An Autistic Perspective on… Being Referred to as a “Best Friend” for the First Time

(Content note: two mentions of fake/toxic friendships)

Hi all,

Today’s post is going to be a little different. The situation I am describing in today’s post happened to me a couple of weeks ago. After originally writing out my thoughts I decided to modify them into a blog post in the hope that this might help somebody whom has been in the position being describe understand a possible cause of somebody’s behaviour. I elaborate on the social situation first with possible interpretations before adding my own.

This is the best way I can work out how to phrase it so please bare with me. You work/study at the same university as this other person that you have been talking to for a while. Somebody whom you’ve found you have lots in common with and that has helped you a few times and vise versa. Someone whom you make some kind of connection with and they feel the same towards you. You also find out that they are on the autistic spectrum and/or infer it from their behaviour. This person is someone who you feel you can depend on. Then you feel that you can tell them that you consider them your best friend, and that you are here for them and you want to help them if they need to – in other words, explicitly showing closeness and/or the desire to foster it with them. You may find that if you do, they may not be sure what to say or be hesitant with what they do say. This is what happened between me and my friend (“You” referring to my friend and the other autistic person refers to me).

There is the possibility that this is the first time that the autistic person has heard somebody say this to them having gone through life with little to no friends or no close friends. They may be happy or cry at the thought of finally feeling that their desires to make friends has been seemingly validated by someone else. They may worry that their response may make you lose interest in being her friend so is anxious about how to respond. This is on top of the usual processing time and other communication difficulties that is part of autism.

Of course, there will likely be subconscious doubts as well going through their mind. “What if they turn out to be a fake friend or worse?” and “Are they just saying this so I can let my guard down?” are just two of many possible thoughts in this situation. With autistic people being generally more vulnerable as well as more experienced with fake/toxic friendships many are naturally on guard, and rightfully so. The “fake/toxic friend” checklists that they have drawn up from their own experiences and/or manually learn from lists come into play here. “Am I really making the right decision investing so much into this person?” is a common though with both NTs and autistic people however it is even more important for the latter. Every friendship is essentially a risk and both NTs and autistic people know this. However, some autistic people have been so badly burned in the past they have given up on friendships altogether (or even hate neurotypicals).

For me personally, I wasn’t really sure how to react to this situation when it happened to me and I’m still not. I haven’t really had anybody I would consider a best friend through my whole life, just “good friends” or blood relatives so adjusting to the thought of adjusting to being called a “best friend” is very difficult. I consider the person that said this to me as a “good friend,” but as he knows about me being autistic I felt comfortable explaining that I didn’t really know how to take it. He worked out that it was because I’m not used to it. It saved me a lot of work and that aspect I’m grateful to him. I think I feel this way about other strong bonds too (like being somebody’s significant other or referring to someone else as a family relative “from another mother”) though I don’t fully understand it. From what I can infer there’s a lot of social signifiance to these references which are normally used for close friendships.

However, there is one major takeaway I’d like everyone reading this to take with them – Autistic people make some of the best friends around whether we are your best friends or not. We are faithful to you and the friendship and resist badmouthing you. We usually have a strong sense of right or wrong and we tell it to you like it is. You will know where you stand with us. Just like you want friendships, most of us want friendships too (contrary to a common believe about autistic people). We may not know what to do or show it in a neurotypical or autistic way, but we do care about you. We may not feel the urge to contact you frequently (a common feature of many NT friendships) possibly due to anxiety or other reasons. There may be certain environments we don’t want to go to with you (ie. pubs, bars, theatres) due to sensory issues or because they need to socially recover from the day ahead or adhere to any routine we have. We may feel the urge to return the favour to you and they likely will someday. After all, you are somebody whom is showing to them what often very few people do – genuine friendship. Of course, there are exceptions to what is stated in the above paragraph.

Autism alone does not indicate whether a friendship is good or not as that comes down to other factors. To give a few starting points – how well does this person treat me? Do we have something in common? How often do we contact each other? Am I comfortable with this person? There are some autistic people that do create fake/toxic friendships too but that is not because of autism rather other factors.

