Monday 1 June 2015

Aspergers and Rudeness

We've all seen the trope on TV and movies.  Someone is being a jerk and then the joke is made about it actually being Aspergers.  I often take exception to those jokes because often the particular type of rudeness being displayed would require a high level of social awareness to begin with.  Rudeness is not the same as having Aspergers.

However, I can see how the correlation might have begun.  People with Aspergers tend to be very detail oriented and don't waste a lot of time on social pleasantries.  In my work, I deal with a lot of adolescents and adults/parents who fall on the autism spectrum.  Since I have experience dealing with individuals with autism, I know not to take the abruptness personally, but even I get taken aback sometimes.

I got a call last week from someone who wanted an appointment with one of our clinicians and began telling me who they wanted to see and what times would be good for them as soon as I'd gotten half a syllable of 'hello' out.  I'll be honest, it was off-putting.  But then I thought about it.  This person likely spent a lot of time thinking about what they wanted and putting together a script they could use comfortably.  They were probably experiencing a great deal of anxiety about the whole thing, which caused them to rush.

Another time, I was dealing with someone who had been referred to us by their family doctor.  The doctor had given them the wrong name and the person was getting increasingly more upset as I tried to explain that the particular clinician they were asking for no longer worked at our office but we had other people who could help.  It took a good twenty minutes before this person could move past the fact that I could not book an appointment with the doctor they'd been told to ask for.  In the end, I gave them the number for that person's new practice and hoped everything would go smoothly after that, since I doubt they would have been able to handle another setback.

We've all seen the news stories about public explosions directed at people with autism.  I don't believe they are excusable but I can understand how a situation such as that might develop, particularly if the exploding person doesn't have much experience with autism.  It is frustrating to have someone insisting that you are wrong because what you are telling them doesn't match what they expected.  Or to have someone talking over you while you are trying to explain something to them.  Social niceties may be useless information, but they are conversational lubricant.  Without them, the exchange of information can come across as hostile.

I've been merciless in drilling our boys to be polite and they're very good with their pleases and thank yous.  But there's more to politeness and acceptable interactions than please and thank you.  I hope there are lots of tolerant people with understanding and grace to catch them when they slip.

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