When the Way You Love Things Is “Too Much”
April 10, 2018 9:55 AM   Subscribe

When even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has something to say about the way you love things—describing “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest)”—it’s not easy to figure out how you should handle your obsessions in polite conversation.
posted by ellieBOA (78 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
I loved this article: it's so much about being able to authentically be your autistic self and have people take your wants and needs for validating what you like seriously, without actually forcing them to listen to uncomfortable digressions into detail.

Also, maybe I should go to Festival Number 6 this year.
posted by ambrosen at 10:20 AM on April 10 [8 favorites]


But to the others, I simply muttered, “Mom and I are going to this weird little village in Wales where they shot this weird old show that I’m kind of obsessed with” before attempting to lob the conversation in another direction.

Oh lordy, this is pretty much exactly what I did when I told people I was going on the tour of the local Mormon temple before it was dedicated - including the mom part. (When your special interest is Mormonism it's really hard to find people who are willing to talk about it in depth, but also don't want to convert you.)

I also loved this article, not just for the being your authentic self aspect, but the subject as well. I may not be obsessed with The Prisoner (I mean, I have a Number Six costume, but I also have costumes for every Belcher from Bob's Burgers because it's nice to have costumes - not obsessed with costumes either), but visiting Portmeirion has always been a dream of mine so that made this article extra great.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:28 AM on April 10 [23 favorites]


Great essay. Thanks for posting it, ellieBOA.

Growing up, I was a nervous child desperately scrambling to figure out the exact moment at which my passions became too overbearing, too off-putting, too me for other people.

Oh, god yes. And it's still a problem. I try to monitor how much I'm communicating at once, doling it out bit by bit to avoid overwhelming people ("okay, they still seem interested, add another fact... how'd they take that? are they tuning out yet?") and still wind up with people looking at me perplexedly.

It's exhausting. And draining. And leads to self-isolation. When my emotional energy is low I'd much rather stay home and not see or speak to anybody rather than deal with getting reminded yet again how many people think I'm an alien.
posted by Lexica at 10:43 AM on April 10 [51 favorites]


When my emotional energy is low I'd much rather stay home and not see or speak to anybody rather than deal with getting reminded yet again how many people think I'm an alien.

All that exhausting effort, and then when you say to someone “I find this hard work”, they're all “you seem fine to me, don't worry about it.”. Regardless as whether you frame it as your character or as a diagnosis.
posted by ambrosen at 10:48 AM on April 10 [13 favorites]


Not exactly the point of the article, but Portmeirion does not disappoint. A weird and wonderful place.
posted by Major Tom at 11:09 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


I have spent most of my life policing my excitement and enthusiasm in the presence of others. I feel like I have no setting in between Boring and Extra. (I'm not even that much of a fan of the Prisoner--though my husband has considerably more enthusiasm--and I would also be off my head at a visit to Portmeirion. I mean, come on! Who would not love that?!)
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:14 AM on April 10 [30 favorites]


I feel like I have no setting in between Boring and Extra.

I feel like this, but also kind of feel like it also means that nobody *else* has settings in between, either. I like to talk about the things that I'm into, but I also get so excited when other people are doing the same, even if it's not my thing. Some of the things that I do like, I like because some friend of mine was like "oh my god look at this thing I like". If you don't Really Really Really Like the thing you're doing with your free time, why on earth would you do it? Give me the person who floods my Tumblr dashboard with the one weird show they're super into that I don't watch, any day of the week, over someone who's watching the same things everybody else is watching and thinks they're pretty good they guess.

This is probably why I am way better at making friends on the internet.
posted by Sequence at 11:26 AM on April 10 [22 favorites]


I went into this article sympathetic, as I have my own preoccupations and obsessions and know how socially awkward it can be to own them, but...I really hope I never decide that "being my authentic self" means "routinely monopolizing conversations and boring people." I think worrying about that is appropriate. I wish more people with more socially-acceptable interests did it more often. If you're socially anxious, you certainly can worry too much about carrying on unwanted, and I'm sure it can't help if you have a permanently limited ability to read social cues. But presumably you are in conversations for mutual enjoyment, not just to have an audience to your authenticity. This is what fandom is for, right? Finding people with common obsessions so you can all enjoy geeking out together?
posted by praemunire at 11:30 AM on April 10 [33 favorites]


It me. Sometimes I can catch the fact that I'm turning into a runaway train WRT one of my hobby horses, but not always in time to not lose the unfortunate target of my rant/monologue. I try to be cool with it when I'm the target.

Also, Portmeirion looks like a great place to visit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:32 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


I still remember the moment my ex looked me dead in the eye when I was complaining about a mutual friend pulling Mean Girl shit on me and said, "Well, you can be kind of boring when you go off on your Buffy stuff."

I was used to people dismissing my silly obsessions who weren't in love with me. I expected strangers to not care. But friends, boyfriend? They should at least pretend. At least try.

It took a while for me to get my confidence back and realize that I am an interesting person and he was a douche, but you can bet your sweet bippy that I reminded him of my "boring-ness" as he bargained for us to stay together.

I have discovered that my pain at having my obsession ignored in such a way has given me a great deal of empathy for other's passions. My husband spent hours the other day detailing out the elements of Paul's Boutique and all the bits he loved and I just sat there and made happy paying attention noises. Not only can I love my inner nerd, but I can love other people's as well. It's only fair.
posted by teleri025 at 11:44 AM on April 10 [27 favorites]


I wouldn't judge. I have interests way weirder than hers, but then I've also suspected I am far from neurotypical. I too don't much give a shit what people are into, so long as they are into something. "I love puppets, old photographs, and paisley is my favorite color! Your turn." My partner loves Iowa stoneware, cast iron eggbeaters, and hockey. None of her things really speak to me, but I have learned more about stoneware than you could ever imagine, and I can hold my own in a hockey discussion. As a nerd, I find sports frustrating. Someone will love football, ask if you do too, and you can say no, and then they will precede to tell you about last night's game. I don't find an obsession with The Prisoner to be any weirder than memorizing baseball stats.

> I like to talk about the things that I'm into, but I also get so excited when other people are doing the same, even if it's not my thing.

100% agree. In fact, those who lack "a thing" are suspect. I can seldom relate to these people, and I think most people realize everyone has a thing, so for many, this becomes sports. Maybe I am wrong, but I find that most sport loving people never expect anyone to love all sports, so long as you love at least one. I've rather talk antiques than sports, much rather talk puppets than basketball, but I just assume people who can only talk sports are more broken than the people who are into "something weird."

Fly your freak flag high!
posted by cjorgensen at 11:44 AM on April 10 [22 favorites]


I'm someone who also has obsessions, but I've also been increasingly burned out on listening when I don't actually really want to listen. It's during these moments that I realize I need to spend more introverted time devoting myself to my hobbies and filling up my own cup because I'm actually resentful that I am giving so much time and space to others. This makes me happy so I can be fully present for others when they do go on about what they find enjoyable.
posted by yueliang at 11:49 AM on April 10 [11 favorites]


Thanks for this! I thought about posting it myself, but I didn't get around to it.

When I go to a museum with antiquities, I become a docent. I am afraid it's infuriating. I don't mean to assume that people want to hear about the significance of, say, bound enemies painted on the soles of Ptolemaic Egyptian funerary shrouds, so I will frequently start talking, stop abruptly and apologize. It is even weirder than just finishing what I was talking about.

