For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt like I was treated differently. People never seem to get close to me. People were friendly, but I was always kept at an arm’s length. No one is truly vulnerable around me. I see it in my work life, especially in my role as a pastor. Other pastors seem to be able to meet with others with ease. It’s left me wondering at times what is wrong with me? Being African American, I have wondered if it had to do anything with race. I used to wonder what was going on with me. But I wonder if this social isolation is because of another aspect about me: my being on the autistic spectrum.
I can’t speak for other people on the spectrum, but at least for me autism has felt socially isolating. You don’t feel close to anyone and people don’t always go out of your way to get to know you. It’s already a task to get to know others even though that is what you want. There’s this fear of talking to others because you worry about saying something wrong. When you are in a conversation with someone, you have to think ahead about what to say next, since small talk doesn’t come easy for you. The long and the short of it is you long to know others, but it’s difficult and on top of all this, it feels like people don’t want to be around you.
Turns out that none of this is unusual. I’ve learned that the issue is that people tend to be uncomfortable around autistic people- which makes social isolation even worse:
Autistics make other people uncomfortable, and we do this almost instantly upon meeting. In my communications classes, I teach about the 50 to 500 milliseconds during which most people develop first impressions. These impressions are difficult, nearly impossible, to counteract with evidence and familiarity.
Knowing us doesn’t undo the initial discomfort of meeting us. That is the cost of autism.
This paragraph from a person on Reddit puts the issue in stark relief:
I am socialised to show “support” for autistic people or I’ll face backlash. So here is me, and my true off my chest. You cannot force social change or…