Take a look at the title for this blog. You have most likely been asked that question if you are on the Autistic Spectrum, or are a quiet person when you are amongst a lot of people. I have been asked that question many times, and I must say it still does annoy me quite a bit. For anybody on the Autistic Spectrum, initiating conversations with people and making friendships is especially difficult in the school environment. I have described many of my experiences during seventh through tenth grade at Freeport, and many of them had to deal with people not wanting to associate with me just because I was “not like everybody else”. I would try to start conversations with people, but they would ignore me or pretend to listen to me.
A few of my teachers suggested that I tell my classmates about Asperger’s, but I immediately said no. My main reason I said no was because people can be very judgmental if they find out you have an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis. People believe the negative stereotypes that come from the media. When most people think of Autism, they think of the child with severe Autism who sits in a wheelchair and can’t talk. There are also many people out there who have heard of Autism, but not Asperger’s Syndrome. They do not understand that every single Aspergian is different. They all have different weaknesses, strengths, interests and personalities.
I did a blog a few weeks ago called “Why Don’t You Find Friends Your Own Age”? It talked about why it was and still is difficult to interact with people my age. This post is somewhat related to it. The reason why I had trouble interacting with people in my grade was because they just didn’t understand me. I didn’t feel it was worth telling my classmates about it face to face, because I don’t think they would really care. Most of the students at Freeport were very close minded, and they only focused on their friends and their own lives. During my freshman year of high school, I came to realize that people really were not that interested in getting to know me. On the first few days, I walked over to four or five groups of people, and they all either rolled their eyes at me, or told me it was “reserved for somebody else”. I thought about telling my teachers about it, but I thought I eventually decided it wouldn’t help because they most likely disrespect me even more. Close minded people most likely won’t change. I eventually decided to sit at an empty table by myself.
In my past blog posts I have also described situations where people have tricked me into thinking they were just merely trying to be friendly, then they would turn around and say or do something mean to me. I felt as if all people were out to get me. I wanted nothing to do with people in my school as a result. There were also some people who tried to start a conversation with me, but I would just sit there and ignore them. In my mind I said “I’m afraid they are going to be mean, so I should just not talk to them at all”. After all, I didn’t have any “real friends”, so why should I bother talking to people in the first place? When I would ignore people who tried to talk to me, they would patronize me and say things like “You are supposed to say good when people say hi to you”. There were also people who would talk to me in the same tone of voice that a kindergarten teacher would speak to their students. There was a girl in my grade who sat behind me on the bus and she asked me “Derek, how do you like the high school? Do you have lots of friends to talk to?” I rolled my eyes and ignored her after she asked me that irritating question. When I would walk by, she would whisper about me and laugh at me behind my back. I could obviously tell she wasn’t really interested in getting to know me. She enjoyed shoving the fact that I didn’t have friends down my throat.
With that in mind, take a minute and look back at my post titled “What Does Cool Mean”? It talked about how the word “cool” was often mistaken for “popular”. As my freshman year went on, I tried to fit in with the “cool” crowd and they obviously did not really enjoy my presence. I completely regret trying to “fit in” with that group of people, because I came to realize they were not my kind of people. When I started interacting with some of those people online, they seemed to enjoy talking to me at first. But after a while, they would start ignoring my messages and signing off of AIM when I would try to start a conversation with them. Ever since then, I only interact with people on chat rooms who I know in person and consider close friends or family. My reason for this is because you don’t know what they are really thinking. The person you are Instant Messaging could say “that’s cool” when they could really be thinking “I don’t give a sh**, why are you talking to me? I’ve got more important people to talk to”. I have noticed that people who give you one or two word responses usually are not that interested in talking to you. When I talk to my friends or family online, I try to give them a reply that is at least two or three sentences long. It helps your conversation sound more interesting.
Instant messaging was and still is easier for me because recognizing facial expressions and looking people in the eye was extremely difficult for me. Very much like John Elder Robison, people didn’t like it when I would not look them in the eye. They would tell me to look at them, then I would forget about it and look away. They would then become angry with me, which made me even more afraid of looking them in the eye. People would also yell at me for exhibiting inappropriate facial expressions for the mood of the current situation. I would expect to hear teachers say things like “Stop staring at me like a deer staring at headlights”, or “Why are you smiling?! That is not funny! Shame on you for laughing!” People sometimes use emoticons to express their emotion, and that helps me recognize how they are feeling.
To wrap up, there are many things you should never ask somebody like me, and the question I put in the title is one of them. My best advice I can give about this is ignore them if they ask you that irritating question. It may seem rude, but they will eventually give up on trying to talk to you. There really is no better way to explain this than say “It’s just the way I am”. I only associate with people who I know will support me and won’t be judgmental about my diagnosis. Those people are my close family members and close friends.