For those of you who aren’t aware, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day; it’s really worth heading over to that blog over the next few days for a wide range of social media posts to raise awareness and acceptance of autism, advocating the inclusion of autistic people in the ongoing conversation about us. So I thought I’d blog about something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; maybe I just notice this more because I’m at uni, but the entire culture of “proper” social occasions at the moment seems to be built around what’s actually a fairly narrow group of people.
Again, this might be more pronounced in a university environment, but “party” seems to basically mean “vaguely meet up at some point in some noisy overcrowded room, get drunk, and overwhelm all but the most extroverted/popular almost out of the group entirely”. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with that sort of thing in and of itself, I’m sure some autistic people really enjoy it, and to be honest I can find sometimes find some of it quite fun, on the right day, even if it’s basically just watching, but it seems like that’s all that there is. It just doesn’t occur to people that some of us can’t handle that much input, can’t filter out all that background noise and follow the conversation, can’t just magically know when and where to go like everyone else seems to be able to (hint: it’s not when and where the club ticket says it will be), and all sorts of other stuff I haven’t worked out how to articulate yet. Or, as I keep telling everyone, “I can’t people“. (People-ing is a verb in my vocabulary now, sorry about that.) It’s also worth noting that, at least to a certain extent, this isn’t necessarily a problem specific to those of us on the spectrum; I have several allistic/neurotypical friends who also seem to “get it” and, for various reasons, also “can’t people” even if they do manage to hide it better than I can, and in my case not liking alcohol probably plays a massive part in it too. Like I said, the whole thing is inadvertently excluding all bar a fairly narrow group of people.
Except, well, I actually can people, I’m just not very good with that one situation that’s usually the only option for people-ing. Last week, having gone to law drinks to catch up with everyone and meet the new freshers, only to spend the entire time focusing on just barely coping and intermittently screaming and despairing at the inevitability of it all, a friend and I ended up leaving after an hour, but on returning home we inadvertently ended up sitting on the stairs (she lives on the floor above me) and talking for hours. (And I don’t just mean infodumping about Doctor Who, either!!) It really made me think. This is far from a new occurrence. That post I wrote the other week in which I mentioned a party that night? As it turned out, I didn’t actually even make it there, because everyone had already gone for pre-drinks somewhere, but not where I guessed they would be, and nobody could hear their phones, and usually I keep being told to arrive later than the stated time because people logic but then pre-drinks are also a thing and they’re earlier and it’s all massively confusing, and I felt horrible about it afterwards because it genuinely seems like everyone else has telepathic communication, but then I thought – would it really kill you to just be a bit more clear about what’s going on beforehand? That issue is probably more autism-specific that the first one (literal-minded and all that), but there’s just so much that isn’t accessible to a lot of people. And when that’s all that there is, taking the sensible route and just not going leaves you feeling massively lonely.
So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about all this (and, I admit it, part of me just really wanted to use that blog title…) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’re autistic (that’s kinda the point of Autistics Speaking Day, after all!) but it seems to be an issue with a really wide scope and different perspectives would be great. What would make people-ing more accessible to you?