The only thing about Ayn Rand that I ever genuinely appreciated was a scene in The Fountainhead where the fierce heroine throws a statue off of a balcony,* because she adored it, and she did not want "to have to love it." Sometimes that's how I feel about a fandom. I find a movie or a book that I adore so much that I refuse to talk about it, because something seems dangerous about that kind of passion. I don't want to become something that crawled out of the Sephiroth House. It's a deep fear with a lot of layers, and I'm sure it doesn't speak well of me.

For this and unrelated reasons, I have been tentatively considering the possibility that I may, in fact, be on the spectrum. I would probably handle it about as well as Judge Doom handled his personal identity. I've put in a lot of work into being sweet and empathetic and making my conversation appropriate for every setting. I'm certain that grinding my teeth and repeating I'm a sweet person I'm a sweet person is extremely neurotypical behavior.

----
* Whether it hit any Untermenschen on the way down, I do not recall.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:53 AM on April 10 [15 favorites]


I went into this article sympathetic, as I have my own preoccupations and obsessions and know how socially awkward it can be to own them, but...I really hope I never decide that "being my authentic self" means "routinely monopolizing conversations and boring people."

For autistic people, it can take as little as one sentence to have the other person looking at you in puzzlement as they start looking around for a way to escape the conversation.

If you're not autistic, you probably don't know what this feels like.
posted by Lexica at 11:53 AM on April 10 [40 favorites]


If you don't Really Really Really Like the thing you're doing with your free time, why on earth would you do it?

That's where autism collides with major depression. You're obsessed with something and pore over every trivial detail, but you don't actually enjoy it. Or at least you assume you don't, because the way you interact with things doesn't sound like "enjoyment" in the way people describe it. It's just what you do.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:54 AM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Is this unique to autism, as the article suggests? I didn't think I was autistic, but I have 100 percent totally for sure caused people to flee from me in the past because I couldn't conceal my loving obsession with some band or film...
posted by heatvision at 11:57 AM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Also, maybe I should go to Festival Number 6 this year.

Their website says their "main stage is a Mediterranean-inspired, Grade II-listed fantasy village". I know this is probably some boring bureaucracy thing, but I'd like to imagine that the UK has an official government classification and ranking system for fantasy villages.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:22 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


When I was in grade school, I would become obsessed with different media minutiae. The discographies of folk pop bands. The entire bibliographies of kids’ book series (ask me about my collection of Serendipity books!). Weird TV shows. It got to the point where my mom took me aside at some family gathering, defined what being obsessed meant in great detail, and told me how unhealthy and bad it was. I had a few other adults my parents trusted try to talk me out of my personal fetish objects because my devotion to them was alienating other kids.

On the one hand, I needed that intervention. I’ve seen people who were ruled by the things that riveted them and what it made them. On the other, I think back to my formative years. There was a lot of chaos and abuse, and I needed something to make me happy and something I could structure my life around.

I’m still vulnerable to weird obsessions. (I’m in the throes of one now, and I’m aware of it and trying to deal with it in the healthiest way possible.) What I’ve noticed is that I fall into these obsessive thought patterns when I’m in depressive states or when my life is unstable. As with so many weird mental issues, I’m glad I’m self-aware enough to deal with these weird thought patterns, but I sometimes worry that I’m going to fall into one of these thought cycles and never return to the world.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:30 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


If I have to pretend to care about the ludicrous display last night, other people can pretend to care about why Pacific Rim isn't just a "dumb robot movie" or whatever.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:46 PM on April 10 [7 favorites]


I personally think everyone is like this (not just people with autism), it's just that some people are charismatic enough to win us over on other aspects beyond what they are talking about.

I mean tell me that everyone's sports, Lego, poker beat, and even most drunken escapades stories come off sounding exactly like this: Red Dwarf Risk game story

My opinion (as a non autistic person): Be as excited as you want about whatever you want, but keep your soliloquy short, unless you are positing direct feedback about your hobby from someone else or they have asked about specific details. People like excitement! Geek out with some equally obsessed, which is easier to find on the internet.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:48 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


That's where autism collides with major depression. You're obsessed with something and pore over every trivial detail, but you don't actually enjoy it. Or at least you assume you don't, because the way you interact with things doesn't sound like "enjoyment" in the way people describe it. It's just what you do.

Thank you for this. I haven't been able to explain my genealogy obsession and why it's the only hobby I've been able to consistently work on throughout the treatment-resistant depression I've been dealing with for years. There's a nice dopamine hit every time I make a breakthrough, but most of the time working on the family tree is just something that I do. And no one else is interested in it, so that's even less fun.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:51 PM on April 10 [11 favorites]


A memory from high school that remains very clear to me is that of a classmate turning to me and saying under her breath something like, "Ugh, [other classmate] is always talking about [country]. It makes me want to wipe [country] off the face of the earth."

Other Classmate did indeed talk a lot about that particular country, and also about her favorite endangered animal. She would often pick one or the other as the subject of class papers, class presentations, etc. (I believe the prompt for First Classmate's comment was in fact a class presentation.) I was not particularly interested in either, but it surprised me that someone would react to this kind of obsession with such vehemence and disgust. I regret that at the time, I quite craved First Classmate's friendship and approval, and so only responded by saying jokingly, "But what about all the cool bands from that country, eh?" (which was not really the point, but allowed me to not go along without not going along).

Anyway, I never felt that Other Classmate was particularly prone to monopolizing conversations necessarily. But clearly it bothered First Classmate enough to say something like that to a third party.

I dunno, I feel like responding to something like this with "oh but everyone has their obsessions" is kind of like responding to a piece about major depression with "oh but everyone experiences sadness".
posted by inconstant at 12:53 PM on April 10 [15 favorites]


This article made me sad. I have my own obsessions, of course, but I have a friend on the spectrum who has obsessions, and I can see the difference. I'm not always in the mood to hear a long discussion of cricket (conversely, sometimes I am in the mood, though), but damn, to not even allow him to bring up the subject?! That's harsh. I find it hard to believe (OK, not that hard, people are mean - I guess I should say I want to find it hard to believe) anyone, especially friends, would not like to hear that she's at least planning to visit this place, and the reason is because a TV show she likes was filmed there. I mean, she herself notes that these people are talking about visiting Harry Potter locations. It may not be a popular TV show (although I've heard of it, and that's saying something), but that's not an unusual reason to travel.

I feel like a lot of this problem is due to poor social skills on the part of the non-autistic interlocutor. In call centers, they teach you about call control. If the person starts going too far down the road, there are ways to steer the conversation away from that. It's really not that hard. It's certainly not worth ruining someone else's self-esteem over because you don't feel like doing it.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:58 PM on April 10 [10 favorites]


I suspect this has a lot to do with a lot of human communication not being intended literally as an exchange of information about a topic but rather as a form of social grooming, only using language rather than picking lice out of each other's pelts. As such, the requirements are that the topics be reasonably universal, shallow enough to not become overwhelming to those merely feigning interest or to preclude a change of subject; i.e., a combination of gossip which conveys ambient information about mutual acquaintances (“did you hear Louise is having a baby?”/“did you see Tom's new car?”) and what is essentially filler taken from cultural context (“how's your football team doing?”/“did you watch the Kardashians last night?” and such). (The cultural context doesn't work if there's an impedance mismatch; i.e., if one person has an elaborate cosmology of fan theories about the Kardashians and is tempted to expound about them at length, things would get awkward.)
posted by acb at 1:08 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


I find it hard to believe (OK, not that hard, people are mean - I guess I should say I want to find it hard to believe) anyone, especially friends, would not like to hear that she's at least planning to visit this place, and the reason is because a TV show she likes was filmed there.

