Reasons You (Mistakenly) Believe Autistic People Are Selfish – Part 1 – Miscommunication

Man and woman in bed having an argument over a laptop

You just don’t care about anyone but yourself.” “You’re so self-centered.” “Aren’t you even going to ASK me how my surgery went last week?”

A common misconception about autistic people is that we don’t care about others. That we either lack empathy (not true) or we have very little of it. One of the reasons neurotypical people mistakenly believe we don’t care about others is because some of our natural autistic traits fall into direct opposition to neurotypical social norms.

Below are some autistic traits that make neurotypical people believe we don’t care about them. Under each one on the list, I’ll explain why I do these things in hopes you’ll have a better understanding of why you or your autistic loved one may do them.

  • We might not ask you about your “things”

I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that they were going to the doctor for something, planning a wedding, having a party, going to an event, etc., and I’ve listened and responded while they talked but never, ever followed up.

When neurotypical people talk with each other, they seem to store upcoming event information in their heads for each of their friends and family members, and, when they see them again after the event has passed, they will ask how the event went.

With me, once a conversation is over, I won’t remember much of it. I’ll remember the basic gist and the feelings and energy associated with it, but not much else. When I’m having the conversation, I’m in the moment. Once it’s over, it’s over.*

*With the exception of an emotional conversation or a conversation about my special interests.

I had no idea that, for years, people assumed that because I never followed up, I didn’t care. It’s not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t remember. If it’s something that’s life or death, and the person is very close to me, then, yes, I will remember it and ask how things went because it will be on my mind and heart the entire time.

However, if it’s not anything life-threatening or serious (what I think of as “serious” anyway), I won’t remember. The information will just leak out of my brain, and I will carry on with my routines.

I could never understand why people seemed to be angry with me for “no reason” when I knew I hadn’t said or done anything wrong in that moment (because I literally hadn’t said or done anything), but people still seemed to be angry “out of the blue”, even if I had just stepped into a room.

Eventually, somebody took me aside (or I read it in a book, I can’t remember) and explained to me that so-and-so was upset because I never asked her about how her [insert event here] went.

Huh? That’s a thing?

This may have jogged a very vague memory of a past conversation (which felt like it was eons ago even if it was just a week), but I had no idea I was expected to ask about it, nor did I remember it was even going to happen.

That’s not selfishness or not caring. That’s just having a terrible working memory and short-term memory and also having no idea that I was socially expected to ask questions like that.

(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:

  • We might not keep in touch

I am LOUSY at keeping in touch. I always have been, I always will be. Again, it’s not that I don’t care, but my memory is horrible. Sometimes, and this is going to sound cold, I literally forget people exist for short periods of time.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly love my friends, but if it wasn’t for social media and for them popping up on my timeline, I would temporarily forget all about them. For me, what’s out of sight is out of mind.

However, if a friend calls me in a crisis, I will drop whatever I’m doing and be there with my full attention. And, even if it’s not a crisis, if they contact me first, I will have a conversation with them (or at least schedule one).

I’m just bad at making the “first move”. Part of that, I know, is due to my extremely poor memory and another part of it is that I have a different concept of time than most people. After something happens, I’m not entirely sure if it happened a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, or five years ago.

This means that I usually don’t even know how long it’s been since I’ve talked to someone.

  • We might not know your name

Again, due to my poor memory, I am terrible with names. I also tend not to associate people with their names but rather their energy, their vibe. If I could think an image of someone when I’m trying to describe them or I’m fumbling for their name, it would be SO much easier!

  • We might not know your face

I have mild face blindness, and if I see you out of context, I’m likely not going to recognize you. I may see you and know that I know you from somewhere, but I’m probably not going to place from where or who you are.

Unless you are a family member or friend that I am very close with, your face will ring a small bell in my head, but it won’t bring about complete recognition.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I can’t put your face into the right context in my brain in order to even know how I’m supposed to greet you (or if I should).

  • We might “space out” while you’re talking

Like most autistic people, I get sensory overload easily. I may be interested in what you have to say, but my brain and body need a break because I’ve done too much that day, or there is too much sensory input hitting me all at once in that moment.

Depending on how depleted I am, I may not be able to stop my eyes from glazing over and my jaw from going slack as my brain desperately searches for the rest it needs before I go into shutdown. It’s not that I’m bored with what you’re saying, it’s just my brain doing what my body needs it to do so I can survive.

Having to manually filter out all of the information that neurotypical brains seem to do automatically is exhausting and one of the many reasons I need plenty of rest after socializing even if I’m having a good time.

  • We can’t read your facial expressions or body language

Neurotypical people communicate largely by facial expressions and body language that other neurotypical people are able to pick up on and respond to accordingly. Not so with many autistic people, including me.

You may think you’re telling me something by giving me a certain look or standing a certain way, but since I’m blind to these social cues, I won’t respond at all, and you may misinterpret that as I’m willfully ignoring you. I’m not. My brain just doesn’t pick up on these non-verbal cues.

This is why it’s so important to be blunt with me so I can understand what you’re feeling and thinking and what you need.

