What it’s like to be the only autistic person in a group

“Making” friends is a weird concept to me, because I feel like I’ve fallen into the friendships I have that have lasted for several years and continue to remain genuine—no matter how often we talk, who gives who what, or how long we’ve known each other. The friendships I have right now have just coincidentally lasted at least a year thus far, with a few between that awkward less-than-a-year timeline I don’t totally pay attention to.

To have the friendships I do, however—and still have a few over four years later—really means a lot to me. Because it is really, really, really hard to be friends with people as an autistic person.

1. I’m that “slow” friend.

“Can you please explain ____ to me?” and “What do you mean?” are common questions I ask. As bad as it sounds, and as much as allistic people encourage it, I simply don’t trust myself. I can understand autistic people pretty well, but I have a difficult time understanding an allistic person.

2. I give up on friends who think verbal communication is better/the only way to properly communicate with someone.

Verbal communication is stressful. I try to avoid it wherever possible. I not only have to process what was said, but I only get one go at it—rarely, if ever, will people repeat what they’ve said to me over and over, and sometimes another over, yet again. I also like to mentally repeat sounds in my head others say, and tend to mimic people by accident.

Text-based communication allows me to fully process and try to understand something. So, when someone tells me they cannot accurately get their point across because I didn’t hear the tone of their voice and this is text-based communication, I call BS. Because you know what? Verbal communication is not the end-all, be-all of communication. Neither is body language. You don’t need to see my face, because my face tends to remain in the same resting face as per usual in conversations. And the tone of your voice doesn’t matter, either. I’m not going to bloody know if you’re being sarcastic, joking or just trying to be helpful based on any tone of your voice.

That’s not something I can fake, and that sure as hell doesn’t make me broken. It just means you and I are incompatible as friends, and that’s fine.

3. I don’t always know whether someone is joking.

I joke about my autism a lot, yeah? But if someone came up to me or hit up my comments section and said something equally morbid about autism as I typically joke, who isn’t autistic and isn’t considered a friend, I would feel offense. And in my life, I have had a lot of people use sarcasm or the telling of a joke as an excuse for being mean…and I draw from my experiences to determine how to react to things. Everyone does.

But I don’t always know when someone is joking, whether it’s text-based or verbal communication, and I’m almost always wrong. I’m in a group chat, and I’m now remembering why I am not big on group chats: I “LOL” when I should “aw” and “aw” when I should “LOL”, and it’s really hard to find a pattern and get things right. E for effort?

4. I express empathy through similar experiences/stories.

Empathizing with an autistic person is easy. Empathizing with an allistic person is one of those #TheStruggleIsReal moments, because #TheStruggleIsReal, no doubt.

My version of empathy is when I share a similar story/experience of mine and/or try to relate the allistic person’s story to a TV show or to a movie. This usually backfires, though, even when I’m mostly trying to confirm whether I am understanding what the allistic person is feeling. Instead, I’m accused of always turning a situation back on me, which is the furthest from my intention. It’s literally just the way I empathize, and…I guess that’s one reason I don’t openly accept new friend requests out of the blue and prefer a “trial run” or some kind of period wherein I don’t get my hopes up about being friends with someone. Because I can’t make compromises on things my brain is not programmed to do—I can’t agree to meet someone “halfway” in many departments like the empathy one, because I can’t just make things click at my will.

5. I have different needs.

Allistic people tend to have many best friends, whereas autistic people tend to have one major best friend and a few other best friends/”typical” friends. When you grow up, allistic peoples’ ultimate best friend becomes their significant other/spouse. But then…oh. Right. I don’t really know how to explain this, but a best friend is like a significant other for autistic people, but…not in the same sense. So when the autistic friend is not the Ultimate Best Friend for the allistic person, it hurts. It’s hard to understand, and I’m still struggling to understand it myself in my adulthood.

I wish I had learned earlier on people usually had multiple best friends and that that was okay—not something horrible—and encouraged to have multiple friends, because I feel like maybe it would have prepared me for this. It’s a lot like when I have a person as a special interest, but not as much pain.

I also don’t need to be reminded we’re friends or whatever through ridiculous physical contact or affirmations.

? Two posts tagged with autism posted within less than a week of each other…#awesome. ? Maybe this can help a parent with their autistic kid, or perhaps an allistic friend of an autistic person. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge my experience is one experience, and not all autistic experiences are the same. ?✌

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Comments on this post

Georgie’s gravatar

Although I am not autistic, I relate to some people by explaining my similar experiences too. I never mean to take the attention away from the other person, but I always say, “I know what you mean!” to sympathise before I explain that I have been in that scenario too. I am always cautious of possibly taking the attention away from someone. But I think that even though you struggle with it, people who are not autistic may also struggle to sympathise. It also depends on how the person you are talking to takes the response.

I felt a bit bad labelling people as my best friends when I had more than one, because some people said I was wrong and that I could have only one best friend. When I called someone my best friend, I felt like I had to explain why they were my best friend, or differentiate from my other best friends. I often said “best male friend” and “best girl friend”, but then I thought, you know what? Who cares. All the word ‘best’ did was instill competition into people who wanted to be someone’s favourite. Boo.

Louise’s gravatar

I don’t always recognise when someone is joking or being sarcastic if I’ve just met them. Otherwise, it’s way more likely that other people don’t recognise when I’m being sarcastic. Do you have that problem?

I was just wondering, is “allistic” another way of saying “neurotypical” or is something else? I have been using the word neurotypical to describe people who are not autistic.

Liz’s gravatar

I switched to using “allistic” instead of “neurotypical”, because the former better supports a neurodiverse world. An adequate explanation of all the terms was written by a fellow autistic on her own blog. I considered doing my own, but then found hers and felt it was so well-written. 🙂 Because NT means a non-autistic person has a “typical” brain, and can therefore not be bipolar or anything else but neurotypical.

I have that problem, yeah. People literally have to be like, “I’m joking,” for me to understand they’re joking…and oftentimes for me to actually get the joke. ?

Nancy’s gravatar

It’s great when we have friends that have been going on for over a year! There are times when this isn’t the case, but that’s fine. Plenty of possible friends somewhere in the world..

Nothing wrong with asking for clarification. I usually ask for clarification just to make sure I am on the same page as the other person. Baah, when I was at school, I always preferred text-based communication. I suppose in my point of view, I don’t like people talking on and on IRL soooo texting is easier for me to ignore and do other things XD. Text-based communication has changed for the better where word choice, voice (emphasizing different text means different things), and body content matters a lot!

It’s okay to have multiple best friends! … Or not have one at all XD. I suppose besides my boyfriend, I’m not really close to anyone else IRL to consider them as my best friend :). You are gooooood~~~~~~~