Not Guilty

Not Guilty

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.

8 thoughts on “Not Guilty

  1. Ben, you are so right. I do not think you should feel wrong about being angry. I have had things happen so many times where I was misunderstood or even completely ignored. Trying to act "normal" so that NTs will be able to have some sort of understanding that won't make them treat me terribly, well it's so difficult. I'm angry about what happened to you too. There have been times when I feel that smile coming up on my face when I'm nervous, or someone is upset. It's not that I'm finding any humor in any of it or that I am being "smug" about things… it's just this nervous response. I'm not sure why it happens exactly. Most of the time I end up falling nearly mute, only able to get out a word or two, feeling stunned, shocked, fearful, and looking like I'm either guilty or a victim instead of being able to react the way the NTs around me think I should be acting according to the way that they would react. Judgments are made, no one really asks me what is happening to me, nor gives me enough time and space to be able to recoup enough to attempt to explain something. I hope that whatever happened is done and over with and that whoever that person was who did the accusing ends up getting an education about all of this and learn something that would allow him to really be the "empathetic" person he claims to be. He really does need to learn about autism and differing forms of behaviors and communication. Bird

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  2. Thank you Bird. I'm glad to say it's over now but I'm still angry that somebody could make such assumptions about how I think and feel without showing any understanding or compassion – and claim to be a caring person! Makes me want to scream – it's as if they think being different is a crime. Anyhow, rant over šŸ˜‰ At least I have friends who do show understanding.

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  3. Thank you for your blatant honesty about what you go through every day. I've read back till about September and intend to read every post. I am NT, but my husband has a slight case of Aspergers. He does not go into meltdowns, but aside from that, his feelings and thought processes are extremely evident. I actually enjoy people on the spectrum more than I enjoy NT people. They have a very cool, unique perspective and they are very detail oriented. I, as a woman, am also very detail oriented and therefore I can actually use those on the spectrum to help me with my details and to teach me things I would have missed from an ordinary teacher. Of course I do struggle being an NT wife, but I enjoy the challenge and he is a great guy who is completely committed to me. I enjoy reading your posts because they sound so much like him and it helps me to relate to him better and to know how to communicate with him better. The one thing I feel like I fail at is communicating with him, and also, understanding his communication (or lack thereof). I wish to fulfill his desires, needs, etc but if I do not know what they are, I cannot fill them. He is very passive and laid back and that's good cause I am very emotional and all over the place. He really grounds me when I need it. But the communication is a tough one, as it is for any NT/Aspie relationship.

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  4. Hi Freetalive. I agree that communication is one of the hardest aspects of Aspie/NT relationships – my wife and I have issues with it as well. I find it helps me to understand her better when she can explain things in detail, being literal and completely direct. This doesn't come naturally for her – like most people she will hint at things and make allusions, which mostly go over my head.

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