An Open Letter to Non-Autistic Friends & Family3 min read

An Open Letter to Non-Autistic Friends and Family,

We know you try to relate to us, your autistic loved ones. We appre­ciate it; we truly do. But in many ways, many of us keep hearing the mes­sage from people that they can relate.  You really can’t.  I will try to help you better under­stand, in writing, because I can express myself with more clarity in text than I can ver­bally.  A few areas that you may think you are relating well to us include social inter­ac­tions, noise over-stimulation, and mis­un­der­standing.  You might be shy, sen­si­tive, intro­verted, or quirky, but that doesn’t trans­late to under­standing our expe­ri­ences.

Social inter­ac­tions are down­right draining.  We can have had eight or more hours of sleep and be exhausted after just a half hour of social inter­ac­tion.  Not just men­tally exhausted– phys­i­cally, as if we just ran a marathon.  The social inter­ac­tion can be pleasant and with people we are fond of– it doesn’t matter. It’s draining nonethe­less.  Sometimes, in the right cir­cum­stances, we can give you much more time and focus.  Learn more about that by reading about The Jar Principle.

When we need to excuse our­selves to be alone or even to leave, please under­stand that all is well. We have just exerted all of the energy avail­able in our reserves, and it’s time for a break. 

Noise can be excep­tion­ally both­er­some. Many of us love music, but I per­son­ally cannot handle music that is too loud. Even if we love the song, the sounds of many dif­ferent voices in a crowded place, a sudden loud noise, per­sis­tent unpleasant noises, or a reg­ular voice being heard for too long are all pos­sible trig­gers for meltdowns/shutdowns.  When there are too many sounds at once, my brain can’t sep­a­rate your voice from the tele­vi­sion in the back­ground or a fork grating against a plate across a crowded restau­rant.

I per­son­ally shut down in places I don’t feel at lib­erty to scream or cry by trying to zone out, pre­tending I am not there and what I am hearing is not hap­pening. If we are together in a loud envi­ron­ment and my eyes are glazed over like I’m in a trance, you can be sure that I’m dis­con­necting myself from the reality that is just too much to bear at that moment. We may wear ear pro­tec­tion, but keep in mind that those pro­tec­tions are not always enough.

We might seem to be very lit­eral. This is because our body lan­guage and facial expres­sions may or may not match the words we are saying, but trust us- we mean what we say.  This is because we are wired for words, and our emo­tions aren’t as impor­tant to us as our facts.  Don’t try to read more into what we say.  Also, it is very con­fusing to us when you do not do the same. Please do not expect us to pick up on subtle cues.  We may or may not pick up on those cues; how­ever, we are going to listen to and believe (or at least believe that you believe) the words you tell us. We are not lacking a sense of humor and we are not gullible (both of which I’ve been accused by either cor­recting someone or believing some­thing that was untrue). Just as it is dif­fi­cult for you to relate to the way our brains work, it is dif­fi­cult for us to relate to the way your brains work. We can all work on that!

Undoubtedly, you have expe­ri­enced times when you were not in a social mood, times that noises both­ered you or gave you headaches, and times that you were both mis­un­der­stood and mis­in­ter­preted by someone else. We know that you have, but trust us, you can not truly relate. There is a dif­fer­ence between having times like these, and living from one moment to the next only ever knowing times like these. ’

We thank you for wanting to relate and under­stand, but com­paring us or saying that “we’re the same” is min­i­mizing our strug­gles.  We have no choice but to push our­selves daily to be patient in a world where the people around us have totally dif­ferent needs, values, and pref­er­ences.  Please be patient with us as we try to meet you on your ter­ri­tory and your terms, and try to rec­i­p­ro­cate and meet us on ours some­times.  You don’t have to relate to us to know us and love us.  

Latest posts by aspieaspired (see all)

4 Comments

  1. Good piece! I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Very true! I’m pretty recently diag­nosed and in my late 40s. I hadn’t realised how much I masked or felt that I am weird or rude because I can’t cope with going to a party, or even out to go shop­ping. It is freeing to know that it’s ok to be and do what is right for me.

    1. Author

      😍

Talk to us... what are you thinking?