“Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me!?” – The Autistic Side of Awkward Social Encounters
“What my son said in church last Sunday was so embarrassing!”
“My girlfriend started talking about her bathroom habits at dinner. I couldn’t believe it!”
“I started talking about a movie I saw yesterday, and my friend completely derailed the conversation and told me all about HER favorite movies for the rest of the afternoon!”
Non-autistics, yes, sometimes you will have an awkward social encounter with us.
Considering we speak two different neurological languages, it’s 100% bound to happen. (We probably think some of the things you do and say are awkward, too, at times. It goes both ways.)
But this is where communication is SO important! Not in every case, but very often, the autistic person in your life has absolutely no idea that what they are saying or doing is awkward or uncomfortable for you.
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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:
And, not only is this awkward for you, but when we finally DO find out, a horror film of confusing encounters plays through our brains as we piece together all the OTHER times we’ve said or done something similar, and, inevitably, we’ll ask the question either aloud or in our heads, “Why didn’t anyone TELL me!?”
As an adult discovering these things, I can tell you I asked that question a LOT and was often met with a quizzical look and a, “We thought you knew!!”
Huh? Then why would I walk around embarrassing myself and everyone around me??
So, again, as I’ve said many times on this page: Don’t assume. Non-autistic people have a habit of not directly pointing out awkward behavior because they don’t want to be perceived as rude, but, they WILL discuss it with their other non-autistic friends in an attempt to vent, bond, and connect.
(That fact bothers some autistic people, but not me.)
However, venting to your friend out of frustration does nothing to help us understand how WE are being perceived by others, which means we’ll carry on obliviously making the same social mistake over and over again.
This helps no one and actually hinders us socially because it feeds into preconceived notions about us that the people you’re venting to will have before they even meet us.
Think about it like someone who has food stuck between their teeth. They don’t know why everyone is looking at them strangely all day until they get home and look in the mirror hours later.
If you think your autistic loved one is doing something awkward, tell them when you’re both alone in a low-stress environment.
And, use this formula to tell them:
1) Tell them exactly what behavior you noticed.
2) Explain how you perceived the behavior.
3) Ask the intention of the behavior.
4) Explain how others might interpret the behavior.
5) Explain, in detail, why the behavior is being interpreted this way.
6) Offer suggestions on what to do instead.
This gives the autistic person the knowledge they need and opportunity to make a conscious choice about what they will do going forward.
Is this a behavior they want to change? Maybe. Is this a stim that is non-negotiable? It could be. But with knowledge and awareness, the autistic person will then be able to explain their own behavior and actions, should they choose to, and this would lead to better understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity all around!
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