Yes, These Are Things I Think About – What About You?

We, non-Autistics say all kinds of things without thinking.  We use a sort of socially accepted shorthand during a great many encounters.  It’s a way of being in the world that requires no thought, rote gestures and words that are mindless and often meaningless.  Expected utterances we don’t think about, we do and say them because we are taught to do otherwise is impolite.  Upon meeting someone we automatically put out our right hand in greeting.   We are taught to smile and ask, “How are you?”  The response is unimportant, after all we aren’t really asking the person we’ve only just met to seriously contemplate their mental state and then divulge this information to us, neither are we honestly curious except in specific instances when we know something about the person and have wanted to meet them.  But typically, “How are you?” is an opener.  It’s merely a polite question we’ve been taught to ask, showing the accepted degree of interest in the other person, even if we actually have none.

Someone I know sent me a wonderful piece she’d written about meeting her baby nephew for the first time and being expected to say immediately that she loved him and how disappointed her family member was when she couldn’t bring herself to say those words right away, even though she felt a number of things that we non-autistics would probably identify as feelings of “love”.  Reading her wonderful piece (click ‘here‘ to read it in its entirety) made me think about all those years when I would encourage Emma to say “I love you.”  I even said to her, on  a number of occasions, “I love you Emmy.”   To which she would reply, “So much.”  I then laughed and said, “No Em, you’re suppose to say, I love you, back.” And Em dutifully said, “You’re suppose to say I love you back.”  I don’t, for a second, doubt that Emma loves me.  I know she does.  I also know my desire to have her say so, is my wish and not a desire she puts much weight into.  For all I know Emma doesn’t say those words because she doesn’t  feel the need to, perhaps she doesn’t see the point in reminding me of this fact.  Perhaps, and this is the one I hope is most true, she doesn’t feel the need to utter those three words because she is secure in the knowledge of her love and assumes I am too.

Many of the “niceties” we non-autistics say are said with a degree of dishonesty because really, how “nice” is it to meet someone you may or may not ever see again, may or may not have anything in common with and do not have time to actually get to know?  And while we’re at it, let’s consider “how are you?”  How many people really care?  We are taught to respond with the equally (often) dishonest single word, “Fine” but how many of us really are “fine” when we’ve been asked how we are?  Seriously.  How many times have you been asked, “How are you?” and you either didn’t actually know, hadn’t had time to think about it or weren’t fine, but were instead feeling something else, yet replied with “fine” because it was simpler, easier, safer or because the conversation had already moved on, before you’d had the chance to give your more thoughtful reply?

So I’m curious – what if we didn’t ask or say things unless we were honestly interested and meant what we were saying as a way of communicating something new or that required discussion?  What would happen if, upon meeting someone we weren’t sure we really were pleased to meet, said nothing?  Would this be so bad?  What if, when asked “how are you?” we answered truthfully?  What if when we voiced our love for our children and they said nothing in return, we didn’t assume that meant anything other than our child did not find it necessary to state the obvious?

Em & Nic – Summer 2004

49 responses to “Yes, These Are Things I Think About – What About You?

  1. For what it’s worth, the first time I remember my daughter saying “I love you” was when she was 13 in the delivery room with me after I gave birth to my youngest. Until I read this, it didn’t even occur to me to question that.

  2. My son Thomas and I have discussed this very topic at length. He’s verbal enough to say the right things, but autistic enough to consider it insane. I finally told him something I heard somewhere long ago. It’s our version of purring. We can’t purr, so we say these meaningless things just to reassure people around us, and ourselves, that we’re okay. Maybe not great, but functioning.