So, yeah, a big part of the thing here (and part of where I was going with my "ludicrous display" comment above) is that some obsessions are socially acceptable while some interests are not acceptable, even to people who have obsessions with other, similar things.

For a neurotypical person, it's possible to develop a sense -- over time and with some awkward missteps -- of what things you can safely bring up in casual conversation without being considered weird and what things you can't. But it's never obvious or consistent, and it's largely based on what pop culture happens to care about at a particular time. But even then, trying to talk about Lord of the Rings would get you pegged as a bit weird in most company, while trying to talk about Game of Thrones probably wouldn't. Is it because the LOTR movies are further in the past while the show is still running? But there are massively popular LOTR games that came out recently, except that games in general are still a "weird" topic to a lot of people, for some reason, so maybe that cancels out the fact that said LOTR games sold more copies than there are people who watched last season of GoT?

Honestly, it's hard enough to navigate the bullshit rules about what's an acceptable "nerdy" topic and what isn't when you're not on the autism spectrum.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:14 PM on April 10 [22 favorites]


But presumably you are in conversations for mutual enjoyment, not just to have an audience to your authenticity.

I wouldn't expect people to have to be personally interested in one's choice of career to talk about how work or school is going, so why would it be a problem to talk about a hobby you have but don't share with the other person? This is how friendship ordinarily works. Now, acquaintances or strangers, you probably need a bunch more common ground. But friends and loved ones? Friends and loved ones should be interested to at least some degree in knowing about the stuff that you're into just because you're into it. I spent several hours the other night on the internet just watching a friend play a video game that I never would have chosen to play myself, but it was a nice time because of the company, not because of the subject matter. If everybody only talked to people they knew were interested in the same stuff, I never would have found half of my current interests.
posted by Sequence at 1:14 PM on April 10 [11 favorites]


Disclaimer: I am not autistic AFAIK.

I'm an immigrant who has lived in several different countries throughout my life, across 3 continents. So believe me when I say there are obsessions I have which are not only incomprehensible to people around me but also sometimes actively offensive, unless I explain myself well. And since I have very good social skills, I am able to give these explanations. I am able to make my weird, funky-smelling, offensively practiced, and thoroughly consuming obsessions palatable and even interesting to people when I talk about it.

Which seems to me to mean only this: perhaps it's not the obsession itself that's the issue. It's the fact that autistic people are less able to "sell" their obsession in social groups, and are generally less well regarded or have less social capital in said groups due to being challenged by social skills. Not "When The Way You Love Things Is Too Much" but "When The Way You Talk About The Things You Love Too Much Is Socially Penalized."
posted by MiraK at 1:36 PM on April 10 [28 favorites]


Is this unique to autism, as the article suggests?

Certainly not, as this sort of obsession is only one of the criteria for meeting an ASD diagnosis, though IME the depth and unique type of obsessions you see with ASD are wholly different that the sort of run-of-the-mill super fandom or passion type things. Especially since you see them very young in children with ASD in a way that you don't see in neurotypical children with even intense interests.

It's tough - there's definitely a social aspect to obsessions being seen as different or pathological, particularly for people on the really functioning end of the spectrum like this author. On the other hand, for less functioning people with ASD, these obsessions can center around things that can be detrimental to their lives or even dangerous, and the pathology of it goes far beyond an inability to communicate the obsession in a socially acceptable way.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:05 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


[A few comments deleted. Needing to say this is wildly ironic given the insistence on social appropriateness in that deleted comment, but: this thread isn't a great place to come lecture autistic Mefites about how they should just get better at social appropriateness. Please step out of the thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:05 PM on April 10 [34 favorites]


God, I'm tired.

This isn't purely a problem of social norms; it's a problem of whether or not I get to ever relax and just--be myself without the constant running questions of "am I boring this person? [probably]" "am I offending that person?" "what am I fucking up now?" "does that person look interested? I bet they're not" "am I angling for people to draw me out by hinting I might be willing to talk?" "am I being manipulative?" "fuck, I can't read the room, I don't what's going on in your head, and I can't even ask for a blunt, explicit warning or request to lay off, because apparently other people's anxiety is too much to expect anything like that--and all that constant self-guessing builds up, and it bubbles over into this hideously stressful verbal logorrhea. Which of course doesn't make me any easier to hang out with, thanks.

[deep breath]

I'm struggling with this so hard right now, because the tension between "constantly police myself and pay a cost of heightened vigilance and raised anxiety" and "constantly hurt and offend people" is so taut. I'm struggling because I feel like those are my choices, and no one seems to be able to explain how other people handle it; and I am struggling because even being visibly anxious places a stressful load on people around me. What is the solution?

Mostly I'm withdrawing, because I don't fucking know how to regulate myself around anyone any more. I don't know how to fucking do this people thing any more. I keep finding out that even when I think I've got the balance of talk and not, even when I try to balance my attention so it doesn't hurt people and I don't miss things, even when I'm really and honestly trying my best, I fuck it up. When I try to listen and say "okay, here's what I need" that's too much to ask; when I try to just let the anxiety go so I don't weigh on that too much, I get more helpful nudges that tell me to be more self-aware.

I can run that exhausting vigilance program, or I can hide, or I can--I don't even know. I don't know how to be the awkward, blurting, occasionally-talking-before-I-think asshole anymore, and I don't know what about myself brings anyone joy. I've been struggling with this for--hell, nearly a year now, when I abruptly found out that a place I thought was full of people who got me, or at least liked me without getting me, really didn't at all--and I don't know where to go. Apparently I don't fake all this as well as I thought I did.

I'm tired. I want to spend my RAM on something besides that high-powered vigilance program. I want to spend that RAM on joy and enthusiasm and going fast and letting my brain do what it wants and not constantly feeling ashamed about any of that. And if I'm gonna run that vigilance program, I just want it to stop fucking malfunctioning or making me freeze up when I try to switch from one modality to another.

I'm so tired of every minor friction between me and others being something for me to work on. I'd thump my chest here, if we were standing in front of each other, praemunire, because that's a huge part of what it means to be autistic--the award for pretending well enough is to be told that all the effort you're investing below the surface doesn't exist anymore. It means that you're responsible, in one way or another, for everything that goes wrong between you and other people. There's no small social thing that can be forgiven and forgotten, or written up to a miscommuication or a minor personal incompatibility: it all comes back to your fault, in the end. You start trying to pre-empt it by listening and trying to take responsibility for your inevitable fuckups, and people perk up at how nice and receptive you are to their criticisms, and they bring you more. You can't ask for sympathy, because people will look at you like you've just asked for a license to be an abusive fuckwad.

