My Autism, Social Training and Twinkling Lights

If you are not on the autism spectrum maybe I can help you understand your loved one’s visual detail that brings such delight, but others may not understand. It’s this detail that can bring a difficulty with understanding context, like in social situations.

I have a fascination with twinkling light that draws me and pulls me into my mind so I notice little else.  I walk to them when I see them, I stare, and I watch over and over.

Try this exercise:

With the speakers off, play the above commercial, while focusing really hard on each twinkling light.  Focus only on every detail of each light, so the objects and the background disappear.  Notice as many lights as you can.  Then play it over and over focusing ever more on each light as it unfolds.  Observe the light growing and disappearing.  As each light moves, notice the trail of light it leaves behind.

With each playing of the commercial, you will notice that you start to have less recall of the shapes and the background but your mind will fill up the lines of light as the twinkling unfolds.  It may be difficult at first, since neurotypical people think in context.  Your mind may at first jump to the objects and the entire picture.  Try your hardest to focus on the lights so you can understand your loved one’s mind a little better.

My visual thinking enables me to see every detail of light automatically.  If you are not on the spectrum, you may have to work at it over a longer period of time to learn how to achieve it.  Or, you could train your brain to learn certain techniques, but without ever learning to do it automatically or properly.

Such Detail in Social Situations

Now, when I try to behave like a neurotypical person in social situations, I have to really work at it.  Over the years, I have learned one social rule at a time.  I rarely learn by “figuring it out” because that would require that my mind can understand social situations in context, much like seeing the bird, flower, tree, and background in the twinkling bird commercial before noticing every little light.

The concept of “making a first impression” mystifies me.  When I meet someone, I know nothing about them so if 30 seconds later, someone asks me what I think of the person, I would have to say, “I don’t know.”  I would also not understand the purpose of asking what I think of the person.

Evidently, neurotypical people get an “impression” of a person in the first 30 seconds.  They have summed up the person into a whole impression that they can talk about.  They have also made decisions about their continued interaction with this person.  They have decided if this person is safe or not.  I don’t know what this person is “like,” whatever that means.

Me?  I usually don’t remember faces and haven’t picked up on the non-verbal facial cues.  I’ll notice and remember details of jewelry (especially if they are twinkly!), clothing, physical size, etc.  Based on these details, I don’t know how I’m supposed to interact with this person.  I don’t know what to say or not to say.  I don’t know if I should walk away or continue to talk.  Also, in how many seconds or minutes am I supposed to walk away?  How long am I supposed to interact?

My brain is running through every social rule I know trying to figure out what to do.  If I don’t know what to do, I talk incessantly or say nothing and walk away.

I am still going through what I call “Social Training University” and learning the rules that create social interactions.  I’ve learned so many I can apply almost consistently.  Hey, I’m not necessarily using the rule in the right situation with the right people, but at least I have learned the rule.

The Science Behind It

This blog was sparked by the paragraphs below from this article in Science Daily.

“Autistic people usually can’t grasp the full meaning, or context, of a situation,” she said. “This often leads to difficulties in social settings, as making inferences from what someone else says or thinks is extremely difficult for an autistic person.”

“Our studies strongly suggest that autistic people need more emphasis on and explanation about the context of different situations,” said Hillier, who leads a social skills support group for people with milder forms of autism. “We can teach them how to interpret different situations.”

About Eileen Parker 100 Articles
Support a starving writer, by buying my current book, The Weighted Blanket Guide, on Amazon. I'm a writer working on my fourth book. I live in the Twin Cities with my husband. Between us, we have four children.

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