  3. You got me with this one, Ariane! This is one of the most baffling things about people! When someone says, “How are you?” I answer honestly, but keep it brief and upbeat, because it makes me squirm to lie and say, “fine”! Why would I want to start a relationship with a lie? I try to turn it around as quickly as possible, and get the person into my choice of thinking. Since I intellectualize my social responses, rather than going on instinct, I choose love, and always use that as my be-all approach. While they are saying that phrase, I am looking for something to REALLY love about them, and I might then say, “Oh! You have such a nice face”, or “Oo, You smell good!”. It seems to make people smile, and sometimes laugh. Sometimes people keep it brief, and excuse themselves, but always smiling. I did not know how to do this when I was young. I hadn’t figured out a way to respond. You are correct in knowing Emma loves you. I am sure she has no problem with that. It is responding that is hard! Even now, if I am told by someone I love that they love me, I am thinking of how pleased I am by that, and it is hard to remember to give it back. I feel it, but forget to say it, or don’t remember that my expressing it is important. And don’t even get me started on holidays! They are just such a blatant reminder of my differentness. Gift giving is the ultimate call and response, and what is appropriate is very confusing. I communicate by loving. I may not do it well, but it is my best choice, considering the alternative of not connecting at all, or in a way that makes the encounter a bad one. My question is, shouldn’t that be the best choice for everyone? Why am I the one who is considered social oddity? Shouldn’t we all just be honest and love, and let others love us?
    On that note, Sweet Ariane, who loves so well, these are for YOU: 💜💙💚💛💜💙💚💛💜💙💚💛💜💙💚💛💜💙💚💛💜💙💚💛

    • Oh Chou Chou, thank you for the string of multi-colored hearts!

      I love that you wrote – “why would I want to start a relationship with a lie?” That’s so perfect. YES!

      And this – “Even now, if I am told by someone I love that they love me, I am thinking of how pleased I am by that, and it is hard to remember to give it back. I feel it, but forget to say it, or don’t remember that my expressing it is important.”
      That describes me perfectly. I’ve learned, but it is not natural or instinctive for me. I know it is expected, but sometimes, especially if I don’t feel it, it is very, very difficult for me.

  4. The only person I have known (in my long life) who said only what he actually thought, was George (Chiyo) Ogata, our gardener. If I said to him”What a beautiful day it is!” He’d answer “too hot” “too cold” or “no rain”. When I had been invited to join the Garden Club and said, “Guess what, George? I’ve been invited to join the Garden Club!” He replied: “Not bad. All my other clients already long, long time member of Garden Club..”

    Sometimes it’s really refreshing (and memorable) to be told the truth.

  5. This one is a point of frustration for many autistic people. Thank you for writing about it. I didn’t want to leave a big long comment here, so here is my big long comment:

  6. If I’m not paying close enough attention, I do the things in your last paragraph and I can confidently report back that people find most of them disturbing. 🙂 I rarely speak unless I have something to say that feels required/important. Sometimes when I meet new people, I can’t muster the words to carry on polite conversation and so they probably think I’m ignoring them. I forget and answer honestly to “how are you?” You’re right, most people don’t want to know.

    Often when my husband says “I love you” I forget to say it back. Sometimes I say “okay” or “I know” or “uh huh.” He is varying degrees of okay with this. I only started saying “I love you” to my daughter after learning about my AS, after I realized why I struggle with words and why they’re more important to others than to me. The funny thing is, nothing has changed between us, before and after. She knows I’d go to the ends of the Earth for her and I think she always has. I think she finds my verbal expression of love a bit discomforting, because it’s not natural for me or because it’s come so late in life, but we’re both getting used to it. Personally I sense people’s love for me in their actions. Without the actions, the words don’t hold much meaning.

    • “I sense people’s love for me in their actions. Without the actions, the words don’t hold much meaning.” This is something that has often confused me, especially when someone is very angry and says really hurtful things, I know we all say things while angry that we mean when we are angry, but do not mean once we are calmer (NTs do this, I don’t know if this is true for Autistics) but even as an adult, I have found this confusing.

    • My partner is Autistic.
      Yes and yes and yes.
      We are coming to terms. I need reassurance of our connection and validation as a mum and his partner. He needs that too but mostly assumes it’s always there, he doesn’t sense emotional distance like I do.
      When I want to show Matt love I bake lemon meringue pie.
      I don’t tell him I love him so he will say it back, I just tell him that I need him to tell/show me that he loves me.
      I really enjoyed this post Ariane =)

      • Richard and I are very much alike in that we are both very sensitive to “vibes” and can read way too much into anything and everything. But we both really like lemon meringue pie…. 🙂