  • We can’t pick up on subtle hints

Neurotypical people also use phrasing that gives other neurotypical people information that expresses needs, wants, and desires without doing so overtly.


That garbage is starting to smell.”

A neurotypical person would read this as, “Please take out the trash”. Whereas an autistic person is more likely to read this as, “I have made a statement of fact about the smell of the garbage”.

If an NT (neurotypical) person has made a statement like that expecting that their ND (neurodivergent) loved one will understand it as a request, they may feel ignored when the ND person doesn’t do what they “asked”, which can look like the ND person doesn’t care or can’t be bothered.

While I’ve learned to pick up on many NT subtle hints, I still miss the mark entirely quite often, especially if it’s a new person or situation.

  • We talk about our stuff when you tell us about yours

This is something I wrote in length about in an article called, “Why Do You Make Everything About You?”

When neurotypical people tell each other about something bad that happened to them, they expect their friends and family to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry” and “Gee, that must be hard”. This makes them feel heard and valued.

When a neurotypical person tells an autistic person about something that happened to them, the autistic person will likely tell a similar story about something that happened to them in an attempt to connect and show solidarity.

Unfortunately, this makes the neurotypical person believe that the autistic person is trying to turn the conversation around to themselves. Not so at all. It’s just a marked difference in communication.

For autistic people, saying, “Oh, that must be hard” sounds like empty platitudes whereas telling a similar story shows understanding and empathy.

I was asked why I made things “about me” time and time and time again from NT people, and I had no idea what they were talking about until either someone finally broke it down for me, or I read it in a book.

  • We go straight into conversation without greeting

I’m not sure why this is, but greetings are something I have always had to force myself to remember. When I want to tell someone something or start a conversation, it never occurs to me to say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Good morning” and then jump into a topic; I just dive straight in.

While most autistic people don’t mind this approach and actually prefer it, neurotypical people often feel this is too blunt, and it takes them off guard.

This can make it appear as though the autistic person is selfish because they haven’t bothered to ask how the other person is before asking a question or making a request, when, most of the time, we’re just trying to be efficient and not forget what it is we wanted to ask.

See my article, “Why Borrowing Someone’s Stapler Is Harder for an Autistic Person” for more on this.

  • We’re blunt and straightforward

Another common reason neurotypical people mistakenly believe that autistic people are selfish and don’t care about others is how blunt and straightforward we are. Neurotypical people use subtle language, hints, and white lies to spare the feelings of others and make criticism (or anything that looks like it) more palatable.

Autistic people, on the other hand, just come right out and say what we’re thinking. Again, this is not an attempt to be rude or hurtful, it’s just how our brains are wired.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally hurt someone’s feelings because I didn’t have any idea that I was expected to phrase something a different way or wait until a different moment to speak.

It never would have occurred to me had somebody not broken it down for me, or…you guessed it, I read it in a book.

The Takeaway

Neurodivergent and neurotypical people speak different neurological languages, and it can be very easy for both neurotypes to misunderstand one another and mistake the other as being selfish and uncaring when that’s simply not the case.

If you’re NT, and you have an autistic loved one, get to understand their motivations, intentions, and language, and reflect on those before responding to a behavior the way you would to a neurotypical person.

Reacting to autistic traits and behavior through a neurotypical lens can cause serious and lasting emotional damage to the autistic person. For us, we’re being screamed at, ostracized, told off, neglected, and abused for absolutely no reason. We were just living and existing when somebody came out of the clear blue sky to abuse us.

As I’ve said in a previous article, “We Have Trouble Connecting Our Behavior to Your Response”.

This doesn’t mean that you have to tip-toe around us or not mention something that we’ve said or done that has unintentionally hurt you, but don’t just come AT us suddenly and angrily. Explain what’s wrong and make sure we’re both on the same page first.

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54 Responses

  1. Sam says:

    How to distinguish whether they are being autistics or simply being assholes??

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      lol! Fair question. I think that can be difficult to distinguish, but as a general rule of thumb, I’d say most autistic people are not trying to be assholes. We’re very blunt people, but we don’t have any intention to offend. That doesn’t mean all autistic people are perfect angels, but the benefit of the doubt can go a LONG way in avoiding traumatizing the autistic person who really didn’t know. Want to know? Ask. “What did you mean by that?” You might be shocked at the innocent answer they give you.

    • Matt says:

      Don’t react to assholes, and then you won’t have to worry about stepping on others toes. On the whole, “reacting”, “being reactive”, etc, just doesn’t serve a person real well in most situations anyway.

      Autism and other neurodivergencies are not a verb. People are not, “being” autistic. People are not “being” ADHD. And so on… That is a linguistic tool used to imply that old saw, “Well if they cared they could do something about it!”. Much like the modern misuse of the “bootstrap” idea, it’s a strategy typically employed by those who loudly decry their own responsibility to anyone while expecting cringing and groveling from others.

      You know. Assholes.

