I’m autistic. Part of being autistic is that I do not always read people’s communication properly. Sometimes even other autistic people. And that means that sometimes, social blunders happen. Sometimes I say or do something that others find not acceptable. Sometimes I even hurt someone based on a misunderstanding in communication. But there’s one thing I won’t do: I have never, ever, deliberately caused someone else pain. I’m not perfect. I can hardly claim I am, but here’s the thing: no one else is perfect either. And the world would be a much kinder, more collaborative place, if we just took everyone’s actions with the knowledge that every single person, at some point in their lives, is going to make a stupid mistake. For some of us, those mistakes happen more often than others. I try really really hard to communicate well. I try really really hard to make sure that I am respectful, kind, and considerate. I try really really hard to be a nice person. But just because I try doesn’t mean I always succeed. I can’t bear to inflict pain knowingly on anyone else. But the truth is, sometimes I screw up. Sometimes my social algorithms go wrong. Sometimes I get confused and make a bad assumption. And sometimes that mistake causes someone else to feel badly. Now what?
I have never intentionally tried to hurt someone’s feelings. But sometimes I do or say things that cause people’s feelings to get hurt. This is not only part of being autistic, this is part of being human. I’m writing this all in first person, because this is what applies to me. But it more than likely applies to other people too.
If I hurt your feelings, please tell me. Straightforwardly. Say “that was offensive. That hurt my feelings. I am mad at you. Do not do that again”. Please do not just sulk and glare. I can sometimes (maybe 50/50) guess that you’re mad or annoyed. But I won’t have a clue what I did to make you angry. I am only ever to improve my social algorithms if I have a clue what I did wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to forgive me, or tell me that you’re not mad, or anything else. But please, don’t seethe in private and expect me to “figure it out”. I can’t read minds – it’s a skill I’ve worked hard at for years, but unfortunately a skill I’m lacking. I understand that you are a human too, and that you have feelings that you need to work through. I understand that forgiveness may not be possible right away, or in very extreme cases, ever. But please, if you value me as a person, let me know, so that I can learn from this mistake and not make it in the future. Even if you never want anything to do with me again, tell me why. Or I’ll go my whole life wondering what it was I did wrong, and probably hurt other people that way too.
If I have hurt your feelings, and you tell me why, please give me the opportunity to apologize, and attempt to make things right. Again, you do not have to forgive me immediately. When I hurt someone’s feelings, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the problem right away. I know that. However if you tell me what I have done, I will always think about it. I will sit and try to process what was so hurtful. I will internalize some of the pain I have caused you, and am almost always genuinely sorry. And I will say so. I will also try to fix whatever I have done if it is possible to fix. Some things are not fixable. I understand that. Some things need time to process, to cool down. I understand that too. But I genuinely do want to make things right when I make a mistake, and if at all possible, please let me. And please, if I apologize and you’re not ready to accept the apology, don’t keep yelling. Don’t keep beating me up over a mistake I made, and have apologized for. Nobody deserves to be a punching bag. And yelling leads to communication shutdowns. Please just communicate directly. If you don’t want to interact with me, say “I need some space right now. Please leave me alone”. Or “I’m not ready to talk with you”. Either of these I will understand and respect. And I will step away and maybe come back later.
I value the people I make connections with. It is hard for me to connect with people and even harder to become friends. One small mistake should not destroy those connections. Life is a moving target. Every day I learn something new. In my life I strive to be respectful. I strive to be kind. And even when I fail, I am always learning. Always observing and trying to figure out how to be a better person in this world not meant for people like me.
So what does this all mean? It means that autistic people, just like allistic people, can and do make social blunders. It means that when those social blunders inevitably happen, that we can try to learn from them. It means that a little bit of compassion and patience can go a very long way in improving the quality of life and the social interactions for all parties. When an autistic person makes a social blunder, don’t assume nefarious intent. Yes, some autistic people are out there to hurt people. Just like some allistic people are out there to hurt people. But before you assume the worst, give a person the benefit of the doubt. Yelling and flinging insults and accusing people is not productive. Let them be a person, too. And give them the chance to learn and make things right.
The only other thing I have to add here is that regardless of the neurotypes of the people involved in this type of conflict, regardless of personal histories, of diagnoses or lack thereof, people should be treated and respected as human beings. There is often not a single easy answer to who or what is “right” and “wrong”. Disagreements happen. They are a part of life. The autistic person is not always right, nor are they always wrong. They are, however, always a person, with feelings and values, trying their best to get along in this world. And they deserve to be treated as such.
This image has been making its way around facebook, and I think it applies here more than anywhere. I do not own the image or the caption, so if it is yours and you object to my use of it, please let me know.
Image Description: a young girl is running away from the shot into a sunset. The caption covers the whole image and reads “I was born to make mistakes. Not Fake Perfection”