  7. You can post it.

    The irritating way people read things into what you do say and want you to say things that are meaningless came up at my weekly, somewhat dreaded appointment with my psychiatrist yesterday mainly because a lot of the official gap between who I really am and what gets written about me makes no sense to me. (Or to him thankfully but he appears powerless to do much as for some reason it is people with no medical training at all that read the sum total of who you are described to be and decide you don’t need things)

    I went on my usual rant about how people should just stop doing that. Since I only say what is true and won’t say things that aren’t I should actually be the most straight forward person they deal with since if they could stop themselves from interpreting and adding things and just take things at face value there wouldn’t be this difficulty “building rapport” that 80 percent of them complain about it seems. (Which probably would make me less likely to get dumped from support so much)

    Then I came home and read your blog and your desire for deeper content and thought it might help you and since getting all my old articles scanned and edited has been on my mind as a to do thing for eons it seems I guess pressing to get that one done in case it might help you.

    When I see pictures of Emma and you describe your interactions with her I don’t doubt the deeper content is there as far as her feelings for you and parts of her life. Some of does come out now and then it seems but it seems to be a source of hurt and frustration for many parents when things don’t proceed as far as what gets said in the usual manner. My own father used to claim not to believe in love so there was no pressure there but as I think I mentioned here before I overheard my mother say she would rather have a kid with Down’s Syndrome since at least they can love you at an age when I couldn’t really say much about it.

    My own closest female friend burst into tears when I told her I had autism when she asked me to be her birth coach because so many years later she thought the same thing. Her family life was messed up so I was essentially all she had and she momentarily thought this would mean no one could love her or her child. She would go on to conclude we were so much alike that she was likely autistic as well but in the interval I had to go to bed feeling like I had failed at something before I even got started just by being who I am.

    As for the whole what if question you started with try it and see. People can make a conscious choice to be honest. It doesn’t always have to equal rude especially since 98 percent of the people you participate in the social niceties with are not really listening.

    • I don’t understand that leap though, Gareeth, how did your friend (and mother for that matter) make the assumption that you were unable to love? They concluded this because you didn’t say the words? But what about all the actions that would suggest love? I mean, I know I desire Emma to verbalize her love, I would be dishonest if I said otherwise, but I also understand that this is my own neurological quirk and has nothing to do with anything. I mean I get that this is something I “want” or think I “want” but I don’t for a minute assume she doesn’t or is incapable of feeling love just because she doesn’t say the words. That thinking is bizarre to me.

      And thank you for giving me permission to post your piece. I’ll put it on the blog tomorrow!

    • Hi, I have a similar problem, people keep interpreting things about me that I never said and have nothing to do with me, even when I say they are wrong they believe their interpretation is right over my words, in my case mental health professionals are the worst about this, that’s why I never got a proper treatment, my parents make mistakes like that and I try to be really clear and specific with my words and intentions. It’s strange how people want to read into things.

      Thank you for saying that being honest is not necessarily being rude, I’m tired of people saying being honest is bad because saying the truth makes you rude.

      I also want to understand why they think you were unable to love, because you never said those words or because they think autistic people can’t love?

      Saying that having a child with Down’s Syndrome would be best sounds cruel, even if you just overheard and she didn’t said it too you, I heard the same thing about another person too. I do know many people think autistic people don’t love and people with Down’s Syndrome love everyone, both are wrong.

  8. I think the question “How are you?” it’s too sad and lonely because no one actually cares and it’s wrong to be honest and say how you really feel. I never ask strangers that but I repeat that question for few people in my family because I really want to know how they are, I want to show I care to know how they are feeling in that moment, I use it sometimes to let them know I want to talk or there is something wrong with me and I expect them to ask me “How are you?” back.
    I also say “I love you” but because it’s how I feel and I know it’s not easy to guess if you are loved, I like when others tell me that too, it’s something I learned to say after many years but I knew how to love before that.