  2. Tada says:

    Do you believe Autists should learn about these social conventions? We have a Aspie teen at home and we try to let him know some of the unspoken social rules (e.g. don’t order the most expensive item on the menu when someone offers to treat you) but sometimes I wonder if this is actually appreciated.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Hello. Thank you for your question. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching an autistic person neurotypical social conventions. It’s like learning another language. It’s just important to remember that after you’ve explained it and they understand it, it’s still up to them whether or not they choose to make use of those conventions. For some of us, neurotypical social conventions just don’t make sense to us even if we understand them on an intellectual level.

    • Sharon says:

      Look at the title. It’s all you need to know about this article.

    • Nora Gainey says:

      I can only speak for myself. I’ve had to have ‘the reaction of another person to what I said or did’ explained to me. Sometimes I still don’t get it. I don’t know every rule in the etiquette book and the ones I do know I can’t tell which rule applies where. I think I’m following the rules and then told I was passive-aggressive or aggressive or they thought I was fine or I thought she was fine. I’d have to be a mindreader to know how to get along with NTs. If NT can label me as something I am not and hold me to a higher standard than they hold themselves it is an unfair situation. I don’t play mind games in the way you all do. It is always me they doubt and the NTs that get supported when there is a difference. They can understand the NT and not the autistic woman.

      In my humble opinion, our rules make more sense, are simpler and are more just.

  3. Seun says:

    Honestly this article just made autistic people sound selfish and self centered.

    “I don’t remember anything unless it’s MY interest” or “I don’t remember things unless I DECIDED it’s serious”.

    I was watching Atypical and the main character just came off as selfish and a lot of work. So I went googling seeing if I just wasn’t interrupting things right.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Here’s the problem, though. That’s my brain’s decision, not mine. Not remembering things is not a purposeful act, selfishness is.

    • Adam says:

      Try substituting “can’t” for “don’t,” because that’s the reality of the situation.

      We don’t have the ability to decide what we’re interested in.

  4. Leanne Strong says:

    Here is another reason. Neurotypicals are encouraged to lay down personal boundaries. They are allowed to choose which items they will share, how they will spend their money, how they will spend their time, what they will do with their bodies, how they want to treat people, how they want people to treat them, etc. However, when we Autistics essentially do the same things, we are told that we are being selfish, lazy, bratty, naughty, rude, among other uncomplimentary terms, only because our actions do not fit in with THEIR agenda. Some of the things that I mentioned, we Autistics are not openly allowed to do, while others we are openly allowed to do to a lesser extent than they are.

    • Marc says:

      wow wow talk about self-absorption and lack of empathy. “NT are encouraged to lay down personal boundaries.” Really? By who? When? Where is this boundary training all NTs receive? Gosh with such impeccable boundaries you’d think that no NTs are ever in abusive relationships. They don’t get harassed at work or bullied. Ever. They don’t experience childhood abuse, domestic violence, CPTSD, mental illness, chronic illness, or any other disadvantages, and the entire world is just a dichotomy where everyone who is NT has everything handed to them easy and NDs are the only people in the world who have a though time, and it’s all the fault of that United front of NTs with perfect lives.

  5. Janis Vasquez says:

    I have no idea how to differentiate if the autistic people in my life are being rude or if I’m just not understanding autistic traits. For example, I just asked two loved ones if they could move their cars so I can go to the store and told them both that I was running on a tight schedule. They went outside and are now working on other things. Each time I ask them to move again they say okay and then continue doing their own thing. They are both very articulate, educated, and capable people. But when it comes to “consideration” or listening to what other people need they often don’t listen. I’m not sure what to make of it and don’t want to sound like a terrible person

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      That sounds like poor executive function and attention span. You have to be very clear and continue to remind them to the point of nagging to get them to do what you’re asking. Plus, it’s rough because if we are already involved in something else, it can be hard for us to stop. Compromise is important, though. They do need to move their cars if you ask them to. That’s a need, not a want on your end. You might be able to just take whatever car is not blocked in to the store if they won’t move theirs, but they have to be OK with that. Also, be very explicit. “I need you both to move your cars in right now because I have to go to the grocery store to get stuff for dinner. I can’t leave and get the groceries until you move the cars. We won’t be able to eat until you do.” Us autistics can also have a different experience of time, so they may think they have more time to complete the request than they actually do. It’s not rudeness.

      • Jim says:

        It is rudeness. It doesn’t require intention to be rude. You may have the most gracious and kind-hearted internal dialog on the planet, but it means absolutely nothing if the end result of your actions is equivalent to the actions of an intentionally rude person. Particularly if it’s consistent.

        Sad if there’s nothing you can do about it, but I really don’t care to treat you any differently because you have a label and some hidden internal dialog.

        • jaimeaheidel says:

          Jim, I wouldn’t let you anywhere NEAR me, and I hope you’ll stay away from autistic people in general because you’re going to traumatize them with your ableist and narrow-minded views on rudeness. Everything about this comment gives me a strong gut feeling of “not safe”.

