As an Autist, I find myself in an odd position when dealing with NTs who do not know me, or my condition. NTs spend a lot of time talking. I mean a lot of time. Constantly. If you don’t believe me, take a couple minutes the next time you are out and about and listen. No… Seriously… do it… Listen carefully… I believe you will find that the conversations around you that you are bathed in have little, if any, substance.
Inconsequentials have little place in conversation for an Autist. It falls under the heading of “Small Talk” and we really don’t do it. More importantly, I don’t think we CAN do it. NTs will discuss the weather… at length… they will talk about how hot it was last year at this time and how we need rain, we’ve been in a drought and how the weather is different now than it was when they were young.
When you ask an Autist about the weather… you will get a response that pertains to the here and now. “It’s hot.” – “It’s raining.” There is nothing more, there is nothing less… because the weather, unless it is a Special Interest for your Autist, the weather (or any other small talk subject, for that matter) will not elicit any substantial response.
As a student of human nature, I can see the point in many forms of small talk. By talking about inconsequentials, both parties are able to ascertain certain attitudes, assess conversational (and to a certain extent, intellectual and emotional) compatibility, and read micro-expressions in a controlled situation. Further, NTs use these situations and interactions to establish a pecking order, status and social dominance.
Most of these things are lost on the Autist. We are unable to read micro-expressions. Compatibility for us (emotional, intellectual and conversational) is a more direct thing for us than it is for NTs. We don’t need to do a verbal dance to ascertain it. Dominance and social standing is meaningless…
So, as you can see, small talk is a relatively fruitless thing for Autists…
The problem, as I see it, is that we are all primates. Primates use constant communication as a matter of safety. Primates, in the wild, will constantly chatter at one another… This is so that the entire troupe (that is what a group of monkeys or apes is called) can keep track of each other. If the vocal stresses of a member of the troupe change, the rest of the members know there is reason for caution. If a voice stops… the troupe knows that there is something severely wrong.
So, you see, there is a reason for it all… Autists are either more in touch with our instincts are able to ascertain the danger of our situation or (and this is more likely) we just don’t have those instincts. As such, the constant noise required by NTs for proper social interaction and comfort is uncomfortable for Autists.
Since we don’t have these instincts, we come across as odd in conversation. If we are on a topic that is one of our Special Interests, we cannot shut up about it. We will talk and talk and talk… and talk… and talk… If it is something we don’t have interest, or knowledge in, we are quiet – to the point of silence. There are a couple reasons for that. The first being that we all have a history of personal embarrassment from sounding like an idiot, so we don’t talk when we don’t know anything about the topic. Secondly, silence allows us to learn. When we are surrounded by people who are knowledgeable on the topic being discussed, we can learn all of the information that they present in the conversation. Knowledge… is addicting…
The crux of the matter is that if you don’t talk… just the right amount, you are screwed when dealing with NTs. If they happen to touch on your Special Interests, and we do what we do… Then you are arrogant and can’t be bothered to worry about what other people say. If you are quiet, and listening… you are arrogant and the conversation (or people IN the conversation) are beneath us and we are showing contempt for them by not contributing.
I wish I had a guide for when it was acceptable to speak, when it was acceptable to be quiet, when either was required… but I don’t know. I really don’t. Even after all of my experience with people watching… I just don’t know.
So, I offer this advice to NTs who have a pet Aspie or Autist… If you are in a conversation and your Autist is there… Find a way to include them… introduce them and explain to everyone that they are an Autist. Believe it or not, this will help the NTs in the conversation accept that your Autistic Spectrum Individual will not be judged because they are too talky or too quiet…
Images in this issue SHAMELESSLY stolen from the following sources: