This is the first guest post I have put on my blog. I met Tacy on LinkedIn through our common interest of life as an autistic adult. Tacy shared this with me and I thought it does such a great job of conveying the world as some of us on the autism spectrum experience it, I asked if I could share it and am very appreciative the answer was yes.
Autistic Intent and Perceptions of Dubiousness
By Tacy Traverso, The Autistic Wolf
First, a quick story: One day, I was hanging out with a person I love, very much, and said person went to the fridge to grab some food to suffice for dinner. On the plate was a large pile of salami. I said “WOW, that’s a LOT of salami!” As it happens, this person has self-image challenges based on self-perception of weight. (Note, I hadn’t noticed a change in their weight, nor cared anyway.) After my comment, which I made because I had never seen that much salami on such a small plate before, the other person went quiet. After some poking and prodding, over about an hour, they finally admitted that I hurt their feelings with my statement. They thought I said that as a malicious contribution to their self-image issues around weight. I did my best to explain otherwise, but it didn’t quite stick.
Moments like that have happened often with this person, and with others.
At present, I have been in negotiations with another someone, who I love very deeply. We’ve had to negotiate some very difficult decisions, and recently, negotiations broke down completely.
Throughout this process, I have taken some side steps to protect myself and my children. My decisions to do that live in a box (in my warehouse of a brain), and this box is labeled “take care of your core”. In the other box, where I was working to negotiate from, is my love for this person. It still glows and burns. That box is labeled “take care of the person you love unconditionally.”
As negotiations and dialog progressed towards the spiral of failure, the other party kept misinterpreting what I was doing to “take care of my core”, and thought I was actually trying to destroy the box my love for them sits in. Nay.
This is the misinterpretation of intent that I believe happens OFTEN when Autistics develop relationships with non-Autistics. The non-Autistic knows how to play social games and therefore assumes we do too. They interpret actions as intentionally hurtful, when they are not.
To be clear, some of the actions I have taken, no doubt, resulted in the potential for the other party to feel hurt. However, again, malicious intent was lacking. I took actions to care for my core, acknowledging and apologetic that they may hurt, but able to distance myself from that risk in order to be logical and rational in that care of my core.
This ability to distance oneself from emotion in the favor of logic, can create the potential for the Autistic person to seem cold and dubious; our character called into question. The neurotypical world assumes we mean to hurt, and doesn’t understand that most of us are incapable of thinking that way. In our innocence and logic, we watch them respond and are deeply puzzled by why they are treating us like the next evil to crawl out of hell. We can ask them, directly, to explain how they feel and what lead them to assume our intent, but, in their own hurt and falling back on fear, it’s rare a neurotypical that can slow down for a moment and explain or ask questions to better understand.
If, right now, someone said I should do something to really hurt this other party, I’d say I don’t know how, don’t want to, and won’t be disingenuous with my feelings of love for that person. I simply can’t. While someone has my love and adoration, I am incapable of intentionally hurting them. There’s that word again: intent. For me to be capable of even considering intentionally hurting someone, they’d have to be in the “bad person” box in my mind, and it takes a lot to get there. Even still, I’m not inclined to waste life force on working to hurt others. I just stay away from them.
This challenge of being Autistic and having misunderstood intent has struck my whole life experiences. I have lost friends, family, and lovers who did not understand that my intent to hurt them was lacking; but my logic to be cautious and protective was not, and thus ruled my choices.
So, I say here, keep in mind that if the Autistic person in your life seems to be intentionally hurtful, talk to them. Ask them, not in an attacking way, what drove their decision to do or say something (which we can assume you found to be hurtful). Chances are, the answer will be logical, but you, the non-Autistic, will have to set your emotions aside for a moment to see that. With more effort here, neurotypicals who love Autistics, can start repairing and strengthening their bonds with us. We need you to lead that process as it is you who feels slighted and hurt to begin with. In contrast, many Autistics who feel hurt, will ask direct questions to understand intent.
I hope we can all keep the lines of communication open, and avoid cutting more ties that bond us all together.