  6. anonymous says:

    I’ve been accused by others of being “selfish” as well. What’s worse, though, is I HAVE explained that some of my so-called “selfishness” is due to autism. No one seems to really believe me except other autistics (sometimes not even that) and some family members, even with this explanation. And some of them do (supposedly) understand I’m on the spectrum, and then it turns out they just understand, from what I can tell, what the media, books, and sometimes their allistic friends tell them it is. FYI, some of the people who have done this to me have other forms of neurodiversity. Still doesn’t seem to convince ’em. I care deeply about other people. I also care about what I like. Sometimes it’s hard for me to reconcile the two with one another. Sigh…I hate being me sometimes 🙁

  7. Jodi Grant says:

    I just ran across this article while searching about my behavior (nothing related to autism) because I am trying to do better. It was surprising that this seems to be a list of nearly all of those things that I think of as my personality quirks that I can’t seem to change about myself.

    I hesitate to self-diagnose as I recognize that sharing some commonalities with someone else’s experience of being neurodivergent may not mean that you are. However, this article has really got me thinking that I might be.

    After reading this article, I have read several others that you posted and all of those sounded as if they were written about me and my somewhat odd behaviors and perceptions. Not really sure what to do with that information or if attempting to be diagnosed or corrected has any value.

    Any thoughts from someone that has maybe been in a similar position of being a functional adult and discovering this possibility about themselves?

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Hi, Jodi. Many people who are neurodivergent with low support needs can be missed and go undiagnosed. I was one of those people, and I was diagnosed at 35. If you read and research more and a lot of it resonates with you, you may be neurodivergent. You aren’t obligated to get a formal diagnosis, but it may help you and your loved ones better understand your way of seeing the world.

      • Archer says:

        Yes to what Jaime said…
        If I may offer some resources.…the autism quiz on was very helpful for me. If you just google “autistic adult checklist”, that also brings up some good results. As always, be careful and make sure you aren’t on a website that depicts autism in a negative way, as this might include incorrectly listed symptoms, like lack of empathy.
        There is never any need to get a diagnosis…I do not currently have one myself. However, that has led to disbelief and verbal harassment for me, unfortunately. : (
        Not that it is a universal experience. Just a warning…
        Good luck!

  8. Bella says:

    I’ve been been with my HFA spouse for 30 years. He was diagnosed 5 years ago. Long story short we had year long fairytale relationship. I have met my soulmate. I didn’t know anything about autism back then. I had no reference to gauge any of his behavior as being not normal. I attributed to his bad childhood.
    The moment he proposed marriage to me our relationship went into a downward spiral. He almost immediately took back the proposal, and I’ve come to realize, based on everything else that’s going wrong in our relationship, he suddenly realized we were no longer playing house. He had made an adult decision. And he was expected to follow through with that and be responsible for everything that comes with it.
    I’ve experienced every topic of autistic behavior stated in the article in a very personal, mentally and physically destructive way in our marriage.
    Although I intellectually understand the disability and the challenge that autistic people have with communication and social interaction, the toll it takes on a marriage and on a friendship is too much. I feel ashamed of myself and like a failure of my values and ethics to put up with the insanity of the behavior in the treatment that I have accepted as his partner. I would have never accepted any of this behavior from anyone else.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Bella, I’m truly sorry you’re hurting and have experienced your husband’s neurodivergent brain and way of operating in the world as mentally and physically destructive. I’m sure my personal brand of explaining won’t be able to help you in the case, but I did want to acknowledge your comment.

  9. Claire says:

    His was so helpful to read. I am in the process of getting official diagnosis after fighting for a long time to be taken seriously. My best friend has recently become very nasty to me when she is drunk, complaining about how selfish and self centred I am. I used to be able to forget about it and attribute it to her being drunk but it’s becoming more and more hurtful because I try so hard to be aware of being selfish. I have tried to explain that it’s not that I dont care about other peoples thoughts or opinions, I just get wrapped up talking about what I am into. She makes me feel like I am a horrible person whi is failing at being a good one. Right now i feel like i want to just back away from her so i dont have to feel like this. I feel like unless i have a doctor state i’m autistic, I have no defence. Even with that she is quite ignorant about the reality of mental health issues, even though she works in that field and so I dont know whether this relationship is worth me trying to maintain. Any advice?

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Hi, Claire. You might not like the advice I have, but I’d say to step away from her. You can’t safely be friends with someone who won’t even believe that you are who you say you are. It’s a painful exercise in futility. I’m sorry. 🙁

  10. Fatima says:

    thanks for posting this Jaime…this article is very insightful…I find it very hard to say hello/morning or do any greeeting….It takes a lot of effort to say that…but I am practising now to improve myself….I am trying to learn social cues…..
    secondly I cannot read facial expressions or body language….I cannot understand if someone is interested or not interested in talking with me…..

