Why Conversation Can Be Hard for Me as a Person on the Autism Spectrum
Most of the time, the main struggle for me is simply getting on with other people. Ideally this would be quite easy. This is mostly because of the importance placed on getting on well with others. It is not always easy, though. Typically it is possible for me, but other factors get in the way. There have been many occasions when I would have quite liked to converse with another person, perhaps in a spare moment. But the strain of everyday function always manages to get in the way.
If so much time was not spent worrying about where I was, what I was hearing, what I was seeing, I could do a much better job of starting a conversation. There is also the issue of considering what it is I could do to interest the other person. The automatic thought is that I am not interesting and that I have nothing of real value to say. If anything is started, I find I deliberately scale back some of what I am saying for fear of boring the individual I am speaking to. This then means if a conversation is brought about, then I can be restrained. I am quite happy to listen to the other person, but when the time comes for me to respond to something, I give half an answer.
On the face of it, this may not seem too bad. At least a conversation is taking place, even if it is at an early stage. The issue is developing those conversations further. I can sometimes find that my restrained manner could be perceived as a lack of interest from the other person. This then means the conversations never go further than being used as a way of wasting time, and that the individual either loses interest in talking to me and also thinks I do not really care about talking to them. This is a shame because in a lot of ways it could not be further from the truth. When it is manageable, I like to try and talk to different people. This is not always possible, but when it is, it is positive, because it feels like progress. If I can end the conversation thinking it went well, I will be quite pleased. The trouble is that this takes considerable effort. It almost brings about fatigue. I have to move beyond the comfort zone of sitting quietly and just have a go saying different things to see what works. Sometimes this works well and that is always good; other times it does not work so well, and it always brings about an amount of worry afterwards.
This then contributes to the fatigue that can be felt after an off-script conversation or particularly busy day. Off-script is a good way of describing it. A lot of the time I prefer for most days to be near enough the same. I have a tendency to informally plan the day and then go about the day following what that plan is. These are never written down, but I always know whether a day is going comfortably or not. Going off-script refers to any moment where I may try something I am not entirely comfortable with. If I have had a quiet few days, I may try to create conversation with the people I meet throughout the day. Despite the difficulty it can bring, it can also bring incredible positivity. If I go a long time without talking to many people, I start to think I may be something of a failure.
This is therefore an issue that continues to go round in circles. In one sense it is something I would like to improve. In another sense I am quite happy to carry on in my own way. It is probably a case of finding some kind of balance between the two. I do not have high expectations when it comes to forming friendships; in a lot of ways I would be quite happy to have a small group of people to meet up with every month, and that would be quite enough. It is also something I do not feel that I can have high expectations of either. This is because I find I am near enough starting from nowhere. The one thing that does need to change is the way I appear to other people. With things as they are, it is not difficult for me to appear rude or perhaps unappreciative of other people. This is the main thing I would like to work on going forward.
So it is simply a case of working on the simple aspects of conversation. Just saying hello to people would be beneficial. The trouble with this is that I have only recently realized this is something done quite often, and it is out of being polite. Part of the issue was that I perhaps thought acknowledging someone in passing was only really reserved for friends, not just for people I half know. I am going to try to do a better job of this in the future. It may then be possible that I get on better and then end up enjoying day-to-day life more.
As I have said, as much as talking to people is difficult, it always feels like positive progress. So if I can manage to do better over time, I may find I will get on better with other people. This can help with enjoying life more, and it could also be a route into employment. That is part of where some of my bitterness with the way the world works has come from. One of the best qualities that an individual can have, it seems, is to appear a certain way. This opens up a lot of doors and can make life a lot easier. It is therefore an important life skill. Yet it is usually left to the individual to learn the skill for themselves. This then leads to a number of people, including myself, being shut out of mainstream life. So it is now time for me to try and do something about it.
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Thinkstock image by Rupert King