    I can’t have a conversation, if I’m able to say anything I just keep using useless social scripts and trying to follow social rules and I’m always too scared to say anything else, I’ll say everything right and nothing else, today I never try to interact anymore, I only interact with the closest family members and if I talk too much I start shaking and feel anxious and sometimes I want to hurt myself if I say anything too wrong, years later I can still be attacked by the memory and anxiety of the wrong things I said.
    I have scripts to when I meet people and some for the internet, I even use them to comment on blogs sometimes but I’m always afraid they are going to be the wrong one, when commenting on a blog I can stop and think for hours to guess what I could do wrong, in conversations I can’t do that, I know I will do something wrong so I just apologize if I say anything. Where I live is also expected to give hugs or kisses when meeting someone and I am terrified of that, it’s rude to not allow it so I just avoid meeting people.

    Reading about this and writing this comment reminds me of a post I’ve read sometime ago:
    I wish I could meet someone who doesn’t care about those “rules” and one day maybe I wish I could just talk with others and just say what I want to say, or be silent if I want to.

    Sorry about the long comment.

    • I loved that post on Ian’s blog. I had not read or known of his blog before. Thank you for sending the link. It was so in keeping with what we are discussing here.
      By the way, I can still remember things I’ve done or said years ago that I can’t forget or let go of because they were “wrong” and I too have berated myself for having said/done them.

  9. Why do people tell each other often that they love each other, but if they have a good friend who they like very much, they don’t seem to feel as compelled to said that they like each other very much? The people I love I think I show them often and don’t need to say it, but the people I like very much may confuse what I do with general kindness and not know. However, the few times I’ve told a friend that I liked them very much they laughed and said they liked me very much too but they just thought it was funny that I would say that. Can you explain this? Do you tell people you like very much but don’t love that you like them very much? It says “Leave A Comment”. I hope a question is ok too.

    • Questions, comments, it’s all good. 🙂

      It’s funny, I’ve never considered this before, but you’re right, we say I love you far more often than “I like you” though I have said that occasionally to people I like very much. But it isn’t considered the “norm” the way declaring our love for another is. I don’t know why that is. It’s a more accurate statement to make, given that we “like” far more people than we “love”, even when we think we might love someone, unless we’ve known them a very long time, we probably “like” them.

  10. My mother was easier to understand as I was born in 1968. People had those notions then. I also wasn’t any of the things she hoped for in a baby. I guess I wasn’t cuddly and from the time I could exert my own will I wanted nothing to do with what my parents might have wanted. They claim they gave up on bedtime by the time I could stand.

    I was quiet I suppose and at the time maybe more typical of the whole in their own world mythology. I preferred to lie under things and observe and the move to Canada was deeply traumatic for me. After that my favourite thing to do was make mad circles in the basement in my crazy wheels car for I suppose much longer than my mother might have hoped. I never enjoyed doing any of the things she had spent years imagining for the girl she desperately wanted. I don’t really know.

    My mother was very unpredictable and I really tried even way back then to avoid the unpredictable so there may have been some grounds to her notion. The words I love you tended to be rendered in such a meaningless way back then that they seemed to me to be a synonym for goodbye. It took me many years to work out what love was and who I loved and who loved me.

    For 24 yerars I was semi-expoloited in my work by a woman who continually claimed to love me like a sister but really what she meant was she loved the fact that my dislike of change and fear of conflict meant I would work 5 to 6 times as much as I was compensated for and be there for her child who’s needs were so extreme few others could be. She was never there for me when I was myself ill or struggling and I should have seen sooner that I didn’t interest her when I was not able to work. So it’s still a battle I suppose and a source of hurt at times when you find that other people use deep words lightly and for their own gain.

  11. Lisa it’s a good question you ask. “Why do people tell each other often that they love each other, but if they have a good friend who they like very much, they don’t seem to feel as compelled to said that they like each other very much? The people I love I think I show them often and don’t need to say it,”

    The only autism conference I ever went to the prelude was a day long presentation by Tony Atwood and someone else. I think I must have been the only autistic person in the audience that day judging by the gales of laughter at things I didn’t find at all funny. Although it’s a saying in English that, “Deeds speak louder than words,” one of the things that got the most audience laughter was the description of how a teenager with autism versus a typical might handle coming in the door and seeing their mother in tears.

