Monday, January 7, 2013

Flying Blind

Socially the hardest thing for me is the aspect of flying blind. What does this mean? Despite all the presentations I have given and all the interactions I've had I still find it impossible to pick up on social cues.

It's rather aggravating to experience these moments when I know I should be understanding what is going on only to have no idea. "Is this person bored? Happy? Are they listening?" are all questions that race through my mind. I guess this is better than many years ago when I wasn't even aware of this aspect, but now I am and yet I can't pick up on these cues.

A good way of thinking about what socializing is like for me is flying blind. Imagine flying a small aircraft in the mountains at night in fog. I'm sure there's probably a law against such flying if you're just using VFR, but let's forget that aspect and just concentrate on how difficult of a task it is to navigate a world that you can not see. This is what socializing feels like for me.

As I mentioned, many years ago I oblivious to the other side of the conversation meaning that, if I was having a good time, the other person was having just as swell of a time. Now though, being aware that my previous belief was wrong, now has me over-analyzing every aspect of a conversation.

Between the two I would rather be flying blind than when I was oblivious to the other person. At the same time though I do dearly wished I had the ability to pick up on the subtle cues that others seem to be able to pick up on without effort. I mean, how wonderful would that be? To be able to socialize and then not be consumed with wonder on what just happened. That must be the most amazing, awesome thing in the world.

Okay, I'm sure everyone isn't a Sherlock Holmes in deducing social situations and cues. But that being said I'm in awe of a person that can pick up just 1% of the social puzzle. Does that make sense? I believe one of the main reasons those on the autism spectrum retreat socially is this aspect of flying blind. The reason why is that when the social encounter is over it doesn't end of us, at least for me this is true, as afterwards I am analyzing everything. Despite all the analyzing, however, I stay just as confused as I did during the conversation. Regardless of all the anxiety and wonder that comes from socializing I am a fighter; I may have mentioned how clueless I am as to where I am within the mountains of a conversation, but I'm sure, if you have a conversation with me, you are just oblivious to the strength I am exerting by simply having a conversation. Imagine trying to keep your train of thought when every bit of the person and environment is being analyzed then reanalyzed and the volume of this analysis rises and rises until it is a deafening roar all throughout the body. This is rather an uncomfortable feeling and yet there I am. So, just keep that in mind; I may be somewhat oblivious as to where I stand within a conversation, but I'm sure you too have no idea the internal strength it is taking for me to try and silence my confusion, fears, and anxiety.


  1. Hi Aaron,
    Sometimes I wonder if my son who is autistic (4 years old) understands when i'm angry. I am trying to discipline him and he often laughs or giggles and i say no, this is not funny, mommy is mad because you....whatever happened..I think he gets it after that but sometimes misses those cues...

  2. It's a quite interesting text you shared with us Aaron. It surely helps us to understand how you see the world. Maybe some of your effort could be reduced by stating this issue shortly before starting a conversation. That way the other part could explicitly tell you how he or she is feeling and help you ease your effort. I know I would gladly do that if needed, but I also udnerstand that many would not be comfortable stating how they really feel.
    Juan Luis

  3. Wow, Aaron! Beautifully stated! That does take strength and much courage and again more courage to write about it. Most people just want to help. What can we do to help? Is it easier to pick up on the social cues of those you know well, like family versus strangers? My guess would be that it is... Thank you Aaron. Julie

  4. Since OT is a profession that requires people who work in it to pick up social cues well, I will share some of my ways as someone who made it with AS.

    1. Tone of voice is a big clue- someone who sounds excited is way different from someone sounds angry or sad.

    2. Active listening to the words spoken- the good o' think before you speak rule applies here!

    3. Try to make eye contact as consistently as possible. I know this is very hard for individuals with autism. But, you have to assume the person who is talking to you doesn't understand autism.

    4. Practice, practice, practice. You need to train yourself to say some sort of constructive response in 5 seconds or less at least 95% of the time, if not 98-99% of the time, even in situations that might be difficult to do. Avoiding social situations is not a long term answer.

    I DON'T get to where I am in OT without constantly trying to find someone to "practice" with, especially early on in my diagnosis. I also DON'T get to where I am in OT without listening and accepting people's constructive criticisms.