Why Your Autistic Loved One Appears to “Ignore” You

Closeup view of a young woman's bright blue eyes with text that reads, 'Why your autistic loved one appears to "ignore" you.'

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been startled by someone who thought I was ignoring them because they raised their voice or got close to me without warning.

I think a lot of neurodivergent people have experienced this. They’re off in a corner somewhere, safe in their own little world, thinking about their favorite movie or game or book, when suddenly–SOMEONE IS RIGHT IN THEIR FACE YELLING AT THEM!

It’s basically the equivalent of a NT peacefully watching the sunset on the back porch when an intruder leaps out of the bushes!

For some of us, it’s terrifying and traumatizing and brings on an instant meltdown. People have PTSD from being startled all the time. I know I do.

NTs, if you think the ND person in your life is ignoring you out of rudeness, this is 9 times out of 10, not the case. We’re not ignoring you at all. “Ignoring” implies purposeful intent, and that’s rarely what’s going on.

Here’s what’s probably happening instead:

1) We are thinking deeply about something and are totally immersed in it.

We are very inward-directed people, so when we think, we go inside of ourselves and live out the whole experience in our heads. We have no idea you’re there. We barely know WE’RE there!

2) We are not awake yet.

Neurodivergent people have a difficult time with changes to our current state of being. If we’re asleep, we want to stay that way, awake, stay that way, wet, stay that way, dry, stay that way. Some of us need a few HOURS to be fully alert after waking up.

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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:



3) We don’t identify with our names.

Many ND people just don’t feel connected to their names and, therefore, don’t respond to them because it just blends into the rest of the background noise.

4) We have slower processing time when it comes to outside stimuli.

We may take 30 seconds to a minute to hear you, process your presence and words into cohesive language, load the appropriate response in our brains, arrange our facial expressions and tone of voice carefully so as not to offend and/or be abused, and carry out the correct response. It can be a VERY complicated process!

5) We may have sensory overload.

When we’re overloaded, we can’t take in any more information. “All circuits are busy. Please try your call again later.” It’s not personal, it’s neurology.

Are there times when we actually ignore people? Sure. We may try to avoid a social interaction (especially with someone we’ve had a negative encounter with in the past), but even that’s not rudeness, it’s self-preservation!

I’m sure ND people also ignore others on purpose to be rude here and there. I can’t speak for everyone, but, in my opinion, like most NT to ND interactions that go horribly wrong, it’s a simple case of misunderstanding.

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1 Response

  1. April 19, 2020

    […] Why Your Autistic Loved One Appears to “Ignore” You […]

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