  11. Susanna says:

    The thing is, all of these things are a two way road. A lot “NT” people would love to always be these things.. the center of attention, talk about themself and ignore others, but we learn not to because that is how to function with other people. What bothers me about all of this is that there seems to be entitlement in this article that atypical people shouldn’t have to try to change, but NT people have to change and just accept it, when it is emotionally damaging to us, too. Where is the middle ground? NT people have to grow and learn in order to get along with other people. Yes, there should be some from both sides… you are demanding understanding for autistic people, but is there any self responsibility to also understand why NT people are so offended and to try to adjust? NT can’t help how they are wired, either. It isn’t the same, I know, but asking to just be understood without trying to meet in the middle is also selfish. Stating things aren’t rude because of intentions doesn’t make them less rude, afterall. Talking about your interests and not giving the courtesy to your friend to do the same? It sucks for all of us at times, but you do it for the sake of your friend. It is like an exchange of currency, just emotional currency.

    I change how I communicate with autistic friends to meet in the middle, but it is an old story, now, to keep seeing articles like this which makes it seem like a one sided effort. I guess that’s just how I am, though, and I shouldn’t be expected to change for the mental health of other people.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      I would never ask you to change, and I really respect you for continuing the dialogue even though I was pretty blunt and direct in my response. I do actually care very much for all people, regardless of neurotype. I wouldn’t go out of my way to offend someone, but I, unfortunately, do because my brain works the way it does. I actually avoid 90% of humanity and have the bulk of my social interactions online and with other neurodivergent people. I don’t aim to harm anyone. The only way I would do that is in self-defense or in defense of someone I love. It would have to be an extreme situation at that.

      I understand that the NT way of thinking is that if something is offensive, it doesn’t matter what the intention is. I get that, intellectually. Unfortunately, my brain has a very, very hard time comprehending how something such as not calling, not remembering something, not recognizing a face, saying something in a direct way, etc. is so offensive, it’s detrimental to someone’s mental health. It’s what I believe is an extreme reaction to the slightest of offenses. There’s no purposeful intent to harm. That’s what’s always been hard for me.

      I do want to meet in the middle, and I do try to. However, I will always stand by that many autistic people are offending neurotypical people without having any idea that it’s happening because NT people have a tendency to not be direct and TELL us what we’re doing wrong or what has offended, so we end up at a stalemate. The NT person is offended, the ND person is clueless. There’s no way to meet in the middle if there’s no communication about what has offended.

      I think it’s therein that the problem truly lies. NDs are direct and to the point, NTs are not. NDs only understand direct and to the point conversation, NTs don’t feel comfortable with that, so we’re always both staring at each other in confusion. It is through these articles that I’m actually trying to change that.

      • jane says:

        You say that the problem lies with how the brain works and Nts not being direct. I have been in a relationship with an undiagnosed HFA man for almost 3 years. I have been very direct about such things. About how he not asking after me or important events in my life hurts my feelings and makes me feel like I am not loved. I have also suggested compensatory measures for him, like using his calendar to put important events in and setting reminders for.

        At what point do you take accountability and stop blaming the brain. Everyone thinks and perceives differently. If my significant other tells me that a behavior of mine is hurting him, I take a step back, look at what I have been doing and then make the choice to change. That is the key, we can all change our behavior, it is a choice.

        Also, when I am direct with him, I am told I am attacking him. That is something you do not mention in this article. Defensiveness and blame are often heaped on me and it is my fault he hasn’t followed up or done XY and Z. That is unacceptable. He is a 55 year old man. I think a lot of it stems from how people with autism are raised and if they receive a diagnosis.

        There are many coping and compensatory strategies that can be taught, especially from an early age, to help navigate social situations and compensate for executive function issues. What is also not mentioned in this article is that, because it is a developmental disorder, the level of emotional maturity may be far younger than the person’s age. I believe my partner’s emotional maturity is that of a teenager- hence his tantrum’s, shut downs, and me me me needs only to be met.

        All people with autism are different, hence why it is a spectrum. Another HFA may have the emotional maturity of a 25 year old which would look way different than my partner.

        I get living in an NT world is difficult, it is difficult for NTs as well. But it seems like you are putting all the onus on NTs to make a relationship work. That is a dictatorship not a relationship.

        I understand autism very well and have seen the improvements in quality of life for children that receive OT early on through compensatory and adaptive strategies….Nt’s use these all the time in daily life to navigate the complexities. Life is hard. By putting all the onus on NTs to be more direct, or just understand is another form of blaming and not taking accountability for your own behavior. I am not saying that you need to act as an NT only to put a little effort in- especially if, as you say, someone pulled you aside and let you know there was an issue. If you only shrugged and did nothing, like start setting alerts in your phone or making a note- then that is on you.

        • jaimeaheidel says:

          “At what point do you take accountability and stop blaming the brain.” This sentence, right here, is what makes your entire comment ableist. If someone needed to use a wheelchair or they were blind, you would never ask them when they’d stop blaming their legs or their eyes. You would either accept that person, or you wouldn’t. It’s that cut and dry. There is no way to change the way our brains work any more than a blind person could suddenly see because the fact that they can’t is hurting you. That’s not how that works.

          Also, I am not in any way putting all of the onus on NTs and neither are other autistic people. We actually accommodate you on a daily basis to our emotional detriment and exhaustion all day, every day. The things that offend you are the things that slip through that mask. We are trying harder than you will ever know, and still, with all that effort, we cannot not offend or upset you. It’s not possible.