    He described to what seemed great comedic effect how the autistic teen would try to make tea or offer up flowers while the “normal one” would go over and say I love you. This actually made no sense to me and I was hurt by how hilarious all the people around me (mainly autism specialists and educators) found the concrete demonstration of love. Don’t NTs feel better with a nice hot beverage and something pretty to look at? Why would just offering up words be the superior solution than actions that might give more sustained comfort? I still don’t get it. I especially don’t get it since all sorts of saying both secular and religious claim that the deed is superior but yet people want the words even if those words come without any proof.

    I’ve seen autistic kids taught by rote to say ” I love you.” It frightened me really. What is the point? Since love is an important word, perhaps the most important word. then if the words come at all it should come in the fullness of time and if they never come one could look at the evidence that it exists all the same.

    I can’t really understand the needs of the neurotypical despite having a degree in them basically anymore than they can truly understand mine. People often find me funny and suggest comedy as a career because all the things I find puzzling about them they have not thought of but as I understand it comedy is intentional not the product of wondering about a species you are supposed to be a part of.

    Diversity the whole how are you routine is sad and for me only underscores how truly alone people are. Since it is all rote. It’s not wrong to be honest though. I make a point of it hoping to make some dent in things. Sometimes when being honest would through the person too badly off (I am actually horrible and it’s just some anonymous cashier) I don’t answer at all and I know society finds that rude but I experiemented a lot with the ritual years ago and most don’t notice. You can have a set of things that are always true though at the ready. When I go to Calgary which is much more invested in how what you do reflects who you are, and sheds some light on what your networth is (which in the oilpatch matters more it seems than other worths) I never knew what to say to, “What do you do.” If I said what was often true that I did respite care after explaining what it was two things might happen. The person would realize that was essentially service type work and I was nothing powerful or useful, or I would get a long speech about how wonderful I was to work with the disabled which was awkward for me.

    To avoid both possibilities I just started to say I participate in the oxygen exchange. That would baffle a percentage of them, a few thought this was some new type of trading they had yet to hear of and for those who could still recall science class they would laugh which would then queue those nearby I had said something funny and they would move on.

    • gareeth, so much of what you just posted is similar to my thoughts and experiences. People also think I’ve very funny when I’m just saying what I observe or asking questions with no intention of comedy. For instance, I now know that people think it is funny that I don’t understand why it is “bad” to tell someone they have spinach (an example often used, I suppose because of its high color contrast) between their teeth. Since people are more prone to get food stuck in their teeth if they floss or otherwise have good oral hygiene and spinach is a healthy food, that seems to me that it would be almost a double compliment to see spinach in their teeth. It likely also means they are not obsessive about looking at themselves in the mirror. A trifecta of good things, in my opinion. Even if you didn’t “over analyze” it as I am told I do, why is it embarrassing? After getting laughter in response to this question several times, I no longer ask. But I really would like to know.
      The whole I love you thing. It is sad that they are trying to teach children to say that by rote. I don’t even know how to express how bizarre that seems.
      As for the “What do you do?” question, I STILL have to remind myself that this means “job”. My mind thinks it is an incomplete sentence and wants to know “What do I do when?” Like in a certain circumstance or at a certain time. “What do you do?” is not a logical question to me…but I remember…they mean job. I have been an appointed nonpartisan attorney for the US House of Reps for almost 20 years. I learned early that is NOT the right answer even though it is the truth. 🙂 I default to “I work for the government.” the quickly ask them what they do. My social default (thanks to my very good therapist) is ask them questions about themselves. Usually everyone is happier that way as I don’t have to work so hard figuring out how to follow the conversation and they get to talk about themselves.
      If you have a blog, I want to read it. Thanks for posting. I mean really thanks. Another word people are supposed to say whether they mean it or not to be “polite” so when I want you to know I mean it, it’s somehow doesn’t seem to mean what…well, what it means!
      And they better hope they never have to find out how valuable a good respite care “service person” is.

      • Lisa, I recently had a similar conversation with a friend of mine about telling someone they’ve got toilet paper on their shoe or that their dress is tucked into their underwear and everyone can see way more than they probably are comfortable with and my friend said that being a good person and a kind one meant you must always say something, because why wouldn’t you? I don’t understand why anyone would suggest otherwise to you and quite honestly it makes me think there’s a double standard going on. No one has ever laughed at me for telling them they have spinach in their teeth, almost everyone I’ve ever said that to has replied with a “thank you, is it still there?” after vigorous rubbing.

