And, if you become so frustrated that you threaten, insult, mock, or hit us, that won’t do, either. Not only are you being abusive, you are now significantly widening the gap between you and the person you so desperately want to connect with.
We will become afraid of you, we’ll stop trusting you, and we’ll go so deep into ourselves, you will not be able to reach us at all.
A relationship like this should end immediately. Counseling may help, but once a certain boundary is crossed, things can never go back to the way they were before.
Why Our Faces Do What They Do
- Sensory Overload
For a person on the spectrum, the world is louder, more complicated, and more confusing than it is to those with neurotypical brains.
Imagine waking up with a hangover after only three hours of sleep and being told you have to recite the alphabet backwards while walking a tightrope above a 500-foot drop (with no net), and, you must properly greet ten different people in their individual native language as soon as you get to the other side—or get a horrible electric shock.
Sound fair? Of course not.
Everyday social interactions, sounds, and distractions can do the same thing to us as the above-mentioned scenario would do to you. At that point, we are not even aware we have faces let alone what expression we have on them!
- We might not realize what we’re feeling
There is a condition associated with ASD called alexithymia, an inability to connect with one’s own emotions. To say that all autistic people have this condition would be unfair, however, many on the spectrum do show signs of it.
We may also have been told as children that we were lying about our feelings because what we said we felt didn’t match our facial expressions. So, we became confused as to what was really going on inside of us; not knowing if we could trust our own internal experience.
If we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, we may have an angry, irritated, or disgusted look and have no idea it’s on our face.
There is also a phenomenon called ‘delayed emotional processing’.
Here is how one woman on the spectrum describes it:
“I get emotional…I get angry… But I don’t know why. I have what is called delayed emotional processing. My husband is actually the one who first picked up on this and it was later an actual diagnosis.
When the anger happens, my husband will talk me through my day (sometimes the last two days), and we will find the trigger point: having to put off paying a bill, getting the run-around from health insurance, even simply just getting frustrated with my husband himself.
Once we have identified the root cause, I can come to an understanding of my emotions and this will help me to calm down. Calming down can take a little while, but once my emotions “make sense,” they aren’t near as distressing.” – Terah K.
- We’re processing a lot of information at once
People on the spectrum think a LOT. We are constantly processing information at breakneck speed; working out a problem, analyzing a conversation, making a conscious effort to watch our tone of voice, remembering to smile and nod in the right place, avoiding a crack in the sidewalk, trying not to turn our heel, making a mental note to keep our voice at an acceptable level, etc. The list goes on.
When you have to be completely aware of what you’re doing, how you’re sounding, and where your limbs are at all times, it takes up a lot of brainpower. A neurotypical person doesn’t have to think about any of these things, or, at least not all at once.
Imagine having to consciously control your breathing, heartbeat, and digestion every second of the day. Would you even think about how your face looked?
- We have poor muscle tone
Many studies have shown that people on the autism spectrum have poor muscle tone. This not only affects our coordination and manual dexterity, it also interferes with our ability to make more animated facial expressions.
In myself, for example, I’ve noticed that while you can see emotions play out on my face, certain ones are so subtle, they’re almost indistinguishable from one another. This is why my feelings and intentions have been grossly misunderstood throughout my life.
I know I’m not alone in this. That’s why I wrote this article and recorded the video to go with it. If you are on the autistic spectrum, the way your brain works is not your fault. It’s not a “bad” for a brain to work. It’s just different. And that’s OK.
The neurotypical people in your life might not be able to understand you at first, but (and this is a big BUT), if they truly care about you and your well-being, they will make an effort to get to know you, understand you, and love you for who you are.
Or, they’ll just decide they can’t maintain a relationship with you, and that’s OK, too. It’s better for the relationship to end than to for it to turn toxic.
Never allow anyone to insult, threaten, mock, intimidate, or strike you. Ever. If the person becomes increasingly agitated by your behavior no matter how much time you’ve taken to explain your condition, move on. This will not be a healthy relationship, and you deserve so much better.
If you’re a neurotypical person struggling to understand a person with ASD, use the L.A.A.S.T. method for better communication:
- Listen – When your loved one speaks, listen carefully to their words. This is their primary and most accurate form of communication.
- Ask – When you have needs or wants from the person with ASD, state them clearly and concisely. Asking beats assuming every time.
- Accept – Accept the daily challenges we have and always keep in mind that the majority of our behavior has nothing to do with you. Also, accept that the way our brains work will never change, and that clear, concise communication is the key to maintaining a happy and healthy relationship with us.
- Support – Your loved one needs to know that you are reliable and dependable. That he or she can lean on you for support and when necessary, protection and guidance.
- Trust – Your loved one on the spectrum will rarely lie to you, if ever. Trust what he or she is saying is the absolute truth of how they’re experiencing the world around them, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. There’s no deception there, it’s just a different way of viewing the world.
If someone on the spectrum is in your life, understand that ‘resting bitch face’, while comical on the surface, has another meaning for us. It’s yet another way that we unintentionally distance ourselves from others. Startling us or continuing to ask us what’s wrong even though our face always looks the same will not be beneficial to the relationship.
If you falter, remember this: The bridge between the neurotypical mind and the ASD mind is compassion.
Want more help?
These insightful books can go a long way in making sense out of and improving your Asperger’s/NT relationship:
Featured image courtesy of Flickr/Greens MPs
Man with startled expression courtesy of Flickr/Bob Prosser