Autism is, at its core, a difference in processing.
It is a difference in how our brains process information as it comes in. Sensory information is processed differently in our brains which can lead to drastically different experiences of the world around us. We process emotion differently. Even social situations are processed differently by the autistic brain.
A common analogy used to explain autism is that it’s like running a different operating system. Our operating system won’t be able to run all the same things as the neurotypical operating system, but that doesn’t mean it’s broken or wrong. Instead, it is just a different way of processing.
However, beyond just differences in processing, autism is also differences in natural ways of socializing.
Imagine you have been stranded in a foreign land. You are only vaguely familiar with the culture. You have to figure out how to navigate through this society without any kind of guide book or reliable way of learning about the culture other than trial and error. You find that their facial expressions don’t mean what you think they mean. Things that you consider to be signs of respect due to your culture turn out to be offensive in this culture. Hand gestures you always assumed to be universal carry different meanings here but you struggle to figure out what they mean and there’s no one who will tell you.
And no one will even acknowledge that you come from a different culture. They expect you to act like a native and view any errors as character flaws. No matter how hard you try learn about their culture, you find yourself always a step behind. Each time you think you’ve figured it out, you learn something else that you’re supposedly doing wrong.
This is what it is like for many of us who grew up undiagnosed.
Except, we don’t know that we are a stranger in a foreign land. We often come to think of ourselves as failures and disappointments for not being able to understand what seems so easy for everyone else. We don’t know that we are running on a different operating system.
We stumble through life trying our best to do what is expected of us. Sometimes, we are able to keep up the act. We are able to fake it well enough that people don’t really seem to notice how different we are. Other times, our differences are clearly apparent. Unfortunately, too many people see these differences character flaws. They see us as failed versions of “normal” people.
But, we’re not broken. We’re not failed versions of normal.
We are people who process the world differently
Our natural ways of communicating and interacting with others are different than typical ways of doing so.
While autistic social difficulties are often presented as an inadequacy of the autistic person, with all the blame for any misunderstandings or difficulties being cast upon the autistic person. But, that’s not how conversation works. A conversation involves (at least) two people. It is a mutual exchange of ideas and information. When there is a failure to effectively communicate, it is very rarely only because of one party.
When autistic and allistic people interact, we come from different cultures with different ways of expressing emotions and different ways of communicating and different ways of understanding the world. It is the responsibility of both people to make an effort to bridge the gaps. Autistic people often must learn to understand this foreign culture in order to survive, but in an ideal world, both allistics and autistics would work together to find the best ways to communicate together.