If you see someone you know be a bit uncomfortable with the thought of being referred to as your best friend, consider anything brought up in this post as a possible reason. Feelings cannot be predicted of course so these possible situations are just hypothetical examples that differs from person to person. In that sense the best thing to do may be simply to ask them or at least try to infer meanings from their body language/speech if you feel you are good enough at doing that. It is important to hear about perspectives like this however – these perspectives typically don’t appear in the usual NT information sphere and this has led to countless misunderstandings across the world.

Long live authentic friendships.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

 

Stimming – The Key Points

Hi all,

Firstly, sorry for the inactivity lately – I have had a lot on adjusting to returning to university, and with that comes of course the increased workload! That often leads to stress that needs to be offloaded somehow, hence what has inspired today’s topic – stimming.

As human beings, we all have ways of coping with the world around. Some people vent to people, others cry alone or scream into a pillow. Then there are people like me on the spectrum, and one of the ways that some of us destress is through stimming. This post will be primarily written from my own viewpoint; however, it is worth noting that other ASD people stim as well and this shows differently from person to person. Hence why it is also written in a way that states other ASD people may exhibit similar stimming behaviour.

Before we continue, I am going to define stimming as best as I can. It is a coping mechanism and can show in many ways. One example is flapping where somebody moves their arms up and down. Another is rocking, which is where you move the upper half of your body back and forth. Other examples include spinning, repetitively feeling fabric and other similar materials, jumping up and down (whether sitting down or standing up prior) groaning, blinking repetitively, snapping fingers and screeching.

A lot of the time when an autistic person stims, it is usually for one of a few reasons:

It is a way of destressing after a day of socialising or “acting NT” in a world that can be hostile to anything that deviates from the norm.

Think of it from the perspective of an introvert’s social battery. An introvert has a long day at work/school/socialising and needs to recharge their batteries, doing something by themselves to recharge their social battery. Well it is the same here. Stimming is another way of recharging their social batteries. I am not 100% sure if it applies to extroverted autistics as well however I would imagine if the situations were very demanding on the ASD person it likely wouldn’t matter (if anyone would like to chime in the comments section, please do). Often this is done in their own home or private space (ie. bedroom) where they are unlikely to be disturbed. The length and loudness may vary especially after a whole day at work/socialising.

The autistic person’s social battery is starting to wear down from interaction.

This refers to stimming that happens during social interaction. The longer the ASD person is exposed to the social environment, the more the social exhaustion increases. The stimming can be channelled or delayed through distractions (ie. by using a screen-based device, listening to music, fiddling with items to provide stimulation like fidget cubes) but it cannot be halted. This is where subtle stimming can show, for example rocking.

The autistic person is stressed about something.

Stress can be intense on somebody that feels too much empathy or is overwhelmed by the situation at hand. So much so that it starts to affect other areas of their lives. One effect of this is stimming and often the only way to help reduce this kind of stimming is to deal with the source of the stress. This is easier said than done in many cases especially those outside the immediate family’s control. Some examples that come to mind of sources include peers, the healthcare system and the workplace.

It helpes ease the impact of sensory overload and anxiety.

Sensory overload is common with autistic people. The feeling of a familiar surface (ie. soft textures, the outside of a fidget cube) can provide comfort against the onslaught of unfamiliar stimuli or overwhelming sounds, smells etc. This also applies to anxiety. Soft textures can greatly help with anxiety. To add some personal experience, soft textures including soft toys have helped me manage overload and anxiety over the years. I still have many of the plushies/fabrics I have built up over time.

If it is none of the above and/or there is something positive in the environment, it may mean that they feel comfortable around you, whether it is shown explicitly or not.

Trust is something that is earned, not given. Respect works the same way. Stimming is a very intimate aspect of an autistic person which has often been forcibly suppressed due to external negativity. Over time the message that “you can’t act like that in public (referring to stimming behaviour)” is often internalised and, combined with social isolation and peer rejection, the urge to stim can be repressed until they are in what they see a safe place, such as their own home.

