You may have heard that Autistics don’t care about others. That we are unable to reciprocate feelings or provide visible signs of caring. I have to tell you…that is just not true. Sometimes you have to look a bit deeper to see these feelings, but I assure you they are present.
They are present in a smile, a hug or a hand grasped in your own. Words do not necessarily indicate emotions. Non verbal communication plays a larger role in conveying feelings than most people think. While people accept smiles and giggles from babies as signs of contentment, they seem to think that older people have to “tell” their emotions for those emotions to be valid.
It’s just not true. There are two reasons I’d like to share with you. First, words can be misused or misunderstood. Some words are just patterns we all repeat, like “have a good day.” Meaningless chatter that works as social grease. The multiple meanings of words in addition to the varying interpretations of intensity lead to misunderstandings. I love sunny days, but not the same way I love people in my life.
The second reason is that I empathize with many people. I feel their pain as if it were my own. I recognize younger versions of myself in the students I teach. I can see where others have made mistakes that I made in the past. If I verbalize any of these feelings, they are usually misinterpreted. I just can’t seem to match my emotions to my words.
So, gestures. A hug. A smile. A hand shake. Doing something for someone. These are rarely misunderstood. There’s an almost universal language of unspoken feelings that most people “get.” This is a good thing for me. My words fail me so often that I wonder exactly how people perceive me.
Please don’t mistake my awkwardness for unwillingness. Understand that while I am fairly adept in social situations, I’m constantly stressed by them. I’m thinking 10 steps ahead, running through the scenarios and hoping I’ve picked the right response. I notice your body language and try to follow that “conversation” as well. When the two “conversations” don’t match, I try to figure out which one I should follow.
Yes, I care too much. At the end of most days, I feel I’ve failed. I feel I could have done something differently that would have made someone’s day better. I could have been more helpful. I could have been more kind. Yes, I beat myself up over these interactions that many of you probably don’t even give a second thought to. It’s cool. Just understand that my hesitation to join in is probably based out of fear of failure, not because I don’t want to join, but because I’m scared to death of that chasm of misunderstanding that looms right in front of my feet.