Autistic people do not work well with others in a basic sense: they do not have the basic tools that others have to empathize with or to understand their fellow human beings. Oh there is an awareness of emotion, and we are not all totally hopeless in social situations, but our sense of emotion and how it is expressed is really quite basic, almost vestigial. This is hard for non-autistic people (neuro-typical to some) to understand, and some may even take offense at our “coldness” or believe that we are just cruel. We are not. Of course there are cruel autistic people out there who manipulate others, but that is the case with any human being. What I would ask family, friends, and co-workers of autistic people to realize is that we do not want to hurt others, and we do not NOT care about others. We just care in a different way. Autistic people can often be incredibly good listeners and can be quite the physical comforters. Someone I know once said that we are like security blankets: we are not much for conversation but we can make you feel warm and we never ignore you or abandon you.
Empathy is a valued trait in human beings partly because most human beings can come to it naturally…An autistic person does not, but this is not a moral choice. I wish I could empathize with my wife on certain issues, and not being able to do so will always lead to some misunderstandings. At the same time though, it can be so comforting and, well, feel so safe to be able to shut out the anger and sadness and panic of the “real” world and its emotional problems. I live for long periods of time on my own in my head, not out of necessity or out of hatred for humanity, but because I love my head and what I can do in there. In my mind I have no restrictions, in fact I am advantaged by my autism in that I can vividly recall ideas and images and thoughts in ways that some of my peers can only dream about. I can make connections and find patterns that would never occur to other people, and I believe that makes me a better artist.
There are times when I am honestly surprised by the kindness of some people, and other times when I am taken aback by their callousness. Some people do not like people who are different. I have had a long struggle with dealing with my autism, especially considering it was only confirmed in me at age 21. Since my diagnosis I have found quickly who will stand by me and who will take my diagnosis as an excuse to alienate or belittle me. I am not asking for pity, and it really does not bother me much to cut such people out of my life (one of the perks of autism for me is that I can cut people I dislike out of my life rather easily). What my relatively minor struggles have shown me is that there is a large and much more afflicted and affected community of Autistic people out there, low and high functioning, who lack the support and the kindness that I have experienced from my family and from my closest friends. I feel for these people because I know what it is like to feel alone and to feel like an alien. So I do not think it is to much to ask that non-autistic people take a moment to realize that their autistic peers are not trying to frustrate or anger them. On the contrary, they are often trying harder then anyone else could possibly imagine to just get by in a world not made for them.
So, next time you interact with someone with autism take a moment and try to realize that whatever confusion or frustration you feel, they are feeling tenfold, and often without any recourse to be heard or understood. So listen, and do not judge. Talk with them not as an alien or an oddity, but as a person who has some limitations in relation to you. Do not punish them for not having what you have. Instead, use your own typical nature to your advantage and make an effort to help autistic people make themselves understood. We cannot always speak each others “language” but non-autistic people are in a unique position to make the lives of autistic people better just by listening, and by not judging.