        The other thing I’m curious about is why aren’t you suppose to tell them your job is a nonpartisan attorney for the US House of Reps? That seems like a fascinating job, one that I, anyway, would like to know much more about, whereas “I work for the government” is more difficult to respond to without seeming nosy (and therefore rude) as it could mean any number of jobs, from janitorial work or security guard to a position of power or the CIA.

        • Ariane, I responded to the first paragraph above already (LNLML2). As for the second, it is an awesome job, but a starter for conversations that are often uncomfortable: people thinking they know politics because they read the paper/internet and wanting to discuss, people with very strong opinions which they think are facts leading to impassioned statements I don’t know how to respond to properly, people not caring about politics and wanting to know if I’ve ever met the President, Hilary, etc. And worst of all, people thinking that my job somehow is a big part of my identity and then attributing labels and such to me that simply aren’t true. “I work for the government.” is a conversation stopper on that because most people feel they have checked off the “Ask her what she does” box, have no real interest to ask further, and I can avoid what has almost always been uncomfortable further conversation on politics and related issues.

          Thanks again. You seem kind, knowledgeable, and wise relative to most people I “see” on blogs and such. It’s like a bit of light. I’ve taken (perhaps too) much of your time with my comments and questions. I’m going to (try to) shut up now.

          • I’ve really enjoyed this conversation! Thanks for elaborating on the job question. What we “do” to pay our bills is often tricky terrain. For instance I’m a jewelry designer, a job I love, but am not so interested in talking about, mainly because how do you discuss what you consider to be art? It doesn’t lend itself to words and people usually want to know where they can repair something that their grandmother gave them. I am much more interested in talking about Autism and feel far more “passionate” about that topic than any other (unless I’m speaking with someone who has very strong and intractable opinions of the autism=tragedy variety, but even then I’m always curious to ask them questions regarding how their view is helpful or constructive to the well-being of the Autistic person in their life. Particularly as this was a view I shared not so very long ago, but one that has changed in large part because of the wonderful conversations I’ve been fortunate enough to have had with so many of my Autistic friends (who have been incredibly kind and patient with me)!

    • Gareeth, your experience with Tony Attwood echoes another person I know who recently wrote about the very same thing. She knows Tony Attwood and was so upset with his presentation that she decided to email him telling him how upset she was. As I recall his response was not what one would have hoped. It’s incredible how a so called “autism expert” could be so callous and insensitive, although that description brings to mind another in the field who’s made quite a career for himself doing something similar and then turning any complaints around as evidence of a lack of theory of mind.

    • One last thing I thought of while reading both your comments, Lisa and yours too Gareeth, was (I could be completely wrong about this) but sometimes (NTs anyway) laugh as a display of affection and comradery. It’s the same with “light teasing” which is meant as a way to bond with a person you feel real affection for. I could be way off here and none of this may actually be relevant to either of the examples you both gave where people laughed or told you you were funny, but I wanted to throw the thought out as a possibility of what might be going on with those who really are friends (but are NT). It may be that they really aren’t aware of how awful their remarks made you feel and would feel really terrible if they knew. Again, this could be way off the mark, as many people are just mean and insensitive.

      • Yes, Ariane, I think you are right because these people are otherwise quite kind to me. And I appreciate them. It’s just frustrating not to know the answers and really try to understand and ask serious questions only to have them laugh, kind and good-natured though it is. When I make it clear that I am serious about this sort of question, but they almost always say that they don’t know either (for example, they don’t know why it is embarrassing or “bad” to tell someone they have food stuck in their teeth but they still think that it is so). It sounds like you are and will be a kind and astute emissary to the NT world for your daughter…and your ASD readers.

  12. I’ve learned that it isn’t proper response to say, ‘ya, I know’ when someone says ‘I love you’. 🐺

  13. I had to laugh at this post because I’m nothing if not a TMI gal! 😉 Sometimes I’ll give the obligatory “fine”, more often than not I’ll actually say what kind’ve day I’m having.