          Now, that isn’t to say that autistic people can’t learn or compromise or change or adapt. We absolutely, 100% can. I have. I make allowances and accommodations for people, and I do speak to neurotypical people in a way that I believe will feel best for them, but my native language will always, always be autistic, which means it’s not consistent. I need lots of space and time and energy to recharge to be able to do it again.

          Yes, some of us are emotionally a bit younger, maybe 10 years or so, but that’s not because we are not emotionally mature or capable of it, it’s because we don’t learn the same way as neurotypical people do. You learn implicitly and from the top down, we learn explicitly, and from the top up. Since this is not how social learning is conducted in neurotypical society, we tend to be behind in those social areas.

          Since I’m being very blunt right now, I’m also going to tell you that I don’t think you and your partner are a good match for one another. It sounds like your both miserable. Your needs aren’t being met, your feelings are hurt, and he’s having meltdowns (not tantrums) because he’s dysregulated and stressed, and you cannot be there for one another in the way you both need. I highly suggest a parting of ways as a lot of what you’ve written here is seeped in dislike for this person.

          If that’s offensive to you, I apologize, but I think, in the end, it’s something you needed to hear. Find someone who is better suited to your needs and neurology–and let this man find his way back to himself as he was meant to be.

    • Sybil says:

      Susanna, I am so glad you wrote this comment! Thank you! Almost every word was what I was thinking myself. I wish I had time to comment further right now, to you AND to the OP. I hope to be back later to do so.

  12. Frank Wallace says:

    okay, this write-up does make me eager to know what sort of signals or actions you (or NDs in general ) take that NTs could translate into being on the receiving end of inter-peron-interest ?

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      I’m not sure what you mean?

      • Frank Wallace says:

        Okay, i’ll rephrase my question, may it sounded a bit cryptic.

        Say, i the street where you live , your neighbor, who was not a very nice man, moved out some months ago, destination unknown.
        Then, suddenly, one day, a new couple appears to be moving into this house, judging from the furniture being brought in and the noises that go along with that.

        On your schedule, you decide you need to get some groceries and milk from the store nearby, and you go there.
        On your way back, you see the couple outside discussing something [keep that chair not?].
        Would you be inclined to find out if they seem nice people or would you feel threatened by the situation [new people, all these noises, all this chaos] ?

        would you say ‘hi people, i think we are neighbors, my name is Dora [fill in your name], whats your name, where are you from ‘ ?

        or would you like to be left alone, the world outside is too confusing and hostile for you ?

        or maybe another option ?

        • jaimeaheidel says:

          I never speak to my neighbors or introduce myself, so I’m not sure if I’d be able to advise you on a scenario like this. I just leave people alone and expect to be left alone. If people speak to me first, I will speak to them, though. But, I don’t go out of my way. It’s too awkward and anxiety-producing for me.

          • Frank Wallace says:

            Thank you for your quick response.

            Your answer tells me a lot. I is nearly the same i got from another autistic person online [a man].

            Will you answer these following questions?:

            1) what offends you? give an example.

            2) do you keep track of what goes on in the world arond you ? if so, how? Give 2 examples

            3) what music do you like ? give two examples

            4) what music do you Dislike ? give two examples

            5) what sort of humor, situation, people, makes you laugh ? give 3 examples (videoslinks maybe ?)

            6) what sort of situation that makes OTHER people laugh do you find incomprehensible ? when you wonder why are they laughing. ( give video link)

            7) what makes you feel proud ? give 1 example

            8) do you remember the last time you ran out of breath because of something physically challenging, what did you do ?

            9) What makes you angry ? give an example.

            10) do you remember a book you read which you though was amazing, beautiful or exciting ? which book was it ?

            11) what do you do when you want to be nice to a loved one . maybe give an example

            12) what do your loved ones have that the unknown people outside do not ?

          • jaimeaheidel says:

            Thank you for your quick response.

            Your answer tells me a lot. I is nearly the same i got from another autistic person online [a man].

            Will you answer these following questions?:

            1) what offends you? give an example.

            People who are cruel to others offend me. People who harm others knowing they cannot defend themselves. For example, a medical assistant purposefully ignoring the needs of an elderly person under her care in a nursing home just because she can get away with it. Any type of abuse offends me.

            2) do you keep track of what goes on in the world arond you ? if so, how? Give 2 examples

            Barely. If I do, it’s through a short, ten-minute podcast called ‘The Newsworthy’.

            3) what music do you like ? give two examples

            Alternative and electronica. HOKO, Imagine Dragons, Tori Amos, Halsey. Electronica, I wouldn’t be able to tell you because I don’t recall the names of the bands.

            4) what music do you Dislike ? give two examples

            I don’t like heavy metal, screaming music. I can’t give two examples of that because I avoid it.

            5) what sort of humor, situation, people, makes you laugh ? give 3 examples (videoslinks maybe ?)

