Autistic Iris learning to become normal

In general life consisted of Iris trying to be social, trying to go out with the girls she had grown up with, meeting boys, going to the movies and dances. She handled it very well, but she was so insensitive to all the unspoken assumptions that she often put her foot in her mouth. Jokes and irony were totally lost on her. She never even noticed it but her friends were sometimes ashamed of her and scolded her. Physical touching was also a problem. She had learned that she was not supposed to run away, but to stay and talk, which she did. As soon as somebody got too forward she would start to discuss all kinds of issues, and often the boys tired of it so she escaped.


Iris also struggled a lot with what you should like. She had learned that you should like different things. You should like being cute, and you should be delighted and smile when people said you were cute. You just had to do that. On that subject there was no choice. You should not like when young girls used make-up or wore long pants and one should not like parties and pleasures. But Iris had no opinion on any of this. The difficulty for her was that you had to express your feelings with your face and whole body. But Iris always looked unchangeably contented. So when she in order to be ordinary said she disliked something at random nobody believed her. She wasn’t received as skeptically when she asserted that she liked something. The big problem was to like and dislike the correct things. There she missed constantly.

Ever wonder why you are so different

This is the title of a post by Kate Goldfield on her aspiefrommaine blog

In it she talks about how AS people have trouble knowing what to say in conversations, when to start speaking and when to stop speaking.

In her book A different childhood Iris Johansson describes how she handled this problem by memorizing conversation starters and conversation enders as well as the structure of social conversations:

…She also practiced conversation starters. A good starter is: “Where are you off to?” or “Do you want come along …?” or “What do we do now?” or “How do you like …?”

…The problem was what if she got a return question. She learned to duck such questions by starting to tell about something, anything whatever. She had also figured out exactly how long she could talk before it started to bore the other one. She used to ask if the person was in a hurry because then she had to shorten her story. 

When the other person in turn began to tell her about something Iris didn’t understand a thing. Everything in her thoughtless talk was without substance to Iris with no fixed points to focus on. Then she would wait until she heard a word that meant something to her. Then, when the other stopped talking Iris posed a question about that word: “You said something about…

…People loved to flaunt their knowledge and a good starter was to say: “Do you know anything about …” In this manner she could milk the other person for talk. Some people didn’t fall for it but on some others it worked very well. She started to seek out people she could talk with this way. She gathered up everything she learned and combined it with the old stuff she knew and created images and films in her head that she could call up when needed.

If the other kept talking too long, it got awkward and then Iris used one of her pre-learned enders: “It was nice to see you” or “Apropos of nothing …” or “By the way I have to …”. That way she could put an end to it. 

It helped Iris that she has a practically a photographic memory, so she was always able to retrieve the information needed for the particular situation at hand.