Often only close family or family friends will ever see an ASD person stimming so if you are given an audience to an ASD person stimming, it may suggest that they feel comfortable around you and that they trust you. That is a very special position to be in, so don’t break the trust. You don’t know how much energy it took for them to trust you, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it yet. This is definitely the case if somebody breaks the trust and bullies/ridicules the ASD person for stimming – being themselves.

Some extra points:

It can be voluntary or involuntary.

The ASD individual may not even be aware they are doing it at times. However sometimes it may be a conscious choice to do it or urged by their mind/body, such as after a mentally exhausting event. It may also be something that needs to be done to help with executive functioning as not doing so risks the stress showing in other ways (ie. involuntary aggression).

Accommodations may be required.

These may be required to help with stimming. One example that comes to mind from my experience is having to put a bit of money aside to accommodate for any breakages that occur. I have broken multiple chairs and toilet seats over the years from stimming on them and weakening the structure without knowing it. Other examples of accommodations include using a music player with earbuds to block out unwanted stimuli, clearing some space in a room to minimise obstructions as well as buying more durable furniture that can withstand forces outside neurotypical use (like stimming while sitting down on a wooden chair).

It’s part of an ASD person’s identity.

This is much like other neurological conditions, physical appearance, personality traits etc. Therefore to truly accept an autistic individual you will need to accept that they may also stim too. Some autistic people may not stim at all – it depends on the person. Not everyone will be able to accept stimming, but those that do may be very special people indeed. Family/friends that don’t accept an autistic person’s stimming are not worth being around, as it is likely that that they haven’t accepted other aspects of them too.

Self-acceptance on the part of the ASD individual is also important.

This is much easier said than done especially if the environment around the ASD person isn’t supportive. To those ASD people whom are struggling with this I have a few words to say – it’s okay to be different from what society sees as “normal”. It is part of who you are. It is something that takes time to accept and when you have accepted it, that aspect of your life is at peace. One of many parts of your life you have been given to live.

That’s all for today – take care everyone!

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

Breaking the Mould – Autism Representation in the Media

(Content note: One mention of each of the following to exemplify a point around halfway through this post – bullying, meltdowns and autistic burnout)

Hi all,

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the internet series Atypical from Netflix, which claims to be a “coming-of-age” story about an 18-year old autistic white male looking to get a girlfriend. I was hoping to watch the show but I haven’t been able to without resorting to piracy or giving Netflix any revenue, which I don’t want to do. So this post will not be a review of Atypical like I originally intended, but instead focus more on the untapped potential autism has when it comes to representation in the media.

Autism has huge potential to help aid character development in various media products, but it currently isn’t being utilised. There is the potential for deep exploration on these differences, such as school life, the workplace and relationships (as Atypical attempted to do). The mainstream media representation of autism is currently very shallow and tends to consist of the following:

  • A white male
  • Young
  • Straight/cis
  • Panders to stereotypes and pre-existing beliefs by NTs of those on the spectrum including that they have lack of empathy, are antisocial and alloromatic
  • The ASD character is often portrayed as somebody to be laughed at, not with
  • The show is designed so that the ASD character is something that should be pitied and how they are a burden on the other NT characters (especially parents!)

I’m sure there are more, but this is a good starting point. This narrow-minded viewpoint would by nature omit the chance to elaborate on the additional struggles faced by autistic people outside this representation (including to but not limited to POC, LGBTQ+ and actual alloromantic autistic people) on top of their ASD which by default makes these more difficult to negotiate (as well as other factors like lack of information etc.). Often they are compared to other stereotypical characters like Rain Man as well as Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

In terms of potential plots that break the stereotypical mould outlined above, I have a few examples of plots that could work as a starting point below:

  • A story between an NT/ASD couple in a committed relationship that are having difficulties in communication due to the different neurotypes. This story would explore how they both come to a common understanding and find different ways and techniques of helping each other understand their neurotypes and how it affects them and their relationship.
  • A live action drama about an autistic child’s school days where they suffer from loneliness and bullying from both students and teachers, eventually having to be pulled out and homeschooled. This is despite them wanting to make friends and can strongly emphasise when somebody is hurt. The second half of the drama would focus on the child’s recovery from this before deciding once and for all whether to be placed back in a different mainstream school or continue homeschooling.
  • A visual novel about an ethnic minority family in America (whom have autistic family members) and how this affects their treatment from the police and wider society as they try to rise up the social ladder. This one is a bit vague as I don’t really know much about this, but you get the point.