I'm just. I'm so very tired.
posted by sciatrix at 2:15 PM on April 10 [62 favorites]


I mean tell me that everyone's sports, Lego, poker beat, and even most drunken escapades stories come off sounding exactly like this: Red Dwarf Risk game story

You know, I didn't remember it until just now, but back when the show was new and I was a teen from across the pond in the '90s, I really identified with Rimmer. I even did a genderswap cosplay back when that was not a thing. There was something about the gazpacho soup incident that spoke to me.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:16 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Which seems to me to mean only this: perhaps it's not the obsession itself that's the issue. It's the fact that autistic people are less able to "sell" their obsession in social groups, and are generally less well regarded or have less social capital in said groups due to being challenged by social skills. Not "When The Way You Love Things Is Too Much" but "When The Way You Talk About The Things You Love Too Much Is Socially Penalized."

Yes and no. I can sell my obsession really well in small groups; it's part of my career and part of what makes me a good teacher. I write well. I can really get people jazzed up about me in small doses, I promise, as long as I've got my performing face on.

Where I fall down is being able to catch when someone who has spent extended time with me in small groups is done with that thing; remembering who has heard my stories before and is sick of them; controlling impulses to open my mouth, especially when I'm excited. Keeping myself from racing off on tangents when everyone else is doing something else. That sort of thing.
posted by sciatrix at 2:18 PM on April 10 [10 favorites]


keep your soliloquy short, I tell myself, and then I switch from total inability to focus and disengagement to wiggling in my seat, unable to sit still, animated with excitement and informed opinions and delight and a desire to be involved and play with the topic

keep your mouth shut, I tell myself, trying to vomit all that excitement onto written words where no one ever has to see them, so my class can go on and my instructor can cover the topics he needs to

make it short, I think. and I try. and I fail, over and over and over again, because I can't keep the words in check when they bubble up, because I fail consistently at figuring out where the middle ground of "mildly engaged" is between "bored shitless" and "vibrating with excitement" when I'm interacting with people. it's been twenty-five years of sharp and blunt requests to shut my trap, and it hasn't worked yet, and I'm so gutlessly terrified it never will.

step back, I whisper. step back. go home. write it down, and then put it away.

and my traitorous mouth betrays me, and I ask gleeful questions and blurt out denials and fuck it up anyway.

If this is not familiar to you, you are not adequately understanding this problem.
posted by sciatrix at 2:23 PM on April 10 [34 favorites]


When I try, I usually end up talking too fast, too long, and generally just being too much.

Ooh, this hits hard. There's a reason I developed a habit of pacing around the house, talking back and forth in fake conversations to myself. That's the only time I can really express myself in a way that isn't "too" something.

On the one hand I get that it's shitty to monopolize conversations, that no one likes to be bored, that it's not socially conscientious or whatever. On the other hand... the people who espouse those social rules? They're boring to me. I've noticed more and more that I infinitely enjoy interacting with other autistic people, and it's not even necessarily because they don't criticize me for my lack of social skills, it's because I prefer the way they interact. I love to listen to someone go on and on and on about their interest! I love that there aren't usually exchanges of niceties, we get straight to the interesting stuff. Even if someone's interest isn't one that I'm into, then hell, I get some space to calm down and recollect myself, and it's time I don't have to be coming up with questions to indicate I am interested in them as a person.

And like, I'm not going to say non-autistic people are inherently boring or whatever. But those social rules are designed for people who think in a different way than me, I think. And I guess I'm just not sure why I have to adjust to that rather than the other way around. Especially because I don't think this is exclusive to autistic people. It has routinely happened in my life that because I am encouraging, because I don't try and change the subject or redirect the conversation away from people's interests, because I will sit and listen to long monologues, many people in my life have started doing this a lot more around me. They don't do it around other people. But they know I'm willing to listen, even if it's not something I'm super interested in. And hell, most of the time I am interested; the only things I really struggle with are 1) fandoms I'm not in, and 2) cars and sports. But in those conversations I just use it as a space to recover and relax.

...

...

...

That said, I just realized that I should caveat this with I run in circles where it's totally okay to be on your phone, or reading, or knitting, or doing whatever while having a conversation. Maybe I would feel differently if people got offended at me doing other stuff while I listen. But that's generally not a problem around other neurodivergent people
posted by brook horse at 2:55 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


There's a reason I developed a habit of pacing around the house, talking back and forth in fake conversations to myself. That's the only time I can really express myself in a way that isn't "too" something.

oh god I thought it was only me...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:01 PM on April 10 [24 favorites]


sciatrix, thanks for writing lots of things that I totally empathise with. It unburdened me a lot. I hope you got the same from it.

Also, it seems the author of the piece (the nub of which is, despite the somewhat predictable path the conversation here's taken, all about finding the balance between putting on your best behaviour and actually showing your interesting enthusiasm) is really pretty prolific about all kinds of things that happen when you're on the “if you're autistic, how come you're telling me in the middle of a conversation” spectrum. This most recent one on “real autism”'s good, and then there's loads more on her Twitter.
posted by ambrosen at 3:03 PM on April 10 [6 favorites]


There's a reason I developed a habit of pacing around the house, talking back and forth in fake conversations to myself. That's the only time I can really express myself in a way that isn't "too" something.

I've been doing this since I was a child. Back then it was also an outlet for me to practice having conversations. Now it's a lot more getting out the things I'm passionate/obsessed about. It's comforting to read that I'm not alone in this.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:10 PM on April 10 [8 favorites]


I feel bad for people who aren't passionate about things, anything. They seem blah. I could not imagine going through life without the joy of intense fascination.
posted by Gwynarra at 3:22 PM on April 10


tl;dr but I'm reminded of a bit in Harry Shearer's Le Show a long time ago just after Bush the Elder said
"Saying No [to Drugs] doesn't make you a nerd."
Confessing to now being totally at sea re: the definition of nerd, Harry took some calls on the topic of "What makes you a nerd?" and I thought the best response was
Being interested in or liking anything too much makes you a nerd. Except Sports. Liking Flowers, or Art, or Music or whatever too much makes you a nerd.
posted by Rash at 3:22 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


I appreciate it, ambrosen; I suspect time will tell if it's worth it. I got some shit to work on, and I'm terrified of it, so: I'm scared to find out again that the answer is be less.

There's a reason I developed a habit of pacing around the house, talking back and forth in fake conversations to myself. That's the only time I can really express myself in a way that isn't "too" something.

I lecture in my head happily as if I was delivering a talk about something that only interests me, to an audience composed entirely of me. I would bet dollars to doughnuts this is a pretty common phenomenon, especially in kids on the spectrum--especially given the old "Little Professor" stereotyping that was ubiquitous when I was a kid. (Have they stopped doing that? I mean, there's more of us grown up now, I suppose.)

Anyway, I didn't stop doing it when I grew up; I just learned to keep it in my head. I do hang out with neurodiverse people all the time, but the thing that sucks about that is that most of us have internalized the social anxiety and values of the allistic folks who raised us to some extent--and that can make things rough. I still catch myself e.g. fretfully demanding eye contact to be sure someone's heard me, even though I know damn well that my friend K doesn't have nearly the same issues that I do.

Sometimes folks on the spectrum have conflicting accommodations, and that's always the absolute most frustrating and ridiculous thing to navigate. You haven't lived until you've sat through an argument between two people, each with shitty volume control and each with inbuilt terror about someone else raising their volume, trying to modulate themselves and failing and trying to communicate anyway. It can just--it can suck balls.
posted by sciatrix at 3:24 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


First, from the quote above the fold, I thought this was going to be about fetishes.

