Just when you think you’re getting the hang of acting “normal” something happens to bring you back to reality with a bang. I got wrongly accused of doing something bad the other day – the details don’t matter. It was something I would never dream of doing; nevertheless I stood accused of it.
I reacted naturally, which is to say I failed to make eye contact, I displayed “inappropriate” facial expressions such as smiling, I didn’t respond immediately. All this was taken to be a display of guilt by my (neurotypical) accuser. What can you do in such a situation? The more I protested my innocence the more I was told that I was “acting guilty”.
I’m an honest person: I feel too uncomfortable to contemplate lying. Besides which, I find it hard enough to remember the details of what did happen, never mind trying to remember some invented scenario. Being accused like that and then not being believed – having my response taken to be evidence of deceit – was deeply hurtful.
My accuser in this case was somebody who prides themselves on being a good judge of character, on having great empathy. But there was no sign of any of that when dealing with me. Their instinctive reading of non-verbal cues led them totally astray when faced with somebody on the autistic spectrum. I’m led to believe that this subconscious empathy as displayed by most neurotypical people relies on the person being observed also being neurotypical and reacting in a “normal” way. They can’t read the signals correctly if there is any deviation from this – their unconscious assumptions fail to hold true. The trouble is that with the assumptions being unconscious, there is no realisation that they even exist.
It’s been said before elsewhere, but neurotypical people lack empathy when dealing with autistic people. They don’t often notice when we feel anxious or threatened, they misinterpret our feelings based on our behaviour. They seem to have an off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all model of human behaviour, while I (I can’t speak for other people on the spectrum) build a bespoke model for everyone I know.
Generalizations don’t work with outliers – it’s true of all statistical models. And in statistical terms, people on the autistic spectrum do fall outside the normal range when it comes to behavioural traits. That’s “normal” as in an average across a population. I’m quite aware that I have some areas where I fall within normal bounds; others, especially relating to social skills, where I’m well outside.
I strongly resent my natural reactions to an accusation being taken as signs of guilt or evasion. I don’t think I should have to conform to neurotypical standards of communication to be believed. Where was the vaunted empathy of this person in my case? I’d call it a spectacular failure. Did they end up enlightened? No. I just got a dismissive “you’re weird”. They weren’t willing to take the time to analyze and understand me – time that autistic people have to take if they want to interact more fully with neurotypical people. I don’t think I’m wrong to feel angry about this.