            Slapstick humor is funny to me as long as nobody gets hurt. Intellectual humor, too. Think Trevor Noah for the intellectual humor. Gabriel Iglacia for the slapstick-ish humor. He’s hilarious to me.

            6) what sort of situation that makes OTHER people laugh do you find incomprehensible ? when you wonder why are they laughing. ( give video link)

            Teasing or pranking. It makes me feel physically ill and uncomfortable most of the time.

            7) what makes you feel proud ? give 1 example

            Hmmm…probably my creations, whether it’s writing, beading, or making graphic design edits. When I help other people to understand something. That also makes me proud.

            8) do you remember the last time you ran out of breath because of something physically challenging, what did you do ?

            Skipping this one.

            9) What makes you angry ? give an example.

            The sound of people chewing. Answering random questions with no context. (I’m humoring you for the sake of the experiment, but I’m not sure I understand the point of these questions.)

            10) do you remember a book you read which you though was amazing, beautiful or exciting ? which book was it ?

            “The Night and Its Moon” by Piper CJ. I was enthralled the whole time.

            11) what do you do when you want to be nice to a loved one . maybe give an example

            Cook for them, make something for them, take care of them, hug them

            12) what do your loved ones have that the unknown people outside do not ?

            My partner and I have the same type of neurodivergent brain, and she understands me in a way that nobody on Earth has ever even come close to.

            Now, why did I answer all those questions? What’s the purpose of this?

    • Scarlet says:

      Are you asking how you would know of a person who behaves this way actually has an interest in you? I’m just trying to clarify, because that’s how I read it.

  13. Liz says:

    All this stuff, I understand and forgive. I really do get how my kid’s brain works and I don’t ever expect him to conform to a neurotypical standard for conversation or relationships. Being blunt and straightforward and not asking about my life is all fine and doesn’t bother me in the least. Where I struggle is my son’s wanting to have his father and me never leave the house or his side, never do anything he doesn’t like, for example laugh at a joke HE doesn’t find funny, or sing along with the radio, listen to a song he doesn’t like but I do, pet or smile at a dog (he like cats, therefore dog are off-limits for everyone in the family), or do anything that makes us happy if it doesn’t fit his idea of what makes his life comfortable. He regularly puts his own wants and needs before everyone else’s. That is the very definition of selfishness and I’ve tried so hard to calmly explain how we, his parents, are allowed to feel our own feelings and have our own preferences and occasionally have our own needs met, and coached him on coping and dealing with those disappointments, but it hasn’t worked. He very stubbornly – and loudly! – protests and will not use any coping mechanism we or his therapists have taught him. He simply wants everything to conform to his expectation and preference, especially his parents. I am honestly at my wits end with him. I can deal with all the little stuff like the above points, and I wish that was all we had to worry about. Sounds great, actually! But the controlling and refusal to think of me as a human being worthy of my own feelings and preferences is taking its toll. We’ve done so much hard work to understand him, and help him, and make his life as good as possible, and it’s never enough.

    • Joy says:

      Liz, I really resonate with this! None of the above bothers me. I’m totally cool with my sister being who and how she is. But the part about not allowing space for anyone else to have their feelings and have their needs be met, even if it doesn’t align with what makes her perfectly happy, is the part I’m struggling with too.

      I’m always always bending over backwards to make life as comfortable as possible for her. But it’s like she’s unwilling to make any compromises or concessions. I understand that she always feels like she’s in a world doesn’t work for her. But that’s not my fault, and I do everything to mold OUR world such that it doesn’t cause her any undue stress or anxiety.

      She doesn’t work. She barely leaves her room. When she wants to interact I try to find her events that she likes and people who are also on the spectrum who will understand her. If she’s hurting or tired, I Encourage her to take care of herself. I cook for her. I take her to all her craft stuff and events. I make time to spend with her when she wants. I don’t bother her when she doesn’t.

      And when I’m tired, when I express that to her, and let her know what that means for me, she outright told me she doesn’t care.

      That is not just her brain working differently. That is selfish. That is lack of empathy.

  14. Curious says:

    What’s the reason for constantly, and only talking about themselves?

    There’s no room to even do any of the conversational things mentioned in this article, bc they never stop talking about themself, to get a word in edgewise.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      For some autistic people, reciprocity in conversation can be difficult due to executive functioning challenges. I’d have to know more about the individual to advise you any further.

    • Marc says:

      I don’t understand how anyone can like talking about their favorite subjects so much *to another person who is actively listening to and validating them* and never have it occur to them that the other person would also like to talk about their favorite things equally as much. And yeah, listening, remembering important things, paying attention when it’s not about you, and caring about other people as individuals who are just as unique as you IS hard work and it’s totally exhausting. It’s work you should only ask from others if you’re willing and able to give it back. An adult who demands and expects the labor of others for their own benefit but is unwilling to give in return, is by definition, selfish. If they are able to take but *unable* to give in return, that is a pretty serious disability that’s clearly going to impact the person on the non-reciprocal side of the relationship to a more harmful degree.