Anyway. I'm pretty sure I'm not autistic but I can definitely relate to being obsessed with a TV show. (Anyone who follows me on Twitter is rolling their eyes right now.) I have an all-consuming need to know everything, every minute detail about the show and the actors. I've watched dozens of interviews with the lead actor and I could probably write a biography about him.

I'll cautiously approach the topic in conversation like "Have you seen ..." and if they're like "yeah" then I back off, but if they're like OMG YES then I get really excited that I've found one of My People. I'm too extra even for most of them though.

I've been like this all my life with various shows, movies and actors. It's clear to me that it's a coping mechanism that provides a distraction from stressors because I'm less obsessive when the stressors are removed. It's better than drinking or doing drugs, I guess.
posted by AFABulous at 3:26 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


I loved this article. The description of, not so much the social cost of having obsessions, but the personal psychological cost of masking obsessions was really what the author seemed to be writing about. This goes beyond committing a social faux pas, which most everyone has done at some point in their life when being over-enthusiastic about things, but more about the constant mental toll of having to wear a mask over what feels like a natural part of yourself. It's also very well written in terms of weaving in the details of her personal obsession, along with life history, and a reflection on living as an autistic person. It was also interesting to note the idea of socially acceptable obsessions - where polite society can tolerate an autistic person's obsessions if it fits with a narrative, or if it's deemed as being socially useful and ordained (e.g. the lazy movie stereotype of a quant on the Autism spectrum).
posted by codacorolla at 3:41 PM on April 10 [11 favorites]


I was diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum late last year, and one of the things that gave credence to it was that, apparently, neurotypical people do not reflexively ask about every five sentences "Am I boring you? Are you sure?" or various rephrasings of that question. I know so many polite ways to ask if I am boring you. SO MANY.

It really is very exhausting.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 4:13 PM on April 10 [13 favorites]


I'm neurotypical, AFAIK, but I have always had a ton of patience for people who obsess on subjects. I will talk about dinosaurs or The New York Dolls or penguins or Satchel Paige or whatever it is that you love. I usually learn something and I get to know somebody who may not have many positive interactions. And...IT BEATS SMALL TALK EVERY TIME.

Am I weird?
posted by dubwisened at 5:04 PM on April 10 [10 favorites]


For autistic people, it can take as little as one sentence to have the other person looking at you in puzzlement as they start looking around for a way to escape the conversation.

Favourited so hard my tablet has a dent. I stopped going to the tearoom at my work where, to be fair my idiosyncrasies are generally well-tolerated, because I couldn't be fucked anymore working out in advance whether a neurotypical was going to side-eye me, or make a cute teasing joke, like "don't ask b33j what project she's working on unless you have 5 minutes to spare." Like, if there's a fucking time limit, why don't you tell me that in advance? And if you aren't interested, don't make fucking useless mouth noises at me because how can I tell that that's what this time is for, saying bland things you don't give a shit about for a unwritten but understood period of time and then having everyone else say inane shit in turn. I really don't get why the autist is always to blame and considered weird. No wonder I have social anxiety that morphs into agoraphobia whenever I have to deal with most people.
posted by b33j at 5:16 PM on April 10 [28 favorites]


Well, it's a microaggression, ain't it? You're getting that "cute teasing joke" that reminds you that you're all weird and out of line and strange, the one that puts you in your place--no wonder it's stressful, and no wonder it hurts. If you're unpredictably getting small shocks every time you relax in a particular area, why wouldn't you get hypervigilance and high anxiety? Seems obvious to me.

And yet half the allistic* folks in this thread breeze right over the hypervigilance that is the centerpoint of the piece in favor of talking about minor social embarrassments and how little they matter in the grand scheme of things. It's kind of astounding to see the differences in perception here, and the confusion about something that seems so obvious to me.

*more specific term than 'neurotypical' to mean 'not-autistic'
posted by sciatrix at 5:34 PM on April 10 [32 favorites]


Am I weird?

I'm not a good person to pass judgement on that question, but I will say that as a neuroatypical and likely autistic person who obsesses on subjects and is dying to share, I love people like you. Thank you for listening and not making people feel weird about it, that's awesome.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:58 PM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Sometimes folks on the spectrum have conflicting accommodations, and that's always the absolute most frustrating and ridiculous thing to navigate. You haven't lived until you've sat through an argument between two people, each with shitty volume control and each with inbuilt terror about someone else raising their volume, trying to modulate themselves and failing and trying to communicate anyway. It can just--it can suck balls.

Oh boy this is such a thing. Volume control in specific is exactly one of the biggest conflicting needs in my friends, and it's terrible because we all hate loud talking but we all also often talk very loudly ([insert story about the time one old white guy in a restaurant came over to berate us for talking too loudly]). I would still rather that than try and navigate neurotypical social rules, though.
posted by brook horse at 6:02 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


[comment reworked because on preview the comment I was replying to has been deleted]

Speaking for myself (since if you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person), I'd love it if the person I was talking to participated enthusiastically in the conversation. "Yeah, [blah] is awesome! And did you know that [rambles on with related info]?" I'd be looking at them with hearts in my eyes.

We don't want to monopolize the conversation, it's just that allistics misread our body language, prosody, and enthusiasm and think we want to.
posted by Lexica at 6:02 PM on April 10 [13 favorites]


In fact, those who lack "a thing" are suspect.

I feel bad for people who aren't passionate about things, anything. They seem blah. I could not imagine going through life without the joy of intense fascination.

Eh, I'm another person who loves hearing about other people's passions, but I think it's possible and equally valid to be a joyful generalist who's intellectually engaged with the world at large but not really drawn to orbit around the minutiae of any specific thing.
posted by eponym at 6:23 PM on April 10 [12 favorites]


LEXICA HAS IT.

One of my cohort members in grad school is super super good at this. He always listens to my ramblings and injects his own comments and insights. Often they're not directly related because I'm not talking about something he's super familiar with, but he's really good at making connections to his own interests regardless, which I love! I'll get up to get a drink but then end up stopping by his desk and talking with him for half an hour or more because he really engages with me. I rarely leave conversations with him wondering if I bored him or talked too much, because he always actively participates in continuing the conversation.

Part of it is that, hello, we're in grad school in the same discipline, obviously we have tangentially related interests and will be able to talk about them at length. But I've noticed often even people in the same discipline rarely want to listen to people talk about stuff that's not directly related to their research, and often don't share much about their own area of interest either. Which is really too bad, because I would love to hear more from my fellow academics about their areas of interest. I think that's what I like about this person so much; he's always willing to talk about his research and connect it to mine despite them having very little direct connectio. Plus we often end up talking about stuff that's not related to our discipline at all and yet he still manages to always have interesting things to say, even when I talk about something bizarre like how in the wild cats get 95% of their water from the blood of their prey (there is no context in which this would ever come up in our discipline).

