Please be patient, I have autism
I often hurt people unexpectedly and unintentionally.
I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) back in my mid-twenties. I was completing my last semester of my undergraduate studies at the time. Back then, PDD-NOS was its own thing, something I had never heard of until my therapist mentioned it to me.
With the arrival of the DSM-V in 2013, PDD-NOS is now considered on the Autism Spectrum on the higher-functioning end. When I was diagnosed, my therapist said "You don't meet enough criteria to have autism... your deficits in social interaction and behavior aren't dysfunctional enough". One of the strangest things now is thinking of myself as autistic.
Generally telling someone I've known for awhile that I have autism is incredibly painful. When I tell my classmates or teachers, they generally say something like "I knew there was something wrong with you but I didn't know what" or "you're too smart to have autism".
Responses like this make me feel immense shame. When you tell me "there is something wrong with me," you make me feel like I am inherently damaged or broken just because I approach the world or behave differently than you. This tells me that I am not good enough. Which suggests that I must mask my struggles due to autism in order to be considered normal. It also suggests that there is no space in civilized society for people like me. My autism has nothing to do with my work-ethic or my intelligence.
My autism just makes it hard for me to understand the subtle, non-literal parts of communication sometimes. I was at a bar once and a man kept smirking and winking at me . I thought he was having an aneurism or stroke. I quickly grabbed my iPhone, and ran over to the man. He initially seemed happy to see me until I turned on the flashlight on the phone, and proceeded to examine the dilation of his pupils. This greatly upset him and he left. When I told my friend about this, she laughed and explained that he was trying to flirt with me. Now I know that if someone winks and smirks at me, that it would be better to just ask them if they are flirting with me rather than shining a light in their eyes without warning.
My autism makes it hard when I am presented with lots of choices unexpectedly. I remember when I was 15 and entered a Starbucks for the first time. I went up to order and I saw a lot of words and drinks that I had never seen or heard of before. I felt so overwhelmed. I hesitantly asked for a drip coffee and the barista started asking me what roast level I wanted. I asked her what a roast level was. The man behind me was sighing and tapping his foot because I was holding him up. The barista explained and when I chose one, she asked me what size, "tall, grande, venti"? I began to grab my head and rub my temples, while rocking side to side. The man behind me said "if you don't know what you want, you shouldn't be in line". I started to sob and I ran out of there. When I explained what happened to my therapist, she spent the next 6 weeks teaching me how to order at Starbucks. She explained what expresso was, she brought in both hot and cold cups and explained the sizes. She even brought in an apron to session and had me role-play orders with her until I was comfortable. She took me to Starbucks and helped me order. I remember she cried when I came to session having ordered Starbucks for us by myself.
Just because I have autism doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with me. I just need things explained to me differently than other people do. I can learn, but sometimes it takes a longer time for me and that's okay. My autism should never be used as an excuse to exclude me from activities or to ignore how my blunt honesty or inappropriate laughter hurts your feelings. If I hurt your feelings just tell me something like:
When you laughed while I was being vulnerable, you hurt my feelings.
Bluntness is the best way with someone like me. That gives me the opportunity to apologize and learn. I always want to understand other people but I often feel like a person from another country that doesn't have a guidebook or speak the language of the locals. I never do anything with the intention of hurting anyone, its just that sometimes I don't know or understand why something hurts another person because it wouldn't hurt me.
So please be patient with me, I have autism. I have a lot of other gifts too and I am happy to give them to you if you're willing to give me a chance.