Autism is not an excuse – it may well be a reason – but it is never an excuse. What I mean by this is, if something occurs such as a meltdown in a public place, you don’t need an excuse, you have a perfectly valid reason for your behaviour. You can choose to share this reason with the people around you or not, it’s up to you, it doesn’t matter, it`s none of their business anyway. But there is a fine line between things that you genuinely can’t help, and creating excuses for things that you can help. A lot of people claim that they get in to trouble socially because more people aren’t autism aware. But sometimes I think that the people who need to be most autism aware are the people with autism themselves – I say this because we need to be aware of the impact we can have on those around us – of course some people can’t be aware of their own behaviours, much less control them, and these individuals don’t need excuses, because they have perfectly good reasons – but if you have autism, and you know you have a tendency to offend people, but want to maintain your friendships, just try to think about what you are saying before you say it. Don’t think to yourself `would I find it offensive?` think about what people may have found offensive in the past, and then decide if you want to go ahead and say it. I am not for one second trying to say that this would be easy, but if you don’t try to think about the impact of what you are saying before you say it, then don’t be surprised if some people react negatively to what you say. Having autism doesn’t give us free-reign to say whatever we like to people. It might be thought of as cute if a child does it, but if a grown man or woman goes around telling everybody exactly what they think of them – we are probably going to get in to trouble at some point.
I have had a lot of people tell me that they don’t struggle to start friendships or relationships – but maintaining them is almost impossible. And largely they can’t see what they have done wrong. It is very, very rare that an argument is ever entirely one person’s fault. We all know that autism, by its very nature, influences our behaviour, so if you are in a friendship or relationship the person probably knows that from time to time something you do or say is out of your control. But you also need to be aware of the impact your behaviour may have on them – for example, if you move in with a partner and you know that every time you get in from work you are so overwhelmed by all of the contact and social interaction of the day, that you often end up having outbursts if you then have to talk with your partner, you should explain to them that you need half an hour alone, rather than having to talk to them straight away and risking having an outburst, and shouting at them. They might be perfectly aware that you have autism, but if you don’t explain how it affects you, what can they do to help? You need to talk to the neuro-typical people around you that you are close to, and you trust. Everybody in life has to compromise a bit. People who go through their life saying `this is who I am, I don’t change anything for anybody` are either liars, or are very difficult to get along with. To maintain any kind of relationship in life; be it a friendship, a partner, or a relationship with your own family, we have to be willing to compromise – that is the foundation of all healthy relationship’s – whether you have autism or not doesn’t come in to the equation. Obviously with autism, our behaviour may be a lot more difficult to change – I can say that from my own experience – but we would be incredibly selfish if we didn’t even try for the sake of the people we care about.
One thing that you have to think about is how much the neuro-typical people you are close to might be compromising, and accepting parts of your behaviour that they find difficult to live with; maybe they put up with your outbursts or sensory overloads, maybe they deal with the fact that it is harder to go out and do things spontaneously, and maybe they restrict the number of their possessions that they leave around because they know you need your things around you. There might be all kinds of things that they are changing or holding back – compromising isn’t easy for anyone, whether they are autistic or not. If the people we care about are doing things to make our relationships easier, then we should try to do the same.
Obviously you might not be able to tell by yourself what it is you need to do, in which case, don’t be afraid to ask people for help. You could ask people you are already close to what they think you can do to improve new friendships or new relationships. You can ask people if there is anything that you do that annoys them, and then change it if you can. The people who love you may be prepared to overlook or accommodate things you do, but not everybody will be. It is not about making yourself any less autistic, it is simply about trying to make your life easier, and about being able to maintain relationships that are important to you.
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