You can have all these ideas on me. These stereotype-breaking ideas can set a foundation for media products that can be really interesting and memorable experiences if they are done right. That means avoiding the stereotypes while having authentic character development and of course telling a good story. It is so much better than “an antisocial white male tries to get friends but is treated as a laughing stock by the writers” that has been done several times already.

Of course, any media involving autism also need to be made by autistic people (or at least the vast majority of those that have creative control in the project). The best people whom are qualified to produce media about autism are autistic people themselves. This applies to any form of media product that focuses on a perspective from somebody that is outside of the stereotypical media representation. However this is especially the case with autism. This is because NTs whom try to do it on our behalf often do it poorly, usually adhering to the stereotype as was outlined above.

The reason for this is simple – they are not autistic. They cannot truly understand an autistic person’s experience as their brain is wired differently. The need or desire to stim to express feelings. Not understanding jokes/innuendos. The feeling that comes when you know you have a react in a particular way to a social situation, but said reaction doesn’t come easily if it even comes at all (for various reasons). There is also being sensually overwhelmed which can lead to autistic meltdowns and burnout. This is often caused by other people and/or the ways in which wider society disables us. So how does that make NTs qualified to write about us, yet alone describe our experiences in ways that reflect reality and painted in a positive/empowering light? It dosen’t. So NTs – don’t try to do it for us. Nothing about us without us.

(Note: I know there are overlapping conditions like ADHD, SPD and social anxiety where some of these experiences are shared. However, autism would affect these as well making an autistic person’s experience different from an NT’s with the same condition).

We all need characters/people in the media we can relate to. And right now, it is definitely lacking in the ASD department. The best advice I can give to media outlets is to go out there and make original content that involves autistic people (ie. original series). Have autistic people write the scenario. Have autistic actor/script writers. Consult with autism charities that actually support autistic people (which means no Autism $peaks or any other organisation that paints autistic people in a negative light).

For autistic people, if the institution/industry you want to work with/in is autism unfriendly you could try to go indie and do it yourself. It is easier than ever to do this. For books, you can self-publish yourself over services like Lulu including printing physical copies and digital distribution on other sites including Amazon. And with services like Steam you can upload video and gaming content on there for a very low price. Thanks to the internet, it is possible for individuals to get noticed when it would have been much harder before.

That said – while more diversity is a good thing, if the products themselves fall flat in another department (such as bad writing, voice acting etc.) then it lets the side down for the product as a whole. Those that aren’t too bothered about diversity representation will arguably take more note over the technical aspects of a product rather than how it handles its themes, and that may be what they ultimately take away from the product. Rather than “Oh hey, I didn’t realise this was what a [person representing a marginalised group] actually is like/lives/feels” it would be “This story has serious plotholes and the acting was flawed in places.” This is an important potential pitfall worth noting. It is worth working to each individual in your development team’s strengths as well in order to produce the best quality product.

To conclude, autistic people are unique. Wonderful. Talented. Passionate. Empathetic. We deserve to have our fair share of the spotlight and representation in the media, as well as in wider society. Because we are human too and have the potential to tell wonderful stories that can stand on par with those produced by NTs. That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Subtle (@subtle_writes)

No, “Biting the Bullet” Does Not Help With Social Anxiety

(Content warning: descriptions of anxiety attacks and autistic meltdowns)

Hi all,

This is only the second post here on Subtle Writes, but it is going to be a venting post I’m afraid as I need to compile my thoughts based on an event that happened recently that is really stressing me out. It’s themed around social anxiety and the telephone.

