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11 The weather is pretty great today

Whilst my previous blog was giving advice about university, this post is a little less help, and a lot more ramble…


I think everyone would agree that relationships are tough.

People can be complicated.

In fact, people are complicated.


It is one thing to be able to go out and socialise; make small talk and pretend that the weather is the most amazing thing to exist. But how do these meaningless conversations with strangers convert into meaningful relationships? And how are you meant to sustain such a relationship? One of the things I have found most challenging since starting university, and to be completely honest, my entire life is maintaining relationships. Like I said to begin with, people are complicated.


Honestly, sometimes I feel like I am an alien speaking a different language than everyone else. When reflecting on why making lasting friendships has been so difficult for me, I have concluded there are one of three issues:


1. Not to generalise, but it is common for autistic individuals to be perceived as very direct. We get to the point without the ‘fluff’, hence use less words. I have always followed the motto ‘the fewer words the better’. Little did I know this isn’t a widely appreciated precept, especially not by teenage girls! In my head, this upfront, honest, no-nonsense approach is a good thing. I previously assumed if someone asked me for an opinion, they must want a real answer but bizarrely experience has shown me this is not always the case. Even if they do want the truth, it needs to be delivered with a whole lots of cotton wool padding. I think being straightforward has affected me most in my relationships with other people. Although I still see this very much as a strength, it has come with challenges because whilst fewer words can be better in certain situations, relationships are built on conversations and conversations are built from many words- so this doesn’t exactly work as a strategy for building sustainable relationships. In the past, I have been labelled as stand-offish because I spoke bluntly to others, when actually I was just doing me and using the minimal number of words.


2. Before I was diagnosed, I struggled; in my head, things could only be black or white. Grey did not exist. You were either right or wrong, there was no in-between. I think this is common for autistic individuals. It is described as rigid thinking (in terms of traits) and can be seen as stubborn and inflexible, but I don’t feel that is the best interpretation. We can be literal and less able to infer hidden meanings until someone takes the time and patience to explain another way of thinking. In reality, this would play out such that if I had a dispute with a friend, I would assume they didn’t want to continue the friendship at all. I would distance myself and eventually the relationship would cut off. As you can probably imagine, I ended up with very few friends and found socialising and life in general hugely frustrating. But I have learned that everyone makes mistakes and misunderstandings happen. They don’t have to spill over from a single event to encompass the whole person. It has taken some time and reflection for me to realise that an argument or difference of opinion does not mean the rest of the friendship has to be negated. In fact, it can be an opportunity to draw closer.


3. I have also found it hard to know what goes through someone’s head because most people do not verbalise everything they think. I have ended up in situations where everyone has known about someone being mad at me, yet I am completely oblivious. I often completely miss social cues which most neurotypical people can spot immediately. Only when talking out situations with family members, have I realised when I have gotten the wrong end of the stick in various situations. Honestly, I continue to miss social and non-verbal cues but since my diagnosis I have become aware that this is one problem I am likely to be unable to solve alone so I explain this to new friends as the friendship grows. I ask them to help guide me if and when I offend them or another, as mostly that is not the intention.


In addition, I have also realised that communication is not just speaking but also listening and friendships are built on both. I may have my difficulties as described above, but my experience is that others have problems too, namely listening. Active listening is a skill that can make the other person feel less alone. There has been many a time when I have wondered whether I have been heard at all. I think listening is a strength of mine. It is important to appreciate your limitations but also your strengths as otherwise you can end up blaming yourself for everything!


Since my diagnosis, I have recognised my thought processes may be different to the majority of people I meet along my journey, and that’s okay. It is even better if I can explain that to others in advance of any potential confrontations. I have realised that words can be good, and life is far too complex for black and white. I think that if I can try to nurture and build relationships by being more aware of these autistic traits, then I am likely to be able to overcome misunderstandings with friends and develop more long-term meaningful relationships.


Like I said before, it may just be alien me having these struggles or there may be someone reading this who can relate. Either way thank you for reading my blog and see you next time,

Nidhi :)


 

References


Cover Image: NPR, 2017. 'Social Camouflage' May Lead To Underdiagnosis Of Autism In Girls. Available at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/31/539123377/social-camouflage-may-lead-to-underdiagnosis-of-autism-in-girls?t=1656776538289 [Accessed 2 July 2022]

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