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A chance encounter October 22, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, social.
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I think I met another autistic person on the way home from work.

I had just pressed the button to cross the street when I saw him. He was about halfway across the smaller cross street when I noticed something funny: this man was walking like I do. He was paying attention to each step he took, as if he’d lose his legs and feet if he lost awareness of them. For a moment I thought he might be drunk — I’ve been accosted before by security types who think I’m drunk because of the way I walk — but discounted that fairly quickly. He was too centered, too aware. Most people, when drunk, try to act sober, and I never felt that from him.

I might leave it at that — “Oh, he could have been autistic, but he’d probably just had a bit much to drink” — if not for what happened next.

He made it to my corner. Neither of us tried to make eye contact, but we both acknowledged the other in our own ways. (I smiled. He nodded.)

He stopped. It wasn’t a very fluid motion — more along the lines of “oh crap, I almost forgot my keys” than a premeditated stop — and spoke.

What exactly did he say?

Not “H’lo there.”

Not “Cold out tonight, isn’t it?”.

Not any of the small talk one might expect from a stranger on the street at 10:30 PM.

What did he say to me?

“Nice red coat.”

And then he started walking again. Didn’t even give me a chance to say “thank you.” (That would have been — was, since I said it anyway — the correct response, right?)

That’s what made it for me. The first ping on my aut-dar I’ve had in a long time.

Of course, we didn’t do the secret handshake, so I’ll never know for sure if he’s truly on the spectrum or if I’m just making stuff up.

(There really ought to be a secret handshake. That would make life so much easier.)

Bride of Single Sentence Saturday. September 6, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in outside looking in, single sentence saturday, social.
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Three times this week, I’ve wanted to be able to give it up and just be like everybody else for once.

Musings from the 42 Limited August 22, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in outside looking in, social.
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Riding the bus makes everybody a little autistic.

There’s the woman in the back who’s so engrossed in her book that she misses her stop… and the next one… and the one after that… and ends up getting off a mile later than she’d intended.

There’s the woman in the other corner who’s been on the bus for an hour already. She’s not going anywhere in particular, but is just in it to watch the people.

There’s the man anchoring himself to a pole in the aisle because he doesn’t want to sit next to someone he doesn’t know.

There’s the woman pressing her face against the window, staring at the patterns in the road.

There’s the man who’s rocking just a little bit more than the bus itself is doing.

There’s the oddly-dressed teen in the front who smiles at everyone who enters and is still waiting for someone to smile back.

There’s the man who doesn’t reply at all when the driver asks if he wants a transfer slip.

There’s the small child who breaks free from his mother to talk to a formidable-looking man about his collection of bugs. Even when said formidable-looking man is obviously uninterested and uncomfortable.

There’s the one person everybody else pretends not to be staring at, and the one person everybody else sees but doesn’t really notice.

(Guess which of these people is me. Whichever one you pick, you’re right.)

Echolalia August 5, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in language, social.
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Echolalia is one of the most important elements of spoken language. If you think I’m wrong, just think of how most parents react when their babies start babbling.

It’s also one of the markers for autism spectrum disorders.

The first time anybody suggested that I might be on that particular spectrum, I was a little kid, and one of the reasons that the diagnosis got deferred for twelve-odd years was that I hadn’t exhibited echolalia in the way she had expected.

Of course, I never do anything the way people expect.

So here’s how it works with me:

-I repeat myself. There’s a set of stock words and phrases I use — some would say overuse — in conversation. It especially comes out when I’m uncomfortable. Think of it as a stronger version of “so, how ’bout them Yankees?”.

-I pick up the linguistic foibles of other people. Add this and my oddly-shaped sinuses to the fact that I have family thirty years removed from New England, and somehow I have waitresses complimenting my Canadian accent.

-I do impressions. Kind of. I’m horrible at doing specific impressions — which is really odd, considering point 2 above — but I can repeat the words and tone of lines from video media extremely well. Once I’ve heard it a few times and have it memorized, that much is easy for me. My favorite dramatic warm-up is the one where people pair off and start imitating each other.

But what are your thoughts on felines? August 1, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in cats, interaction, introductions, social.
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I have a very simple system for gauging how a person will react to finding out I am autistic. Its strength lies in that if I’m in a situation where it might not be safe to be “out,” I can back out of the conversation and nobody will be the wiser.

So here’s what I do when I want to know how someone might react to me: I start talking about cats. Not in the “I have a cat and she’s the craziest creature on the planet” sense, but cats in general. Here’s what I’ve found:

If the person says she or he doesn’t like cats because “they’re so antisocial,” or because “I just don’t get them,” he or she isn’t going to get the concept of autism advocacy. Not at first, at least. The person expects all people to be dog people, and cats throw wrenches into that particular set of works. The trick with these people is to let them get to know you as an individual first, then start talking autism.

If the person is able to understand cats, you’re probably okay to talk autism right away. A neurotypical person who “gets” cats is much more likely to be able to truly sympathize with how autistic people experience the world.

There are, of course, people who don’t like cats because they’re allergic, or phobic, or for any number of reasons unrelated to feline psychology. There’s nothing to be done about that except changing the subject, really. Like I said, it’s not perfect, and these aren’t hard and fast rules. Nothing about social interaction is. It’s what makes it so difficult for autistic people.