Please talk to us. Please make your own comments and connections, even if it's not directly related! As long as it doesn't seem like you're just cutting us off to change the subject, you can totally go, "Wow, I didn't know that African dogs sneeze democratically to decide who goes hunting but that's pretty cool. Sometimes I feel like my cat sneezes at me to communicate but I haven't figured out what it means yet. I do know that... [random info about cat body language]"
posted by brook horse at 6:25 PM on April 10 [18 favorites]


I was diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum late last year, and one of the things that gave credence to it was that, apparently, neurotypical people do not reflexively ask about every five sentences "Am I boring you? Are you sure?" or various rephrasings of that question.

I have an autistic friend who says "hello. hi." to me about every 10 seconds if we're not talking at that moment (for example, I'm eating or we're walking). I play along but I'm not sure what's going on there. Is it a similar thing? Checking to see if I'm still aware of her presence? I try not to be offended.
posted by AFABulous at 6:35 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


AFABulous, I used to do a very similar thing when I was younger and it was basically meant as a sort of request for a status update - "Hey, are we cool? Is this thing we're doing still cool with you? Are you quiet because I've done something wrong?" So you saying hi back may be confirming that yes, everything is indeed still cool.
posted by darchildre at 6:52 PM on April 10 [6 favorites]


What if Portmeirion but too much?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:44 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Like others in this thread I struggle with this constantly and I enjoyed the article. I find myself going too far towards being reserved because I don't want to monopolize, and because I can tolerate it pretty well. But I've found that the harder I try to be "socially normal" the less authentic I feel and it definitely feeds into my depression issues. I really need to "let it loose" more often and let myself actually obsess about stuff. But it always seems so stupid so it's hard for me to relax and just go with it.

One thing that has helped me is lately I'm making a point to "be more weird" in private. I found myself suppressing my stimming habits while being alone at home with no one around, as I was "practicing" for being at work. But this is counterproductive. I've gotten to the point where as long as I think about it ahead of time I can be more or less "normal" at work, so there's no reason for me to keep trying to keep it up when I'm by myself.

Of course, if someone surprises me with a demand for pointless small talk and I didn't have a script planned out ahead of time, ugh. 100% guaranteed to say something nonsensical.
posted by JZig at 8:45 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


The article hit pretty close to home for me too, and either my heart just broke or grew three sizes, I am unsure which.
posted by Coaticass at 9:11 PM on April 10


Maybe the DSM is a Mental Disorder?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:25 PM on April 10


The author has linked to our discussion as an example of divergent vs typical responses and experience.
posted by Coaticass at 10:06 PM on April 10 [16 favorites]


I'm struggling with this so hard right now, because the tension between "constantly police myself and pay a cost of heightened vigilance and raised anxiety" and "constantly hurt and offend people" is so taut.

Oh sciatrix, I am so so sorry that you face this struggle. That anyone faces this struggle. I would not wish it on anyone, this constant quashing of the self. I am not on the spectrum, so I can't speak to that. I do have ADHD and, in my case, it expresses itself in a variety of non-socially approved ways. I have to monitor my speech because I really like to talk, and talk, and talk. So many words pile up in my brain and I want to get them out as fast as possible. In college I remember I would talk super fast to my professors because I knew from experience that they would get bored and not want to listen for more than 5 minutes. I learned to stop doing that but it is still a struggle; sometimes I feel like a little kid learning to take my turn and not be greedy. Also, when I am enthusiastic about something, I jump out of my seat. I move my arms around a lot. I get loud. That can be intimidating or off-putting to others. I sometimes tell new friends to give me a sign, with their hands, if I get so excited that it feels oppressive to them. I am totally sincere when I tell them this. One ex used that technique with me, when I got too rowdy for him, but nobody else does and I can't tell if it's because I'm being just right or because the new people think it is too weird to do.

I am not pretending I know what it is like to be on the spectrum, because I don't. I do know that it sucks when it feels like you can't just be yourself because being yourself is all wrong. Thanks for posting, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:58 PM on April 10 [8 favorites]


Well, this thread is full of "yup, I do that" moments. I had very judgey parents growing up (class anxiety for my mum, who went from a poor as shit rural Danish farming background to international school teacher in Hong Kong after being the first in her family to do a further education - her brothers, by contrast, left home to go to sea at fifteen) and no diagnosis so I was pretty quickly taught to just shut the fuck up. Which is pretty much what I still do now. I just don't talk about my inner life very much at all. I have a few close friends with whom I can share enthusiasm about one or two subjects, but I would be surprised if anyone knew more than a very curated extract of my interests (unless they all got together and shared notes).

I'm pretty sure I regularly completely overwhelm my boyfriend, and then get annoyed at him when he can't keep up, or doesn't remember that thing that is just an irrelevant detail to him, but is foundationally important to a given subject to me, which I told him maybe three weeks ago. Every time something like this happens (and it is often) I am reminded why I just shut down and revert to the bare minimum of meaningless platitudes in public.
posted by Dysk at 4:14 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


sciatrix, that's harsh. I hope you find a space in the future where people are more accepting of your talents, and where you're more able to be yourself. It's so exhausting having to fake it all the time. I used to be so good at it that I didn't know it was a problem until the day I discovered I couldn't do it any more.

The "special interest" is an area where there is a lot of overlap with ADHD, which is my official diagnosis (but at this point I'm pretty sure I'm closer to the autistic spectrum.) Mostly I like the article, but I do have a few issues with it.

Firstly, I think she does us all an enormous disservice when she says we shouldn't be encouraged to use this particular superpower to make a living. What on earth is that about? We're living in a capitalist society ffs, we all of us spend most of our lives trying to earn a dollar. It's hard enough being like this as it is. Why shouldn't we get paid decent money to do all that research we'd otherwise be doing for nothing?

Secondly, and this is a personal assessment, I find my social problems come less from worrying about what other people think and more from the internalised shame of not always being in control of my motivation. I'm superficially quite extroverted and I know when I'm on form I can be very good company. I try not to fret about annoying people and I take care to apologise if I've managed to upset someone (it can happen). On the other hand, I really struggle when it comes to maintaining relationships and keeping up with obligations.

When she talks about how a special interest can be life enriching, she's absolutely on the money though. No kidding, I think mine has been instrumental in negotiating the world of the neurotypicals, and probably the reason I flew under the radar for so long.

For as long as I've been able to think about these things, I've been passionately obsessed with clothes. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion. Dressing well has allowed me to explore my identity and build up social confidence in the company of normal people. Quite literally, over the years I've worn many disguises. I don't need to talk about my particular fixation, but I will given the opportunity and I can make it pass as small talk. When I'm complimented on my clothing I usually joke about how much thought goes into looking this effortlessly put together. It does.

I guess my third point about this essay is that, having observed the allistic world from a position of relative self-confidence, it's worth remembering that a surprising number of people aren't passionately interested in anything except fitting in with other people, and that's fine for them, but that's not how society advances. Mainstream apathy or social pressure shouldn't mean we have to kerb our enthusiasm. The other thing to keep in mind is that bullying is most effective against people who will fall under the control of the bullies, and an autistic mindset is by definition unable to do that. It's a hard lesson to learn, but a big difference between us and the rest of the world is that we don't bend easily to social pressure. I call that a win.

