I am a senior citizen with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Over the last more than 70 years of life, I have learned how to compensate for my personality disorder and almost appear normal. But under that facade of normality is an individual who, in a crowd, feels way outside his skin of apparent normalcy. So I occupy myself with things like eating if food is present to give the appearance of being preoccupied though I honestly do not know if I am really fooling anyone. I am comfortable speaking with up to 2 other individuals in private, about things I am passionate about, but if in a crowd of people I have trouble understanding what anyone is saying due to all the distracting chorus of voices which also causes me to lose focus on what the conversation is about. So I am unintelligible even to myself when trying to converse.
Autism, the Spectrum
The primary problem we autistic individuals have is the inability to sense what others mean by their subtle tone of voice, body language, or emotional state of mind. I also feel like an outsider not knowing what people are talking about. My knowledge of what is going on around me daily is very compartmentalized and specialized. I filter out things that don’t interest me as if I’d never heard them. And I have trouble at first understanding people who are telling me something totally unfamiliar. But if it interests me I’ll think about it and try to make sense out of it. I tend to take people literally at their word unless I am familiar with a figure of speech or what they represent. I also have little common sense of body language as indicated earlier. Sure when the signs are clear like someone is crying or shouting in anger I know that something is amiss, but I sometimes don’t understand the reason and don’t know how to give comfort. But many of the early signs of an emotional breakdown might be missed. I have learned over many decades of trial and error how to recognize some of the symptoms of emotions especially if I know the context but sometimes I misread the signs to my embarrassment. So I avoid such situations. But I can feel and express emotions myself. I just have a lot of difficulties feeling it in others. But I have a lot of empathy for others if I understand the reasons for their state of mind.
It can be even worst in the written word. It is common for me to totally misread the written word if it contains emotional text or symbolism. I simply take thing quite literally as written.
In sporting activities, I have no connection when crowds cheer a team on or in a religious context feeling the presence of God. So I don’t enjoy watching team sports or going to religious service.
But that is how I perceive the world around me, not necessarily how another autistic individual perceives the world. It isn’t called a spectrum disorder for nothing. There are autistic individuals who have almost no function and cannot care for themselves and must be institutionalized. And there are some autistic individuals who can live quite seemingly normal lives like me and an entire spectrum in between. But I think we all feel a bit uncomfortable around people we are unfamiliar with. Some autistic individuals such as myself have learning disabilities such as dyslexia and very poor memories to add to the challenges of life. Perhaps autism is a consequence of these learning problems, chicken and egg scenario.
Expectations of Others
So what does this have to do with expectation? I am primarily referring to my expectations of others. Keep in mind that I take people fairly literally. If a person says he or she will do something I expect them to do it even if others know from the tone of voice or facial expression not to take that person seriously. Their word is their promise as far as I am concerned. It is my expectation that they will keep their word.
I often do not understand clearly what people mean when for example giving brief instructions. The instructions seem obvious at first but later when trying to carry them out I find I don’t really understand them at all. So I set myself up for disappointment when their instructions are not detailed enough or misunderstood. I often wonder how others seem to have such a firm understanding of what to do.
The problem is that I frequently don’t understand what is unfamiliar to me. I have a certain understanding of people but when put in an unfamiliar setting I am like a fish out of water unable to improvise. That is because I have a set of expectations which if not met leads to a lot of confusion and feelings of panic and wanting to escape. I have tunnel vision regarding my interactions with others, even when communicating with those close to me. I appear so normal that I am treated as such. That is what I want but not necessarily what I need. Part of the problem is that my other disability of very poor short memory also comes into play. I have problems even remembering instructions past on verbally. I forget numbers and names of people and places so as soon as I start writing it down I have frequently forgotten what it was I was supposed record. So I have to have it repeated word by word as I write it down. This can be very embarrassing. I do sometimes feel like an idiot for not knowing how to follow simple verbal instructions.
Thank you for sharing your insight into being a high functioning autistic person. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand. Seek friendships with those who accept you as you are. Small group discussion settings would be better than crowds and spectator events. I am glad to considerl you my friend with shared concerns about our world.