• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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A Voice in a Fake World; Asperger’s on the Inside–Social Frustration

A Voice in a Fake World; Asperger’s on the Inside
Social difficulties in Adults with Asperger's
A simple invite to a coffee shop can be an overwhelming experience for an Aspie, those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome. The coffee machine frothing, customers placing orders, the door opening and shutting letting in the distracting sounds from the outside are just a few of the background noises that my senses fail to filter out. All the sounds come at me at the same time, all wanting my immediate attention.
I desperately want to stick my orange and green foam earplugs into my ears, but that would be rude. Besides, they make me look the bride of Frankenstein. I slip my hand into my pocket and squish them between my fingers instead. The cushiony feel of them between my fingertips makes me feel better; a stress ball and security blanket in one.
Several women sit at the table sipping lattes and discussing their kids, the neighbor’s new boyfriend, and the latest church gossip. It all sounds like noise, jumbled words that all blend together, and I cannot hone in on any one voice, on any one topic, or any one conversation. I fidget in my seat. I’m lost and I can’t keep up, so I say nothing; I have no voice.
The sun shines through the glass sending blinding rays directly at our table; no-one else notices. I slip my sunglasses over my eyes. We are just a tad too close to the restrooms, and when the door swings open the faint smell of urine mixes with the smell of cappuccino in the air. My stomach churns, jumps, and I try not to heave; no-one else smells it.
The conversation fades into the background as I retreat into my own world. I have nothing to contribute, no idle chitchat to add. My mind is wondering—contemplating the next chapter of my book, my next blog post, the mound of books that I want to get back home to read.  Back home to my computer screen. I love my computer—all my friends live in there, the people who I can talk to, the ones like me, the ones who understand me.
My cellphone dings, and I smile on the inside. I steal a glance at the phone; do not be rude! A little square green face pops onto the screen. I know I received a text message. Another ding, a small envelope—an email is waiting. A tiny pastel blue bird chirps—a new tweet mentioned me.  The royal blue “F” indicating a new Facebook message or comment has my fingers tapping the screen, forgetting where I am.What do my virtual friends have to say?
Their words are in black and white, I can read them, process them, take a breath, and think about what I would like to say. I respond in my time, without pressure, without chitchat, with earplugs in, with quiet contemplation. They speak in turn, one message to read at a time, and if I miss a word I can go back and reread it again. No strange looks for wearing my sunglasses indoors, or odd stares because I didn’t get the joke. If I am overwhelmed I don’t have to respond immediately; I can breathe; I can be me.
In my virtual world I have a voice. I can “talk” without worrying about how I sound, if I spoke out of turn, or unwittingly offended someone. I can put my words to the page in a logical order, say what I mean, and mean what I say. In my fake world, I am real, I am alive, and I have something worthwhile to say. In the real world, I am fake, voiceless, a mannequin, posing, pretending to fit in. I grasp for logic, meaning, and order–but there is none.
The conversation died down, but I hadn’t noticed. Purses were gathered, and coffee cups cleared. “We’ll have to do this again soon,” followed by a polite smile. Was she talking to me? Soon? How soon, when?
“Um, Ok,” I say. I sling the strap to my purple purse across my shoulder, unclip my car keys from the belt loop on my jeans, grab my phone from the table, stick it into my back pocket, and head for the door—glad that my coffee with strangers is over. Exhausted.
The next time I am invited to attend, I say I will, but won’t show up.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.