Understanding Other People Is Hard


This summer, I upgraded from perennial chat room lurker to actual participant. Now, I correspond regularly  on adult Asperger/autism boards. Years of silent observation taught me that all chat rooms host trolls and other predictable characters.

Any place where you share your experiences, one person posts the “worst experience ever.” Their stories are so appalling, your credibility is stretched. In fact, when the same person posts “the worst experience ever” across multiple threads, some people openly reject them.

In the autism boards, members accept and support a person with a terrible tale; even when a person consistently posts great difficulties.  Since autists frequently grapple with work, relationships, and sensory overload, they possess empathy for those who struggle.

Like other boards, autism boards have trolls. I flip a mental bird at them and move on to the next comment. I am more troubled by mildly offensive posts.

When someone responds, “Well, everyone feels that way,” in response to a personal disclosure, my eyebrows arch. I wonder what the person’s intention is. Do they intend to invalidate another person’s feelings? Are they trying to be helpful? Are they in denial? I cannot navigate the ambiguity.

I am tempted to react in anger. I reveal details online I never shared before. It’s hard for me to divulge anything, let alone an embarrassing or tender moment. Questioning the validity of my experiences wounds me.  If I was so normal, why do I have the difficulties I do? It often seems as if it such comments are a subtle form of blame.

So, I am ready to pick up my flame thrower and blast napalm at the “everyone feels that way…” commenter. I have a lifetime of being misunderstood for fuel.  Yet, that comment needs to be addressed. And it must be addressed with empathy. I cannot assume ill will.

First I will concentrate on the comment, then the feeling.

Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls addressed the “everyone feels that way” attitude:

It’s the same with all Aspie traits–everyone experiences some if not all of them, but not at the same level of : INTENSITY, FREQUENCY and QUANTITY.

It doesn’t matter if you are diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, ADHD, OCD, depression, or bipolar disorder*. Every “normal” person experiences some degree of your atypical neurological and emotional heritage. This is a good reason to build tolerance on both sides of the fence.

I will reject anger and look for opportunity. I plan to help the well-meaning and confused understand the difference between their normal experiences and autism spectrum experiences. I intend to share more personal stories to illustrate the intensity, frequency and quantity of my life. I will build empathy and put down my internal flamethrower.


*Yes, I deliberately left out schizophrenia.