Autistic Aloneness: When Coping Mechanisms Go Bad

When Coping Mechanisms Go Bad

Posted May 11, 2008

Navigating in the "normal" world, for a person with Asperger's, can be difficult, if not downright painful.  The most difficult area for me to handle, personally, is rejection.  While some people with autism or Asperger's report a reduced desire for human attachment, the reality for many of us is to want it very much, but struggle to achieve it. 

Researchers often call this difficulty to connect with others "autistic aloneness." Like many people like me, I have learned to mimic social behavior well enough to get along.  I work, have friends, and social relationships...but the real issue comes when things get beyond superficial.  When the very coping mechanisms that get us through surface interactions, not only fail, but cause additional problems.

Intimacy can be a very difficult thing for a person on the spectrum.  Everyday interactions can be "scripted:"

"Hi, how're you?"
"Fine, how're you?"
"Just fine, thank you..."

But when you get into the more complex areas of social interactions, it can be very challenging.  By default, people on the autistic spectrum have trouble reading others, and predicting how they will react to things.  This can make for a very jarring life experience.  You can feel like you're driving down a road blind - and relationships can become very fear based.  If you cannot read other people's subtle body language, how can you see the problems coming down the pike, until you've already collided?  How can you predict what will happen next?

An aspect missed by many mainstream articles and coverage on the subject is this - while those on the autism spectrum have trouble reading so called "normal" people, the reverse is true as well.  Many of the offshoots of the way our minds work can be routinely misinterpreted, leading us to have difficulties in relationships and relatedness to others. 

For example, I am very methodical in how I approach certain things, and I don't feel safe unless I have looked at the majority of possible barriers I could encounter, and determined how to address them, in advance.  I have had many times in life when I have gone into a situation and badly failed because I was unprepared and froze up.  Especially when social factors are involved, and the outcome is very important, I feel very anxious, even panicked, going into a situation without having done this "prep work."

The success of my "scripted" approach to the world depends on being prepared for all eventualities.  I don't show this side to many people, but to those who do see it, can find it very tiring.  In fact, it's very tiring for me, but the alternative is failing spectacularly.  If not prepared, I am like a computer without the proper programming - because my instincts in these areas are inadequate, or simply nonexistent.

Everyone has frustrations and aggravations that they encounter in social relationships with those they love, but for people on the spectrum, and those that love them, these types of coping mechanisms can take the average stresses to the next level.  It's very painful for me at times, that the root of some of my success cause a side affect of estrangement from the relationships I value, as they misunderstand, or become frustrated with them.

From a non-spectrum point of view, many of these types of coping mechanisms are routinely misinterpreted.  When I respond to a recommendation with a question such as, "What if X happens?" others view this as a rejection of their recommendation, which frequently it is not at all.  It is actually often the opposite.  It means I have accepted the recommendation as something that should be done, and am asking the proper questions to execute the suggestion, building the "program" or "script" I need to do respond to barriers and navigate the interaction.  But, others can think I am either being difficult, ridiculous, or negative, "shooting down" the suggestion as soon as it's offered.

There are times when I find the social world of others mystifying.  Within my understanding of the social world, I try to reach out to others, care about others, and be the best person that I can be, but there are times that I feel that I am spinning my wheels.  My overtures to express love fall into the abyss of Asperger's - creating wide distances between me and those I love.

It can make me very angry - angry at the misunderstandings, frustrated at the judgments imposed upon me by those misunderstandings, and aggravated at the persistence of those misunderstandings, despite my repeated attempts to make myself understood.  Do we all have to be the same to be accepted in this world?  Is the simple fact of having autism or Asperger's mean a lifetime of aloneness, even when you are with others?

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