An Open Letter to my Friends and Family

Dear Friends and Family,

I know I have told most of you, and some of you may not know, that I am autistic. And now that you know, I would like to share some insight. I have been autistic my whole life. It is not something that just happened. I didn’t acquire it. I didn’t catch it. I wasn’t afflicted with it. I am autistic. I do not have autism. It’s not something I carry with me. It isn’t something invading space in me. It is however a complex and wonderful neurodivergence that means I process things differently than most neurotypicals (or NTs).

Yes, I have done fairly well at fitting in to a normative NT world. Some of you have called me “quirky” or “weird” at some point, and possibly made comments about how I just “do things my own way and my own time”. For those comments, thank you. Because that is when I slipped up and was more autistic than “normal.” See, autistic people (which is what we prefer to be called) do this thing called “masking.” We spend a large amount of time observing NTs in their natural environments and do our best to emulate them.

Now that you know this about me, it’s up to you to decide if you would like to continue being part of my life. I would like that, and here are some ways we can build a stronger healthier relationship based on my needs:

The biggest problem I have come across is being told how to manage my autistic tendencies. Things get overwhelming easily for me, and it isn’t the same “overwhelming” every time. There are things that a NT would never be able to understand, unless they are living it. Environmental changes in smell, sound, movement, brightness can all be overwhelming depending on how my day has been up to that point. I can not just “take a deep breath and move on” or not let it bother me as I do not have control over whether it bothers me or not. I can not “move on”, “get over it” or “chill out.” These are all not helpful statements to make. I want nothing more to be able to do these things, trust me, I do. But it is not that simple for a neurodivergent mind. It’s much like being in the middle of a burning room being told to just get “over it” and walk through the fire to get out of the room.

Please don’t assume you know what I need, coddle and over-assist me. Please don’t tell me that I need to take a break, that I should get some quiet time, that I don’t need to come or do something you think may be hard for me. Instead ask what I need for each of these situations. Chances are, I could be having a good day, I could be excited about the upcoming event, or I could need space or quiet. But you will never know if you do or not ask. Please do not assume you know my needs.

Lastly, please stop expecting me to fit in to NT social norms. Making eye contact is very uncomfortable for me. I can do it if need be, through my masking skills, but would really rather not. Sitting still and shaking hands are uncomfortable and difficult for me. The best you can do is ask my needs in that situation. Make sure I am okay and still breathing. Chances are I held my breath to shake your friends hand, and have forgot to start again.

This is just the beginning. The most helpful thing you can do is ask me about being autistic. I am always willing to help you understand me more. I look forward to building our relationship.

Sincerely,

Your Autistic Friend

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