Meeting someone new can be daunting for anyone, whether you’re on the autistic spectrum or not. But when you are on the spectrum, it can feel like you’re meeting a date with potential doom. Various questions and scenarios of the worst proportions flow through your mind, so by the time you’re actually face to face with them, you’re a nervous wreck.
Now again, this could be argued that someone with an anxiety disorder (i’m with ya on that one too, buddy *raises hand*) can go through this exact same thing. And while that is true, with an autistic person it doesn’t stop or abate when you’re sat talking to, what frequently turns out to be, a lovely, friendly person.
As an autistic woman, i can still sit across a wonderful, engaging, interesting person and still feel overwrought with anxiety and tension. The reasons for this, is that unless i know someone very well, i can’t pick up on things like sarcasm and double meanings. I won’t know if someone is joking or not, unless it’s really obvious – like they’re grinning or laughing themselves. Sometimes though, and it is quite unfortunate, i will find something funny, which i’m not meant to. Either i will laugh out of nerves (if you really pay attention, you’ll find i give a chuckle with anything i say, i don’t know why i do this.) or because i generally find what you’re said or how you’re said it, amusing.
This generally means i’ve missed out a key bit of information, either in your tone, the meaning of what you’re said or something in your body language that should’ve and would’ve told me, this is not something to laugh or find amusing. For the love of God, woman, don’t laugh!
Emotional reactions and responses in general, with people i don’t know, can very much be a hit or miss. Some people find me lovely and charming, whereas others who meet me find me weird. But ultimately, when given a chance, i’m found to be adorable!
I think this difference in first impressions comes down to matches of personalities, but also my mental wellbeing of that day, time, space. So if i’m unwell, stressed, tired or meeting them in a not very conductive environment for aspies – it can go horribly wrong and the person can go away with the wrong first impression of who i am.
I tend to like to go to know someone from afar before i actually meet them, and this can take quite some time. Some people lose interest or distracted by another shiny, shiny person, but the ones that stick around, tend to be the ones i’m friends or partnered with for a long time.
I do try and warn people i’m not good with meeting new people, but i think, generally it goes in one ear and out the other. Or they just put it down to general nerves. It’s not. I know of no other person who, before a first meeting or someone, will spend their last remaining minutes before the introduction, on their knees in front of a toilet bowl trying to keep their stomach where it should be, or pacing the room so much it wears out ones socks or shoes – depending on the timing of things.
When i’ve known someone, and by that i mean i’ve spoken to them through texting, spoken to them a dozen times on the phone and talked to them over webcam, it cuts out alot of this stress. And makes it a less traumatic experience. I have that sense of ‘I know this person, i’m okay, we’re okay.’
I know your voice
I know your tones
I know your sense of humour
I know your face
I know your smile
I know your personality
But most of all
You know me.
In a formal setting, such like in a customer service role, whether i’m on the phone or face to face with people of the public. I’m okay, because i have a role, the conversation subjects are limited to that role. Of course things get tricky when people of the public try and engage me into small talk. Then i get a bit uncomfortable. When this happens i will either talk to much, or not say much at all. Which can make things awkward. I try and be polite and respectful as much as possibly, but it is very tiring.
I enjoy working with people, but i’m only able to do it for so long before i need a time out. Which is why i’m limited to 3 hours maximum, working hours a day. When i go beyond this, i can’t keep up, and problems start to arise, such as my behaviour – when i get stressed, i can come across quite aggressive. I don’t mean to, and i try to regulate and avoid this as much as i can. But sometimes it’s just too much and i’m overwhelmed. Having a break isn’t going to help much, because i’ll just be focussing on how much time i have left of my break, which will stress me more, as i’ll be hyper aware. It’s best to let me go home, and at another point have a talk about what we can do as an employer/employee to help make sure this doesn’t happen again. It may mean, shorter hours or different tasks, that i’m comfortable with.