Being Autistic and Annoying Others!
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
Okay, I'm just going to say it: being autistic means we often do things that annoy other people. While I'm not going to list ways you stop being yourself, it is important for you to realize how your actions and reactions come across, and to learn how to NOT be so irritating. This is *essential* in the workplace, because while many employers are embracing the autistic and neurodiverse experience, there is still the angle of basic respect. Yep, they respect us to give us a go, so we ought respect them by not railroading them in our never-ending stories, our ever-flowing ideas, our copious worries and recounting our every-single-thought-that-has-entered-our-minds-like-right-now. What do I mean? Read on to find out!
STAY CURIOUS, BUT REMEMBER TO KEEP QUESTIONS BRIEF
One key way we irritate others is by asking too many questions. I remember at school, this would always be a black-mark against me: "Asks too many questions", and "Won't listen to the teacher". That's what my report card would say. Then instead of the teachers realising that I asked loads of questions because I was curious, I would be seen as the trouble-maker or the 'stupid kid'. Argh! It was not nice. Luckily things have changed in schooling and many teachers now hold a deeper understanding of autism. I still think many people do not understand what questions mean to autistics. For us, it means:
- I am curious and want to know more :)
- I am confused and unsure of what to do :(
I learned, through many trials and many errors at work that asking questions is not an inherently bad thing. You can be curious and ask questions, and employers like to hear your thoughts.... but choose your battles!! Do not overload your supervisor or boss.
How to solve this annoying behaviour:
What is the absolute most important thing you need to know right now? Ask that 1 question. Allow other things to fall by the wayside; yes, I know, it will be difficult to start with, but when you corner your supervisor and ask them 10 questions, followed by 20 more statements of fact and 20 more questions to their replies, they will simply find you irritating.
Then, instead of WOW-ing your employer with your motivation and interest in the role, they will begin to think of your in negative tones. Respect your supervisor by staying curious, but keeping your questions brief.
BE SOCIAL, BUT BE MINDFUL OF "RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE"
Another way we can really irritate others is by launching into deep social stories at the completely wrong time. Ah ha, I know- many neurodiverse individuals struggle to pick up social cues, and thus we over-share or misinterpret situations and do the wrong thing at the wrong time.
All I am suggesting is that you try to remember these few helpful hints...
How to solve this annoying behaviour:
1) Do not interrupt when someone senior to you is speaking. This shows respect. If you do want to share something, wait for a gap. A gap is a space in the conversation where you can quietly count to 3. If you are sharing something, remember to remind the speaker of what they were saying, and then ask your question, or give your comment.
For example, "Mmm excuse me John, when you referred to the meeting on Wednesday, did you mean this upcoming Wednesday in 2 days, or the following week?"
When you wait for a gap, especially when the person is senior to you, this shows that you are listening, respectful and that you are able to manage your own self-space (and the latter is really important. I know emotional regulation could be a challenge for many the autistic person, but if you just take a breath and hold your thoughts till there's a gap, you will find, gradually, that the urge to jump in immediately will pass... and that you will feel more confident in the questions you do ask- because you've given yourself time to reflect on the words and say just the right thing).
2) Write down your questions as they come up. If someone is speaking and you have lots of questions popping into your head, do not blurt them out immediately or raise your hand every 5 minutes with another question; instead SAVE UP your questions. When you have 3 questions written down, raise your hand, wait until you are called to speak, and then ask those 3 questions, reminding the speaker of what they said.
For example: "Lucy, I have a few questions about what you just said about the design project. I wonder if we are all to be working together? I also want to know if the project is following our usual system? And, also, I am curious whether lunch break will be soon because you said this meeting was only supposed to run until 12pm, and it's 12.15pm now?"
If you save up your questions, you may find A) that the speaker actually answers your questions in the next few sentences that they speak so you decide not to ask that; or B) that others in the audience also wanted to know these answers, so you're showing that you are a good listener.
3) Do not make comments that judge others by an aspect of Self. Essentially, while at work, it is better to avoid talking about how skilled, intelligent, fat, thin, or able someone is. Unless you are in a confidential meeting where it is your job to critically analyze your colleagues, just don't say it.
For example: You return back from the Christmas holidays and see that Jody the receptionist is fatter than before. Yep, she might be pregnant, but she might not! She might just have gained weight, and maybe she's upset about this. So, if you were to say, "Gosh, Jody got fat" or "is Jody pregnant?", it might be misconstrued as a judgement or an attack. While this may not have been your intention, others can see it in this light.
As a rule, try to avoid sharing comments about a person's weight, intelligence, ability level, sexual orientation, or looks. Ugh, so what CAN you say? Well, you could think of something positive to say: something kind, or nice.... or you could just focus on your job, or talk about hobbies. There's lots to comment and share on without coming across disrespectful, hurtful or impolite.
I know it can be hard to put these things into practice - we all make mistakes and sometimes we all blurt things out and then feel awkward later.
The key thing to remember is TRY; show others that we are giving it a go, to regulate our emotions at times, to monitor our thoughts/ words.
By trying, and succeeding at any one of these strategies is a really great thing! That means we are learning. Yes, be yourself, but be mindful of others and remember that you can be you and be kind.