    Today, the lady at the bank asked how my holiday went, the poor gal got an earful about my woes of the last two weeks. Poor thing, she never saw it coming. (Moral of the story, never try to balance the checkbook while on heavy duty painkillers!)

    With Risa being non-verbal, part of me envies her never having to make chit chat. And I’ve often wondered why we have to engage in mindless, meaningless, courteous exchanges.

    I went to a wedding reception last weekend, for my cousin who lives in Arizona that I rarely get to see. I felt like I was on automatic pilot with most people there – the neverending cycle of “Hey, long time no see!” (Cue hug.) “So, how’ve you been?” Mind numbing boring chit chat for a few minutes. “Well, I guess I’d better go say hi to everyone else!” Repeat, repeat, repeat. Blah, blah, blah. See ya in another few years. 😉

  14. I’m not autistic, but I specialize in bluntness. I’m not above saying “fine” when people ask how I am, because that’s often accurate and it’s also NT shorthand for “that’s all I have to say on the topic of my present circumstances, so thanks for asking.” I will say “how are you?” from time to time when greeting a friend, because I’m genuinely interested in how they are doing and want to catch up. My preferred greeting opener is “what’s new?” because the latest news is generally more interesting and can lead to an enjoyable conversation if the initial response isn’t a bitch and moan laundry list of their latest tragedies. If I’m with someone I consider a good friend and we have some time to hang out, I always want to know how they’re doing because, hey that’s what friends are for. I’m lucky in this respect, because I genuinely enjoy listening to people go on about how they feel, or the latest news in their lives. And if they get boring or repetitive or don’t return the favor of asking how I’m doing, my bluntness kicks in and I’ll just cut them off and say whatever I feel like, because WTF, it’s my turn. As for meeting strangers, I might say “it’s nice to meet you” if it feels genuinely nice to meet them. If I get a creep vibe, I will never say that because A) I don’t need to play “nice” patty cake or kiss anyone’s ass at this stage of my life unless there a film producer interested in optioning my book and: B) they’re creepy and I’m considering washing the hand I just used to shake theirs. “Hello” is sufficient response in any case.

    Great blog A — your writing just gets better all the time and always so enjoyable and engaging. Add insightful, provocative, inspiring and thought-provoking to the list. Speaking of which, all this rumination has inspired me to create a new response to that time-eroded greeting ritual:

    Q: “How are you?”

    A: “Craptastic!”

  15. I actually think I know they person you are talking about as far as Atwood goes. I am not convinced he has things as entirely wrong as some I just don’t think either he or his fellow presenter had given thought to the fact there might be autistic people there that day as it was the day before the actual conference and back then including people who actually had autism was largely token other than the same usual suspects speaking.

    He actually seemed nice enough to me when I nearly jumped into him in the stairs. (Back when that was an option) Sometimes if I was overstimulated I would sort of leap down flights of steps and he just sort of smiled knowingly and urged me to be careful. The person I suspect who you referred to chose to interpret that condescendingly but until proven otherwise I am going with the more benign version that he was playing to what he believed to be an audience of 100 percent NTs and the the sort of questions that occur to us or how we feel on listening to it can’t actually occur to him by virtue of his own neurology and “expert” status being a barrier.

  16. Richard I didn’t mean to imply I never take part in the How are you exchange. I do when I actually care how the person is. I might experiement with What’s new though to see if that avoids the inevitable first response of fine that is hardwired into too many people who then might on second thought say how they are not.

  17. Hmm three posts in a row from me. Such a spammer but I keep missing things. The whole “Theory of Mind” is another one of those destructive myths I think. The honest truth of it is that NTs don’t have it either clearly. They just think they do. I think that people insist they know things they can’t possibly know about other people is a root of a lot of problems that if they just said hmm this is unknowable to me so maybe I should just ask could be avoided. I know the empirical test that led to this way of thinking of it but the test was designed by someone who is presumably NT in the first place.

