As a mother of a teenage son with autism, I often wonder if the reason my son spends so much time alone, is because the world, especially the world of teenagers, doesn't understand him. Sure, my kid struggles to understand some of the social rules of teenagedom, due in part to his autism, but, how can we expect neurotypical teens to interact with our autistic teens if we don't educate them on some of what they may see?
Ryan and I came up with a few examples of what a Neurotypical Teen (NT) might see and what an Autistic Teen (AT) might want them to see:
NT: Oh, that autistic kid is sitting by himself again. Guess he prefers to be alone.
AT: Yeah, sometimes I’m afraid to take a risk socially because I'm worried I will mess up, and sometimes I do need a break from people, but, sometimes being alone is lonely.
NT: Check it out, the autistic kid is talking to himself again.
AT: I kind of am talking to myself, (it's called "scripting"), but, that’s because I am remembering a funny movie, meme or YouTube video. If you ask me, I might share it with you and make you laugh too.
NT: Uh oh, he’s gonna lose it, check out how fast his arms are flapping.
AT: I bet when you get anxious or excited your legs bounce up and down or you twirl your hair or bite your nails. Same.
NT: You know, that autistic kid never responds and he hardly says anything.
AT: Sometimes it’s hard to turn my thoughts into words, but, that doesn’t mean I’m not listening or that I don’t have something to say.
NT: That dude doesn’t really seem to get me or how I’m feeling.
AT: Sometimes I struggle with reading the emotions of other people unless it’s really obvious like you are laughing or crying. I do have a lot of empathy though, once I know what you are going through. You just might need to share with me how you feel.
NT: Sometimes that autistic dude is a little too honest.
AT: You are right, I am honest. It doesn’t occur to me to lie, even if a lie might spare your feelings. I don’t mean to hurt you with my honesty though.
NT: That autistic kid's parents must never take him shopping, because he wears that same shirt ALL THE TIME!
AT: You’re right, I do wear this same shirt ALL THE TIME, but, that’s not because my parents won’t buy me new shirts it’s because I feel more comfortable when things remain the same and there is nothing more comforting than a worn in t-shirt.
NT: You know, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t look you in the eye.
AT: Eye contact is hard for me, it can be very distracting and upsetting to look you directly in the eye. It doesn’t mean that I’m not listening or that I am not trustworthy.
NT: Wow, that autistic kid is so weird.
AT: If “weird” means different, you are right, but, how boring the world would be if we were all the same! Take a chance to get to know me, you might find we have more things that are the same than different (“weird”).
NT: Wow guy, I was JUST trying to give you a pat on the back to let you know you did a great job, you didn’t need to shove me.
AT: Thanks for feeling proud of me, but, sometimes unexpected touch, like a pat on the back, doesn't feel good to me. Just telling me you think I did a great job will make me feel happy.
NT: I don't know how to talk to that autistic kid, I'm always afraid I will say or do the wrong thing and freak him out.
AT: You might say or do the wrong thing, but, so do I, that's what makes us more alike than different. Even if we both say or do the wrong thing, I promise I will always remember that you tried.
NT: Wow, I just talked to that autistic dude, and he is really pretty cool!
AT: Told you.
NT: (Days later): Hey Ryan!
AT: Hey dude! ("Finally.")