My psychologist described a vicious cycle that autistics go through: “autism leads to social dysfunction, which leads to social anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to further social dysfunction.” Let’s walk through something that has been bothering me lately…
I have autism, which is largely defined by a set of social struggles. I am well aware of this. I started coming home to my mom in tears asking why no one wanted to be my friend when I was about 5. The problem is that answering that question is really only going to generate more social anxiety and hurt, because the answer is something I can’t really do much about. Most of the time, it comes down my non-verbal signals, but difficulty with non-verbal signals is part of the diagnostic criteria for autism.
Through the years, I’ve had no shortage of people telling me why people don’t want to interact with me. Some just wanted me to go away. Others were probably trying to be helpful, but unless you can tell me how to change it, it still only raises my anxiety and feeds the depression cycle. I understand it, but I feel helpless to change it, which leaves me feeling hopeless. I believe this cycle can be reversed. It looks like this: success leads to confidence, which leads to further success. This actually reduces anxiety, which reduces the negative body language, since most of the negative social traits of autism result from, and therefore, scale with anxiety and stress.
If you want to be helpful and supportive to me, the best ways you can possibly do that are these…
1. Love me and accept me as I am.
2. Communicate #1 to me regularly and in a way that I understand.
3. Teach others to do these things.
Autism acceptance is the battle I’ve chosen to devote my life to, and I can assure you that I will fight as long as I live to make sure other kids don’t have to suffer as long and as much as I have, but a warrior cut off from the supplies he needs is as good as dead.