Social anxiety is one of those things that many people, especially those on the autistic spectrum, will carry with them during their lives. For me, I’m one of the lucky ones whom has had their confidence/skill blossom throughout the last five years. It still is bad in some aspects, but one area that I still seriously struggle in is using the telephone. I am fine with people I know like my family and the doctors (and even then, that took a LOT of work on the part of my mum helping me get the confidence I needed to phone them) however for total strangers the anxiety can be debilitating. I can stress out, freeze in place, panic and begin to overthink the situation. Badly.

Let’s take a step back to explain some background. I need to acquire an important document and I need to fill in an application form in order to acquire it. I have some enquiries I need to ask to ensure that I am on the right track, as there are a few things I needed to clarify. If I fill in the application wrong, they will reject the forms but not give me a specific reason for the rejection. There are four general reasons as to the rejection given on their website but that is all the information that is available to the general public.

The only options that I am able to contact them with enquiries is over the phone or via fax, but not over email. In fact, even on the website it states in bold red letters that they will not accept enquiries about this certain document over email. Why would any organisation in a developed country not accept enquiries over email? Email is (especially for my generation) the dominant method for formal written communication with pretty much everything else being done over SMS and social media. Fax is simply irrelvant.

What made it worse is that I had judgemental people around me saying things like “[Subtle], you need to bite the bullet and just do it.” and “If you don’t do this, you can’t go.” With regards to this – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stating the obvious. It was if I needed some kind of reminder as to how important obtaining this document is, as without it I literally cannot do what I need this document for.  You don’t seem to understand how I feel or appreciate how hard it is for me to do something that for you is likely so simple, maybe even second nature. Telling me to just “bite the bullet” or “feel the fear and do it anyway” – those metaphors are illogical nonsense that do not serve to make me feel any better or act as any motivator for me to do what I know I need to do any faster.

Furthermore, there is the question “how are you going to cope with this in the future?” Why thank you for worrying me unnecessarily, this is exactly what I need! If you are going to state the elephant in the room at least try to offer some kind of solution that is more than just “bite the bullet.” A solution to help with the anxiety (aka the actual problem) would help give me something to think about at least even if it was backhandedly conveyed alongside unhelpful nonsense. Failing that, don’t say anything at all.

social-anxiety

Making a phone call like this requires preparation for me – usually a whole day. I can feel happy, confident and optimistic at the start of the day but then when I am getting myself in the position to make the call I am frozen while panicking inside. It serious threatens to undo my hard work mentally preparing myself to make the call in the first place. I become more sensitive to sensory input, volatile and grumpy. The perfect concoction for a meltdown. If you talk to me, I might flip. I may be rude. I’ll need to be left alone, maybe even power nap like I did that day. The last thing I need is ignorant unsupportive drivel that doesn’t add anything meaningful to the discussion.

There is also the alternative route of getting somebody else to ask the questions for me. It eases the anxiety, but that also hinges on them knowing what I need to know and getting this information adequately. I asked the person that said “If you don’t do this, you can’t go” for help and I got brushed away before they said that. I had everything written down so it was a case of asking them and making notes. I haven’t asked the person who would ask me to “feel the fear and do it anyway” yet, but I have a feeling I may have to and they would likely do it for me. Not everyone whom is saying these things are ignorant but alas it goes to show the lack of understanding in this world.

As for other alternatives, I could go down to their office in person myself and asking my questions, but is it really worth a day trip to London just for that? I’d have to come back again to hand the application form in and possibly a third time to pick up the document (unless they mail it to me, I don’t know). That will cost hundreds of pounds in train tickets, so I will not be doing that especially as I have money to save.

In the end, I am just going to go the faxing route. Turns out you only need a PC, a phone cable and a fax modem to send faxes over a PC without the need for a fax machine if you can’t find one in person. in fact, acquiring a fax modem is fairly easy so that is what I will do. If anything, if I can pull this off I will be proud of myself for learning how to fax which may even help me land a job when I graduate. Ideally, I would prefer to use email but I’m doubtful they would make (what would be) a rare exception for somebody like me which in itself shows how society is disablist to the point where I am thinking that I wouldn’t get granted an exception to the protocol. I hope this changes in the future.