      • jaimeaheidel says:

        Maybe don’t put “unable” in quotation marks. What you don’t understand is that many autistic people are bottom-up thinkers and explicit learners. What that means is that one, we see details first and we build on those details to learn and form the bigger picture, and two, we often need to be taught what neurotypical people pick up on naturally. When a person says they are unable, they are unable. They’re not aware. However, that does *not* mean they cannot learn if they are taught according to the way their brain works. You may not be able to understand it, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t make our experiences any less valid or real. And yes, it is a pretty serious disability. That part you 100% nailed.

  15. Scarlet says:

    You wrote this three years ago, and although it looks like you and others have engaged with it pretty recently, I want to acknowledge it may not be on the top of your list at this moment.

    I’m really struggling with a family member dominating every conversation. She’s not diagnosed with autism but has many symptoms, not all of them social. I’ve come to believe that she is her own special interest. There is nothing I can say to her that she won’t contort into a long, long, long story, peppered liberally with the word “I”. She has no malice, but no real interest in anyone else either.

    For example, when I tried to focus on her grandson at his own birthday party, it went like this: “So, X is taking a dance class at school.” “Have you ever fought with AI?” She does not actually care if I’ve ever fought with AI either, she just wants to tell me a tedious story about her fighting with AI.

    I’m fairly confident she can’t help this, and that what it looks like to me is probably very, very different than than what it feels like to her. She’s also incredibly lonely and doesn’t understand why most people have disengaged from her. I love her, but I hate interacting with her more every day. It has not been my experience that autistic people respond well to bluntness at all.

    The bottom line is, regardless of the reason, I do not enjoy spending time with this person, and no amount of trying to force myself to be nice has changed that. That’s where this divide is so frustrating – I’m not interested in being cruel over a neurological difference. I have my own and know I only have a limited amount of control over how it presents. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      She does sound like she may be autistic. I’m sorry that having these conversations are stressful for you. I know it can appear as though she is being selfish, but I don’t believe that’s her intention. If you’d like, you can send me an email (just remind me who you are in the subject line), and I can maybe help you better understand her? Depending on her age, maybe I can help her understand you, as well. Let me know.

  16. Judy says:

    All this firmly lands responsibility for a good relationship FAIR and SQUARE on the neurotypical partner. Which is me. Everything that might go wrong in my realatinship to an autistic spouse is MY FAULT. I already spend a huge amount of my time considering how I can help other people, so this is the last straw.

  17. Jo Scott says:

    Interesting reading. Love the bit about the garbage. It made me laugh. I’ve often been curious and slightly amused as to how I could ask my ND partner who was standing by the fridge if we have any milk left and he can just reply “I don’t know” and go on standing there!! Seriously though it’s useful to try to understand the different thought processes etc and thank you for explaining them but it does leave me with many questions. I generally get on really well with my very special much loved ND partner. We’ve been together for 12 years and almost never argue ( both conflict averse but for different reasons). Neither of us find socialising easy and both need quiet time out and we have many shared joys. I have struggled though to understand how he can seem so devoted and put so much thought into a lovely birthday present for example and making cups of tea but seem so thoughtless in other ways. This explains some of it to me but it’s still hard to accept that he will be more interested in what colour he is going to paint his Dungeons and Dragons figure than hearing the result of my cancer biopsy or how he can stand outside the bedroom door talking very loudly into his phone about one of his hobbies while I’m trying to have a conversation with my brothers about end of life decisions for my mother who has just that day had a major accident. I’m beginning to understand that ND’s can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes but I struggle to understand why they can’t. Would he not mind if I did the same to him if his mother was dying? That’s a genuine question. Likewise do ND people not mind if they are telling someone about something that’s important to them and that person just walks out of the room? . I so nearly put it to the test just now as he was telling me about something that was boring and unimportant to me but I still couldn’t bring myself to walk off as I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings. I’ve always been too scared of saying anything or expressing my own needs as I know this would elicit an extreme response as he can’t cope with anything that even faintly resembles criticism no matter how calmly or kindly it is done so I’ve tried to take the path of focussing on the good and avoiding any form of confrontation. I have tried really hard to learn his language and understand his needs and what’s important to him without expecting him to be able to do the same for me. I know he shows his love in a different way. It’s been hard to accept though as I too although NT find it very uncomfortable to say sorry or be criticised but have just had to learn to tolerate those feelings of anxiety and discomfort and the desire to run away as best as possible for the sake of other people. If I can’t learn to be accountable because it’s really uncomfortable I will always be putting my own feelings above other people’s welfare. Just by the way I was struck by what you said about the ND feeling wantonly and unfairly abused if anyone does highlight something they’ve done wrong and how they are unable to connect it in their minds to their own behaviour. . A relative of mine who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder has the same issue eg. when she tried to kick the door down of the hospital ward as they were taking too long to let her in and a nurse had to take off her gloves and stop treating a patient to come and open the door she was genuinely perplexed as to why they told her off. She has gone on for years describing indignantly how the nursing staff ambushed her with no reason in the most outrageous manner and has no insight at all into her own behaviour. Do ND’s have any insight into their behaviour or any ability to self-reflect or are they similarly mystified?

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