Look, I know that any of us dealing with this is struggling one way or another, and I don't want to give the impression that it's not a bastard to live with, but I also rail against narratives that persist in taking the inherent strengths of this condition and turning them into hurdles to overcome rather than muscles to be developed. I prefer more positivity with my advocacy.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:25 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


AFABulous's "hello. hi" friend - not me but I can see myself doing that (am autistic and have ADHD). When I'm with someone I'm automatically aware that we're having a Social Encounter and I'm in Social Mode. Social Mode is usually about saying stuff or listening, so if it's quiet I can get the impulse to say something but not actually have anything to say - personally I often end up making (or suppressing) a funny noise or sigh or something, but it can be a word or phrase. It is a means of reestablishing social/conversational connection, but automatic. I think I could call it phatic echolalia. Allistics seem to be able to do it by always being able to generate something else to talk about instead.
posted by lokta at 5:28 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


Firstly, I think she does us all an enormous disservice when she says we shouldn't be encouraged to use this particular superpower to make a living. What on earth is that about?
My impression of that part of the article was more "don't push kids toward focusing on only profitable stuff" and "don't see people primarily in terms of their value in the money machine", not so much "don't allow yourself to gain profit from your own special interests".
posted by inconstant at 7:15 AM on April 11 [7 favorites]


Why shouldn't we get paid decent money to do all that research we'd otherwise be doing for nothing?

If you know how I can effectively monetize my knowledge of African geography or the thousands of hours of my youth spent watching Japanese robot anime, I'm all ears. I'm sure there are employers out there who would love a verbal listing of the provinces of South Africa and it's three capitals. Hell, there might even be done who will listen to me defend at length Syd Mead's moustache-heavy mecha designs for ∀ Gundam, but I suspect even they will want a glance at the ol' CV.

I've voluntarily let go of several of my sillier obsessions (and that is the right word – not hobby or interest) because all they've seemingly done is fortify the walls of my isolation from the rest of humanity. The short-term neurotransmitter rush was enjoyable, but the long-term depression hasn't been. At this point, in the twilight of my twenties, I can't help but lament the hundreds of hours I've wanted on absolutely nothing of any consequence. Hours I could have spent observing humans in their natural habitat talking to people, furthering my career, and developing some of the skills I need to function as an adult.

I admit some of my obsessions have brought me closer to neurotypical people, but in all those occasions a superficial or (forgive me) "normal" level of interest would have sufficed. I'm sure my friend would have loved to share her impressions of TNG with me even if didn't have the fourth playthrough in my belt, much less the hundreds of Enterprise-D interior mockups and concept art images on my hard drive.

What purpose does that serve? Not any profound emotion that I couldn't get from any number of other things, like music. It's all interchangable and not making me smarter. It's most certainly different for all of you, but I've found that what I do is just a form of intellectual hoarding. A means to avoid my considerable anxiety load which just made things worse. If I'm going to spend time on something, it might as well be something that gets me outside and interacting with others, like exercise.

The author and several of you have expressed how your obsessions give you joy and a sense of control. My ramblings are not meant as an attack or a rebuttal to any of your experiences. I totally get how you feel. It's just that my own path has led me to the opposite of several conclusions in this article. Be proud and let your freak flag fly – mine shall be taken down and folded away for the time being.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:36 AM on April 11 [9 favorites]


Freelance Demiurge, it seems like the difference between people who really, really enjoy beer and have an encyclopedic knowledge of it, and those who have that knowledge but are also alcoholics.
posted by AFABulous at 8:13 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


If you know how I can effectively monetize my knowledge of African geography or the thousands of hours of my youth spent watching Japanese robot anime, I'm all ears. I'm sure there are employers out there who would love a verbal listing of the provinces of South Africa and it's three capitals.

Ambassador, history teacher, a member of the African Parks or tourism department, South African tourist department, museum docent, writer/set designer/painter on a tv show. Jobs exist. They may not pay well or be somewhat difficult to get but they do exist.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:15 AM on April 11


Most of those jobs require a level of public interaction and social awareness that might be incredibly difficult for many of us autistic folks.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:30 AM on April 11 [14 favorites]


My personal frustration is the knowledge that I’m doing something wrong, but not knowing what. At work, as time goes by, I get invited to less and less group lunches. In personal life, I’m invited to less and less get-togethers or less and less people show up to the ones I arrange. And no one will tell me why - what did I do (or fail to do) incorrectly?
posted by goddess_eris at 10:04 AM on April 11 [11 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. I think the "if you know how I can be employed..." was more of a rhetorical question rather than a request for job-hunting advice, and the advice isn't landing well in this context, so let's wrap up that sidebar. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:21 PM on April 11 [10 favorites]


Those of you who have expressed an interest in listening to people geek out about topics with which you are unfamiliar might want to check out the podcast Nobody Cares (Except for Me), which is all about exploring weird passions. Usually they are pop culture topics but not always.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:39 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


I had a boyfriend who is likely autistic (I'm not autistic but I'm not neurotypical either) and has a lot of serial obsessive interests. Thing is, he doesn't discuss them with people and worrisomely had a habit of responding to any of my interests with "that's weird". I like to geek out about things; I thought he'd be accepting of that, but...

For example, I like thinking about the TV shows I watch and so I like to read thinkpieces and recaps to get other people's perspectives. I know I'm not the only person who does this; it's not as if there are no neurotypical people on staff at the AV Club or Vulture. I do this rather than nerding out at people who don't share the same frame of reference. When he asked me what I was reading and I explained that it was about [Show we both like], his only response was "that's weird". It was kind of like that with anything I was into was inherently weird, possibly because he'd lost the ability to talk about his or anyone else's interests.

I could have taken this as him not understanding my bid for attention, but instead it made me feel so bloody alone. Like, how dare I try to find a sense of community around my pretty pedestrian interests? I'm around people who nerd out about Crossfit or homebrewing or whatnot all the time, and no one's treating them like crap over it. Then I figured out what the issue really was.

TBH, it's my relationships with neurodiverse folk that have made me the most uncomfortable about sharing my interests. They either don't quite know how to respond, or have trouble with the give and take nature of conversation or simply do something that makes me feel unheard, even when we're both nerdy about the same thing. Another friend with ADHD has trouble having a linear conversation, and I don't necessarily have to wherewithal to feel okay when I say something and he immediately changes the subject. Having a number of people in my life with their own social issues means I have to constantly triage what I say in case they can't make me feel heard. It's led to me holding back a lot, but for different reasons than autistic people do, and is damaging to my social life, but there you go.
posted by blerghamot at 1:47 PM on April 11 [4 favorites]


Another friend with ADHD has trouble having a linear conversation, and I don't necessarily have to wherewithal to feel okay when I say something and he immediately changes the subject.

Uhm, I also have ADHD and I take absolutely no issue when I change the subject because my brain is jumping around and the other person says, "We can come back to Y, but first can we talk about X?" Most of the time I don't even want to talk about Y, there was just connection that my brain made between X and Y and I'm perfectly happy going back to the original subject and then moving on to subject Z.

(I have also been known to take notes of topics during conversations to lessen the affect of my brain's derails and to allow the person I'm talking to to finish their initial train of thought.)

So anyway, if your friend is aware of their ADHD they probably know they do this and you can probably broach the subject without much offense.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:36 PM on April 11 [6 favorites]


Most of the time I don't even want to talk about Y, there was just connection that my brain made between X and Y and I'm perfectly happy going back to the original subject and then moving on to subject Z.

