Tuesday, 10 January 2012

On Aspie 'Lack of Manners'

I seem to have been hearing a lot about autistic lack of ‘manners’ lately, and it’s certainly a theme that has cropped up in my life many times. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told I’ve been rude, offensive, uncouth or bad-mannered (or had it implied). I know lots of others on the spectrum have had the same experience. The question is, what should we do about it?

I know what we shouldn’t do. And that’s try to ape NTs, try to be ‘normal’, try to be exactly like them, suppressing all signs of our ‘weirdness’, in order to ‘fit in’. I can speak from experience, as I tried very, very hard to do just this, for many decades of my life. I poured enormous amounts of time and energy into observing others, watching as closely as I could to try and figure out exactly how they behaved, and when, and why, and who with. I tried to imitate them, experimenting with this way and that, aping this person and that - always, always trying to be ‘normal’, or at least develop the facade of ‘normal’. Trying to forestall criticism, and be ‘nice’, and ‘acceptable’ to others.

And you know what? It didn’t work. Oh certainly I learnt many, many things about how to behave, what constitutes ‘good manners’, or ‘the Right Thing To Do And Say’ in a whole variety of situations. I learnt to ‘pass’, in other words. I have a whole library or system of gigantic filing cabinets in my head, of How To Behave Nicely.

But I didn’t gain all that much by it, in the long run. I still got criticised plenty. I wasn’t able to make (NT) friends, or if I did, I soon lost them again. I couldn’t start or sustain a functional relationship. I compromised my health, and at times my sanity and personal integrity. I wasted years – decades - worth of energy that could have been better spent on a career, on my creative endeavours, or simply on my own personal and spiritual growth. I could have been so much better off, financially, physically, psychologically, spiritually. So I would not recommend the path I chose to anyone else on the spectrum - and I no longer walk that path myself. I am what I am, and that will have to be enough.

However we do share this world with other people, whether we like it or not, and have to get along with them. So if we don’t go the path of being a ‘fake NT’, what should we do? What’s the bare minimum of ‘politeness’, that we should aspire to? In my next post, I hope to address that question.

27/1/2012 Note - have written three more posts on this subject, here, and here and here, on 'why we should do manners', and also the 'do's' and 'don'ts' of manners, if you're interested.

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