    When I care about someone I think I actually have a pretty good idea of what they might need or what might help and even where they might put their marbles. Isn’t that really the most any human can claim? I studied human behaviour for 6 years so if anything I should have a slight edge at this point in my predictive powers but unlike an autism expert I suppose I would never make the leap to being absolutely certain that this is how it must be for another human. One day I get my doctorate and Atwood and Baron-Cohen better be ready because a large part of the impetus is the absolute nonesense that gets generated and makes people experts and how that nonesense does no real good at all beyond creating new nominal fallicies. Actual understanding isn’t advanced one bit.

    • Gareeth, I completely agree with you. I have come to believe that NTs are far better at pretending and even convincing themselves that they understand their fellow humans, Autistic and non-Autistic alike, but that in fact, they do not. The single biggest difference it seems to me, is that NTs believe they are good at this and Autistics have been put on the defensive so often and for so long they question their ability. From what I see in the NT world, NTs are not particularly good at guessing what another is thinking or feeling, they just think they are, which in it’s own way is even more dangerous.

  18. Me, I say I feeling-words like I love people and like people when it occurs to me but I think more often I just proclaim specific loving facts about them, like Chou Chou said. As in: You are awesome! Beautiful! A great writer! Hilarious! If you are in a meeting, guaranteed it will forget to suck! Like Gareeth, I only say true things and not false things, and I do believe everyone is entitled to my opinion, particularly since it is tantamount to fact ;).

  19. I love this post!! Although I am autistic, I do tell my children that I love them constantly. Maybe it is because I fear they will forget, or that I am not “showing” it properly. Possibly it is because I am now aware at the way others may misinterpret my feelings by NOT saying the niceities expected of me.

    The intersting part is, that when I tell Aspie Teen (my 13 yr old with asperger’s), “I love you,” he doesn’t say I love you back. He says, “I know, Mom.” So I’ve started asking, “oh, ya how do you know?” His answer: “Because you tell me all the time–everyday!”

    Well at least he is not going to forget, and I am still trying to make sure I say, what I usually see as obvious.

    As for asking, “how are you?” when I meet someone, I don’t. I don’t ask questions I don’t truely want the answer to. If I ask, it means that I truly want to know, and am expecting an answer–a truthful one.

    My MOST POPULAR POST is titled, Why you should never ask an aspie, “How are you doing today. Here I describe what it feels like when someone asks me how I am doing, and how it derails my entire thought process. Many times I begin to tell the questioner exactly how I am doing, often realizing too late that they didn’t really want to know–awkward. 🙂

  20. Timely post for me — we’ve had such an interesting dynamic around the words “I love you SO MUCH!” with our eight year old daughter, who says very few words. For a while, she thought that phrase was the funniest thing in the world. Lately, she has finally been starting to echo it, particularly the “so much,” and this morning on the way in to school I think I heard it for the first time spontaneously and without prompting! (Well, I actually heard “you so much” and she was attending to something completely different, opening the school door, when she said it. But I’m going to count it. To me as neurotypical mama it sounded very sweet indeed.)

    And yet I appreciate and am challenged by your perspective on not putting too many eggs in the “when will I get to hear I-love-you” basket. Thank you. I’m glad to have discovered this blog!

  21. What a timely post for me — the phrase “I love you so much” is one with which we’ve gone through several reactions from my eight-year-old daughter, who speaks only a few words. A year and a half ago, she thought “I love you so much” was about the funniest thing in the world (I blogged a recording of her reaction to it, in fact!) Lately, she’s started to echo the words, particularly the “so much.” And just this morning, I heard it for the first time entirely unprompted. (Well, actually all I recognized was “you so much” and she was busy opening the door to the school at the time so her attention was divided at best. But to this non-autistic mama it sounded very sweet indeed.)

    I very much appreciate, though, your perspective on the desire to hear those words and how that may not line up at all with my daughter’s agenda. Thank you, and it’s good to discover your blog!

  22. This made me think of something that I will often tell others I am close to or clients and their parents. I often here people say, “Sorry!” in a sarcastic tone or “I’m sorry if you…” or they will apologize because they are expected to apologize. I ask clients, and others in my life, not to apologize when they don’t truly mean it or they aren’t ready to. It cheapens the value of their apologies in general. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of the neurotypical/non-autistic vs. autistic/aspie perspective. Thanks for sharing.

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