. (The library story.)"

This is not my story, but rather a story I could have written because similar incidents have occurred in my life.

With permission, I’m sharing a reader’s story about how she only discovered that she very deeply offended someone during what she believed was a routine interaction when that person told her.

Her story is in quotes below.

“As an adult, I was checking out at the library and the desk lady said, “You really upset me the last time I worked the desk.”

I looked behind me because I thought she was speaking to someone else. She wasn’t.

(Article continues below.)

The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

She went on to explain, through tears, that I had angrily and dismissively answered her questions about checking out my books and ignored her after that on her very 1st day of work. (My children’s and my library cards are all on the same keychain and we don’t care which one is used. All the staff knows this but she was new. I figure that I laughingly said, “put them on any of the cards” because that’s what I usually said in those days. )

She said that she was going to quit because of my behavior, but her co-workers convinced her to stay.

She had been fuming about this for 6 months. I go to the library at least weekly. I honestly had no recollection of this incident that hurt her.

I was in tears because I appreciate the library workers and the library itself. It is a special place to me. That I had offended her unknowingly and unintentionally blew my mind. I wouldn’t act that way to her while I was alone and she said that I did it while my children were with me! I was sure that she had the wrong person.

This totally freaked me out. (This is before my self diagnosis.) I wondered how many other people that I have offended. Who else was harboring ill feelings toward me? If I could cause such pain when I was totally happy and in one of my safe spots, what was my behavior like when I felt less than happy and less than safe? I became self conscious in many situations after that and especially in the library whenever I saw her.

She said she forgave me, but it just makes me wonder about anyone else that heard her story (it is a small library) and anyone else that I talk to in passing.

It has been about a decade and it still makes me a bit nervous.”

I relate wholeheartedly with everything written here. The thoughts of “How can I possibly wound someone this deeply when I feel calm, happy, and safe” are so incredibly familiar to me.

In fact, it’s usually when I feel most calm, happy, and safe with someone or in a situation that I will be more likely to hurt someone’s feelings not because I’m into hurting people, but because I stop masking, my natural autistic traits come to the surface, and, BOOM, I’ve offended someone.

This is why so many of us autistic people can’t ever relax. We’re not only afraid of BEING targeted, we’re afraid we’re going to say or do something that’s perfectly natural and benign to us but cause YOU to want to quit your job!

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