I also have to give one of the employees there some credit. I reached out to their inquiry  over email and he offered to call me. They weren’t able to keep to the time we originally planned (which I think is typical of big businesses, even though that causes a lot of stress on my end) however he replied later saying that I was welcome to phone him directly, rather than go through the route of being directed around to people via reception. Thank you for trying to help me – though sadly it was not enough for me to overcome my anxiety. Not yet. But in the future, I will overcome this. Eventually I will be able to use the phone and carry out conversations like these without any problems. I will need some more help and support, and hopefully some other practical solutions will come to fruition.

Either way, that is me done for today. I hope this lengthy post has somehow helped you understand a bit better how social anxiety can debilitate people in some ways. There are other ways in which anxiety can show and this varies from person to person (and autism to other different neurotypes as well) so it’s worth reading other viewpoints as well to get a broader understanding.

Best wishes,

-Subtle (@subtle_writes)

What’s in a Name?

name

Hi all,

This is the first post I am making here on my blog “Subtle Writes” therefore it needs to be an important one. So, I thought that I would discuss my thinking behind the name of this blog. After all, a name is after all an important aspect of a site and is critical to the first impressions of my site.

The name essentially is a combination of my ideas behind “Subtle” and “Writes.” “Subtle” was hard to come up with, as I wanted an internet username that I felt matched my life experience to some extent. One word eventually spoke to me metaphorically speaking – that word was “subtle.”

The dictionary definition of “subtle” (via The Free Dictionary) consists of the following.

sub·tle

(sŭt′l)

adj. sub·tler, sub·tlest

  1. So slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive: a subtle smile.
  2. Difficult to understand; abstruse: an argument whose subtle point was lost on her opponent.
  3. Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.
  4. Operating in a hidden, usually injurious way; insidious: a subtle poison.
  5. Archaic – Characterized by skill or ingenuity; clever. Crafty or sly; devious.

I feel that the majority of these definitions matches my life experience. I find some things very difficult to describe sometimes, especially if it is a feeling or another abstract concept that I have not felt before or feels overwhelming. My mind can be very sharp towards the little details sometimes and quite clever though I can also be difficult to understand too.

Continuing on with regards to cleverness this can also lean into the territory of “special interests.” To understand my thinking here, ask yourself this. If you know an autistic person in real life, what are they really passionate/skilled/knowledgeable about to the extent that others know about it and it forms a large part of their identity? For me it’d be something along the lines of “Oh, [Subtle’s] the one who plays those obscure anime games.”

As for the injurious and crafty definitions, I do not feel these apply to my choice behind the name “Subtle” at all. Firstly, I do not believe they match my personality. Secondly, while there are autistic people whom are sly, devious and like to cause injury to others, autism itself is not responsible for that. This is because there are other factors at play that can cause those behaviours to surface such as the way someone is raised and what traits, if any, are inherited from the parents. This also applies to neurotypicals as many of them are sly and devious too.

On the other hand, “Writes” was fairly easy to come up with. My online name is Subtle and I write stuff. Hence “Subtle Writes.” I did consider “Subtle Writing” but then “Subtle” would have a different meaning and it wouldn’t flow as well. I preferred “Subtle Writes” at the end of the day.

Remember as autism is a spectrum it is important to note that no one person’s experience of autism will be the same as another. Everyone is different and this blog’s purpose is to convey one person’s knowledge and experience of living as an autistic person with ADHD to help spread awareness of those conditions. Therefore the name “Subtle Writes” is personal to me and brands my story. Being an actual autistic person means the best perspective I can offer on autism is my own and it has value. That applies to anyone who discusses any physical/mental conditions they have. Hopefully this blog itself will help others to understand autism in general with another case study to help relate it to.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back soon with more content.

Best wishes,

-Subtle (@subtle_writes)