The Difference Between You and an Autistic Person
Differences that should be celebrated between neurodivergent and neurotypical people.
There’s a lot of overlap between people who are autistic and people who aren’t — which explains why we all need to work together to help reduce stigma and build mutual understanding.
When freelance writing was slow for me, I picked up a side job that became my main job for many years. I became a counselor for special needs children and adults, mostly for diagnosed autistic people. I would visit jobs and schools, making sure special needs adults were receiving their breaks on time and not being taken advantage of (which seemed to be a challenge for A LOT of managers, sadly). When I visited the kids at their schools, I would make sure they understood the assignment, eat lunch with them, give them hugs if they were spiraling, and guide their behavior. I learned a lot during this career path.
Here are some of the differences I learned that exist between autistic people and non autistic people in particular.
You prefer to be alone.
You might prefer to be alone and enjoy your own company, but you don’t find it uncomfortable or restricting.
In contrast, many autistic people are more comfortable when they have time to themselves. They may feel overwhelmed by crowds of people and need alone time to rest. This can cause difficulties for autistic individuals in school, the workplace and other social situations. If you’re an autistic person who has trouble making friends or understanding social cues from others (such as sarcasm), having plenty of alone time can be beneficial for you personally and professionally.
You don’t really like people.
Autistic people don’t really like talking to other people. They don’t mind interacting with them, but they do not enjoy it. In fact, they often dread social situations and will go out of their way to avoid them if possible. This is because autistic people are more sensitive than non-autistic ones.
They take in information about their surroundings more deeply and thus find it harder to process all that information in one go. So if an autistic person does interact with another person, he or she will be constantly thinking about what that interaction means — what the other person is thinking about him or her; whether the other person likes him or her; how he or she should respond next so as not to make things awkward again…you get my drift? It’s no wonder why many autistics are labeled introverts.
You’re really good at numbers.
It seems like we hear about this every day. A 2013 Stanford study shows that people with autism are better at math than their neurotypical peers. Autistic people are more likely to be interested in numbers than other people.
You have a hard time understanding idioms and jokes.
The thing is, a lot of the world’s idioms and cultural references are based on the idea that people can understand things without having to explain them. So when you hear “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” you might think that means don’t try to do too much at once — but it actually means don’t eat more food than you can physically fit in your mouth at one time.
That’s a pretty rough example because most people know what this expression means. Understanding language depends mostly on context rather than literal meaning.
The Infamous Introverted Extrovert and Lesser Known Term - Omnivert
They straddle the social stratosphere.
You think you can stick to a routine pretty well.
You’re a creature of habit. You like to wake up at the same time every morning, eat breakfast at the same restaurant every Saturday and sit in your favorite seat on the train ride home from work. You find comfort and stability in routine, knowing that no matter what happens in life, you can count on your routines to remain unchanged.
But what if I told you that an autistic person might be able to stick with their daily routines just as well as you do? Autistic people are often very good at sticking with their schedules. Even though they may not have any idea why something is important or what it means for them personally, many autistic individuals have been known to adhere strictly to certain rituals or schedules without question or exception because they know it will help calm themselves down if they do so.
With this being said, though many autistic people have excellent abilities when it comes to structure and consistency within their lives, there are some things that can disrupt even these individuals’ best-laid plans.
Finding things that interest you.
When you’re working on something that interests you, you feel different. You are more alert and focused. Your brain is working at its best. When this happens, try to think of how an autistic person feels when they are doing the same thing. Not only can they not do anything else while they’re working on this project (because their brain is focused), but they also don’t even have any idea that other people find their behavior strange.
When an autistic person is working really hard on something, they can forget to eat or not want to take breaks for the bathroom, rather holding it in. They just want to get it done as soon as possible. They’re in their zone. Their body might stiffen up like a robot, their face might get red and sweaty and even their eyes may widen until they look like saucers. All without any control from them whatsoever!
You are sensitive to certain sounds and smells.
Autistic people are extremely sensitive to their environment. Even to certain textures of food. For instance, my friend’s autistic son loves ketchup, but hates tomatoes. He doesn’t like how they feel on his tongue. They may hear the same sounds you do as well, but they process them differently and have a different reaction.
When someone is upset with you, you freeze up and don’t know what to do or say.
We are all guilty of this at some point. When someone is upset with you and you don’t know what to say or do, it can be incredibly uncomfortable.
But this is not how autistic people feel when their friends are upset with them. Autistic people have many issues processing emotion and communicating emotions as well as non-autistic people do, so when a friend is upset with them, they might not understand why — but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying to comfort the other person or make things better. They just don’t always know how to go about doing those things in a way that makes sense for everyone involved (or even themselves).
They may need some time to step away from the drama or problem so they can fully process it and move on. They are very conflict avoidant and hate confrontations.
Highly Sensitive People (HSP)
Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or both, you can be a highly sensitive person (HSP).
Words and Meanings
Sometimes words seem meaningless and get in the way of communication. As in,
Don’t cross the road when the light is red.
What they don’t hear is the meaning behind the words:
Don’t get hit by a car.
An autistic person, depending on where they are at on the spectrum, might find that words can be confusing. They may not understand why people use certain words or phrases, and how they relate to each other.
They might also find it difficult to understand what someone says when they speak too quickly (or too slowly). This can make it hard for them to respond appropriately in conversations with others because their words don’t make sense.
Spot the Differences
If you’re like most people, your first response to the idea of an autistic person may be to think of someone who has trouble communicating and interacting with other people. This is a common stereotype about autism. In fact, it’s so common that many people forget that the word “autism” actually refers to a spectrum of conditions — some mild, some severe — and each person with autism experiences their condition differently.
Though there are many traits that are unique to many autistic individuals (like difficulty understanding social cues or difficulty reading body language), there are also many similarities between yourself and an autistic individual. They may have a sense of humor just like you do! They might excel at math or another subject just like non-autistic folks do! Many non-autistic folks tolerate strong smells or loud noises better than most autistics do — but not all autistics have trouble with these things…
I hope you found this article helpful. If there’s anything else I can do to support your journey as an ally, please let us know in the comments.
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