Awkward encounters

I seem to have accumulated a lot of entertaining people-related anecdotes lately. I think this is what comes of entering the world of work and serving the public. Or maybe it’s yet another perk of being autistic. I don’t know. On one hand, many of the following incidents did happen before, during, or after work. On the other, my mum has pointed out that I have the sort of aura that people stopping other people in the street immediately pick up on.

For one thing, I’ve always been susceptible to racist jibes from strangers. I’m half British, I’ve lived in this country since I was four. Yet I got it all the time from boys at secondary school. I’ve had various guys shout “ni hao” to me in the street. And then a few months ago, some boys loitering outside said school shouted “Great Wall of China!” at me on my way to work. My sides are splitting just thinking about it.

Then of course, there are people I’ve seen at work. Most of them are anywhere from normal to lovely. But of course, there are always a few who are rude about your job performance, have out-of-control children, or who just aren’t the full ticket. Like the woman who left her new loyalty card on the counter where I couldn’t see it, then came back and got all shirty with me for not rushing after her to return it. Yep. Definitely my fault.

Or the man who kept muttering Bible verses, insults towards the shop, and questions that made no sense, and then asked what was wrong with me when I didn’t follow. And kept talking about me to my colleagues but nothing to my face. Apparently I was the one with the problem. Clearly.

And it’s not just when I’m out and about, either. I was alone one evening and ended up answering the door to a young woman asking to speak to the homeowners. I said they were out, and added that we don’t take calls like this. She then said I was being patronising, and really rude treating her like a cold caller when she was trying to do her job*. In her defence, when I apologised, and explained I was autistic and hadn’t known what to say, she apologised back. Can’t complain.

Still, it’s not all frustration and rudeness. Only this week, I had a woman come into the shop looking for a book for a friend, but she couldn’t remember what it was called. Thinking she was collecting an order, I asked for “her name.” Thinking I meant the author’s name, she said she’d just check her phone. Which left me wondering why she needed to check her friend’s name on her phone…

 

 

 

*Whatever that was. Turning up out of the blue uninvited, I think.

 

 

Look into my eyes…

What is it about eye contact that can make someone so uncomfortable? Or completely put them at ease? Well there are lots of things. Duration. Emotion behind the eyes. Timing. To name a few.

Lack of eye contact is one of the most tell-tale signs of autism. Apparently I was no exception as a child. I remember learning over the years that simply hearing, and verbally responding to, something that’s been said, isn’t enough. In other words, to feel heard, the person speaking needs to feel seen.

Autistic people have many reasons for lack of eye contact. If I’m not looking you in the eye as much as I should, there could be any number of reasons. You might have caught me when I was concentrating on something else. The most likely one, however, is simple: sometimes I forget. I know how eye contact works. It’s just something I have to consciously remember.

And occasionally, if emotions are running high, it is too much. As I’m often acutely aware of emotions anyway, looking in people’s eyes sends my ability to focus out of the metaphorical window. Or maybe I’m trying to hide my own emotions, usually resentment or tears. This is a common one for autistics and non-autistics alike.

Another reason, which I’ve yet to hear from anyone else, is that if someone is talking at length to me, I find it easier to take in what they are saying if I’m not looking into their eyes too much. Eye contact means involuntary communication. And that takes up concentration. But then people cannot tell the difference between when I’ve stopped listening and when I’m listening uber-hard. So I do need to work on that.

Which I am. When I’m not forgetting to make eye contact, I make a conscious attempt to give the look that shows I care, and encourages people to open up to me. Or if I’m trying to get a point across. As for playful banter, I’ve mastered eye communication to a T. Just ask anyone who’s ever seen my Hard Stare.

Even working in the bookshop has taught me more about the importance of eye contact. Just little things like catching a customer’s eye and asking them how I can help them (when I’m shopping, I keep my head down the whole time hoping the salesperson won’t notice me, but that’s just me). When I offer loyalty cards, people are much more likely to accept if I look them in the eye the whole time. And if nothing else, a quick glance between colleagues when facing a difficult customer signals: RED ALERT!

So am I just stating the obvious a lot of the time? Well maybe, to non-autistics. But that’s the whole point; eye contact formalities often aren’t second nature to people on the spectrum. At best, they’re learned behaviour. But then that isn’t obvious to people not on the spectrum. Which I why I write posts like this. Now look me in the eye and tell me autistic people can’t communicate. Go on, I dare you.

look-at-that-face

Come on, look at that face! Who wouldn’t want to make eye contact?

 

New Year’s musings

And it starts. Happy New Year, world. Every year at this time, people all over the internet complain about the year gone by, and hope for a better one. True, there have been numerous British and American political events that people are still at each other’s throats over. Not to mention a lot of senseless shooting. And celebrity deaths. But then every year has its low points. And you can bet that this time next year, people will still have their complaints.

Personally, for me 2016 has been quite a significant year. Generally when people say something like that, they mean it’s been tough. I’m not saying that, I just mean that it’s been full of significant life events. Namely:

Moving back home

Graduating with a 2:1

Going abroad on my own for the first time

Getting my internship at the bookshop

Having a blog post published on the National Autistic Society website and starting a Facebook page 

And it’s taught me a lot. Now this could be the part where I post some wise, yet obscure, life lessons that hint at countless hardships I’ve faced. Or it could be the part where I list a few key thoughts I’ve had over the past year and add that, if I don’t state what caused me to have them, then I probably don’t know. Not because I’m secretly hoping for admiration or sympathy. Anyway:

Trying to meet more people in the hope of finding friends is fine, but often the best friendships are the most unexpected. – Following an unfortunate friendship break up, I spent my 3rd year either trying new social events or feeling “peopled out” yet lonely. Now, through unrelated circumstances, I have grown closer to certain old friends, and have established a good level of banter with my colleagues that even makes me look forward to work.

Books or websites describing a condition give you a headstart in understanding, but they don’t describe a specific person. – I’m an Asperger person with emotions. Need I say more?

Everyone needs to feel like they mean something to someone

When trying to figure out why you feel a certain way, don’t force it. Sometimes you have to wait for thoughts to come.

You can only be held accountable for your own actions and mistakes. You are not responsible for others’.

So yeah, this year in a nutshell. Globally, it’s had its pitfalls. For me, it’s been good, and, given the number of people I know who haven’t had it easy lately, I’m grateful for the good times. If a little worried for the future. But hey, bring it on, 2017!