I know I can carefully redirect an ADHD'ed interlocutor, but it's tricky when they're someone who struggles with tact. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned not really wanting to talk about subject Y - it's a bit trickier with someone who actually wants to talk about subject Y much more than subject X but doesn't know how to introduce subject Y without being dismissive.

I have another friend with ADHD where, you'll send them an article or heck, even a Metafilter thread and their first impulsive response is "tldr" or "can't do this, not interested". What do you even do with that? Wait for the next time they bring you something you don't have patience for so you can be equally dismissive in turn?
posted by blerghamot at 2:49 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


I have another friend with ADHD where, you'll send them an article or heck, even a Metafilter thread and their first impulsive response is "tldr" or "can't do this, not interested". What do you even do with that?

Find a new friend. Most of the time I'll at least feign some interest or explain that I don't have the spoons to read it but that I'll bookmark it for later. Someone who's dismissive with every single friendly overture probably isn't interested in cultivating a friendship.

(Note: This is my interpretation. I am not every autistic ADHD person in the world.)
posted by elsietheeel at 3:25 PM on April 11 [9 favorites]


(It is perhaps worth noting that I have diagnoses of both ADHD and autism, and the hell if I know what corner of my brain is responsible for what else going on with my social deficits.)

I know I can carefully redirect an ADHD'ed interlocutor, but it's tricky when they're someone who struggles with tact.

If they struggle with tact, it's--hell. Either find a blunt enough way to correct them so that they notice that you're comfortable with, or make a new friend. (As elsietheeel says, I ain't every neurodiverse person out there either, but I would never be that--for lack of a better word, contemptuous to someone who was bringing me something interesting and whom I genuinely cared about. And I'm notorious about attention fail, but--hell, if you give me a shiny thing, even if I'm caught in a hyperfocus spiral, I'll at least try to engage or give my friend a better time to check in with me. (If I can't break out of that spiral, good luck getting any response, which is one reason I'm careful to stick to forms of interaction and communication that either avoid my most usual hyperfocuses or are at least asynchronous.)

(I hope.)

It's the rejection that would piss me off. The hell with that. There's a difference between being neurodiverse and being an asshole, thanks, and illustrating that difference requires pointing out cases of people who may or may not be neurotypical but who are nonetheless being assholes, and your friend's behavior certainly falls under that umbrella for me.
posted by sciatrix at 3:38 PM on April 11 [11 favorites]


It's just that my own path has led me to the opposite of several conclusions in this article. Be proud and let your freak flag fly – mine shall be taken down and folded away for the time being.

This. The conclusion to these pieces always seems to be “be yourself,” without consideration of whether that’s going to make you happy. I try very hard to fit in, and I’m glad to do it — I just wish it were actually possible for me, rather than just being something that’s elusive and fleeting.

For me, the most harmful part was reading about how obsessions tend to be superficial rather than detailed— that people with ASD rarely grasp the nuances but instead just focus on the surface facts. Which may be true, but it means I tend to flee from obsessions and be embarrassed about them. It’s a version of imposter syndrome I really wish I didn’t have.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:44 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


The conclusion to these pieces always seems to be “be yourself,” without consideration of whether that’s going to make you happy. I try very hard to fit in, and I’m glad to do it — I just wish it were actually possible for me, rather than just being something that’s elusive and fleeting.

Agreed, and this is somewhat tied in with my earlier comment about developing skills for a productive life, regardless of whether you make a living at them. I think - I know - I've been incredibly lucky to have learned to "pass" relatively early on, even though there's always an internal calculation of what to say and do next.

Of course we're all different, but I remember making a conscious decision to learn to listen carefully to people, instead of just looking like I'm listening and then blurting. People expect you to make eye contact, but I find it easier to look elsewhere and focus on the information. This takes practise and can be tiring, but it's much easier to have a productive conversation that way. Someone upthread talked about taking notes, or doing something else at the same time, and I've done both. The other thing I've tried to cultivate is a sense of humour. I'm often unintentionally funny while I'm trying to be deadly serious, and instead of feeling awkward about this I'll always share the joke. Laughter is a great way to connect with people, and enthusiasm is infectious too.

So I suppose what it comes down to is that for me, "learning to be myself" has been about coming up with a few strategies to make space for myself in polite company, and have them fail gracefully when I'm accidentally rude or strange. A lot of people around me wonder why I can be so tentative at times, but I suppose this is a sign I've been quite successful at it. The fact is I'm always second guessing these interactions and worried about getting them wrong. They don't know what's going on inside my head.

There's a difference between being neurodiverse and being an asshole, thanks, and illustrating that difference requires pointing out cases of people who may or may not be neurotypical but who are nonetheless being assholes, and your friend's behavior certainly falls under that umbrella for me.

This is where the rubber hits the road, though, isn't it? Having lived most of my life with no diagnosis, just a nagging feeling something wasn't right, I'm often inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, because I always hope I'll be extended the same courtesy. I mean, who's the bigger asshole? Someone like me, who's fastidious about F2F presentation but hopeless at following through, or the person who has no spoons for superficial politeness because they're fighting fires elsewhere?
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:01 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


> "We can come back to Y, but first can we talk about X?"

My favorite sort of fiction or jokes are the ones where there are tangents off of tangents, and the whole thing meanders around and unfolds slowly, with interjections by others and threads falling by the wayside unresolved, all while being entertaining as it goes along, and sometimes I get confused, and forget where I was going, or what I was talking about, or what the point even was really, so I tend to incorporate this sort of narrative into my daily communications (which is one reason I fucking hate sending emails), so without the help of others actually stopping me on occasion and asking things like, "Dude, is there even a point to this story?" or "Are you going to get back to what actually happened before the police dropped you off at your parent's house? Why were you in the cop car?" well, then what was I on about again?

I don't take any offense in tabling a subject, or revisiting one we're not done with, or being interrupted. I'm a very non-linear thinker, and it took me until college to realize most people do not think like I do. Interruptions are normal to me. My brain is a stone skipping upstream. As I get older it's harder and harder for me to focus. I know this.

One of the ironies of this sort of unstructured thinking is that I am aware of this, and so sometimes I compensate too far the other direction. I will patiently actively listen until the other person stops. I make a commitment to listening, and not just waiting for my turn to speak, and sometimes I then miss the cue that it's my turn to ask questions or to direct the conversation.

On the rare occasions where I have met someone else that is like me, it's sometimes like watching two people talk past each other in different languages. Sometimes it's not about sharing information, but rather just making noises at each other.

I honestly believe this is why I like the TV show LOST so damn much. Polar bears, smoke monsters, random numbers, smoke monsters, island gods, time travel, nuclear warheads? Sure, why the fuck not? What else ya got? I was even fine when they dropped shit for apparently no reason at all, because that's exactly how my brain works.

I've never been diagnosed with ADHD or autism or and sort of spectrum, but I went from nearly failing remedial learning classes in high school, to acing advanced placement classes literally overnight (I moved districts). I'm 47. When I was a kid they called it being *"hyper"* or a thousand other names, but the more I learn about the brain, and more of my friends have kids that are diagnosed, and I think, "He's no different than I was at that age...," the more I am convinced I've got something different going on up there, and I not only don't mind, I like the way my brain works.

And the police gave me a ride home because I was caught buying sodas in a park after hours after I had already been told the park was closed.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:51 PM on April 12 [5 favorites]


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