I mentioned the idea of assumptions briefly in a previous post regarding how others often assume that Autistics are overreacting in various situations that we’re actually experiencing as distressing or even traumatic.
I’d also like for parents, teachers, and other professionals to be taught that we aren’t overreacting in those situations. Rather, we are reacting perfectly logically to a threat (of some sort) that we’re experiencing. I wasn’t being rude or petty – certainly wasn’t intending to – rather I was distressed, confused, and often afraid.
I read somewhere (I think on twitter) the amazing analogy of someone, quite by accident, putting a light-ish weight bag on someone’s foot while waiting for a train or plane. Maybe the person screams and hollers about “Get that bag off my foot right now!” perhaps while swearing too.
Now, the person who accidentally set the bag on the person’s foot thinks this is an overreaction since the bag is extremely light. But what if the person’s toes are broken? Then their reaction makes perfect sense.
We do not always know someone else’s situation. We don’t always know that someone’s toes are broken or whether they may be experiencing a situation in a vastly different way than we are. It’s almost always better to assume that someone has a good reason for reacting the way they do – especially if they’re a stranger.
This goes for everyone, Autistic or not.
More from my previous post:
Not understanding why I was being hurt by experiences that others seemed to manage reasonably well was distressing in itself. Having those feelings and experiences invalidated by others throughout my life created a good deal of trauma and internalized hatred for my perceived inadequacies.
People assumed that I was overreacting because I was reacting differently than they (think they) would have if they’d been in the same situation. But maybe if they’d experienced the situation the way I did, they would’ve reacted very similarly.
There’s no way of knowing how another person is experiencing a situation, so allistics shouldn’t assume that we’re overreacting.
On the flip side, I’ve heard many Autistics on twitter lament that they often assume that allistics are angry at them without being told. I believe that this is a natural reaction to never being certain how other people feel about oneself and/or being hyper-aware of other people’s feelings but maybe not exactly what those feelings are or why the other person is having them.
It can be ever so easy to start making assumptions and taking responsibility, especially when we’re blamed for interactions going poorly on a regular basis. Especially once we get used to other people hinting around clumsily instead of saying what they mean. We may try to take on the task of assuming what they might really think or feel in an effort to blend or be a better friend, which can end with disastrous results (at least it usually does for me).
I was very explicitly taught as a child to not take personally the things other people did because there’s no way of knowing whether a grumpy cashier is upset with me or is just having a rough day. Maybe someone I meet or know has chronic pain that I don’t know about. Maybe they’ve had a really trying day. Maybe they aren’t as particular about word choices and end up saying things that they don’t really mean, but that would’ve been okay if I’d had a more accurate interpretation of their body language/tone of voice.
Looking back I suspect that the parent who taught me this is also Autistic, and that means that the advice has fit in quite well with my inability to figure out accurately how someone is feeling, let alone whether or not another person’s feelings have anything to do with me.
It’s easier to go on just being nice (or minimizing/eliminating contact to protect myself, if need be) if I believe that it’s not about me. I’m not the center of anyone else’s world and if someone really wants me to know that I’ve done something hurtful then they should tell me. I’m not going to accommodate passive-aggressiveness or hinting about being upset when it’d just make me paranoid and upset.
If they tell me then I know. If they don’t then I figure it’s not about me and/or they don’t want me to know about it for some reason. This has especially been helpful in professional settings because I can often stay detached from others’ feelings and not take them on while acting with dignity myself.
It’s so important to believe people when they react to an experience and it’s also important not to take on extra responsibility and stress yourself without very good and clear cause. This doesn’t mean that anyone should continue voluntarily exposing themselves to people who harm and exhaust them though. Self-protection is vitally important too.