Mental Health

Constantly Confused – Life as an Autistic Person


Being autistic in this world can result in feeling constantly confused. Let’s talk about what that can be like.

This confusion is present in many parts of my daily life. Mainly when interacting with other people, which is something which tends to be unavoidable, of course.

Sarcasm can go right over my head. I struggle to discern if people are being serious or sarcastic. Which can lead to me being told I’m gullible. But wow, can it be complicated. Especially in a work environment, when you’re not sure which instructions are serious. I tend to pick up on which individuals are sarcastic by observing their interactions with others and the responses when I take them seriously. Learning this can be really helpful. Except, if I believe they’re sarcastic and they’re actually serious, this can lead to trouble…

Jokes can also go over my head. Sometimes I’m participating in, or observing, a conversation and I’m utterly confused. I’m not always sure if they’re bantering, or joking, or if they’re serious and arguing! When the people joking laugh, I take it as a joke and laugh too. But I’ve learned that people don’t always laugh when they’re joking. Sometimes they keep a completely straight face. After all, I’ve also learned it’s not “cool” to laugh at your own jokes (why not…if they’re funny?) And this can be completely confusing.

Confusion also occurs when I completely miss subtle cues. The other day I was finding a situation difficult and the person I was with kept asking me if I wanted a tea or coffee. I repeated twice that I don’t like hot drinks, and was confused because they knew this! Turns out, they were trying to make an excuse to help me get out of the situation with them and have a bit of a debrief about it. When they explained this to me afterwards, it seemed obvious! That subtle cue went right over my head.

On a similar topic, people like to hint at things, without stating what they mean. I think this is often a politeness thing. They don’t want to ask for what they want, they want me to realise and ask. But it would massively help if they could state outright what they need!

People are confusing. Often their communication is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions and gosh, do I hate a contradiction. I need things to be clear. Anything unclear and my brain goes into overdrive. Especially when I have to figure out what they mean.

Another thing which is completely confusing is people’s hidden agendas. If someone does something, I don’t tend to read too much into it. But turns out, there is often hidden meanings/messages/agendas behind people’s actions that they don’t make obvious!

Sometimes I am in a situation and I realise I don’t have a script or process of how to respond to the situation I am in. This can really throw me, and is where I feel I “lack common sense”. But actually, those social cues which come naturally to others just don’t come to me. Once I’ve been in one situation once, or observed how others respond to the situation, I am completely fine. Because I store that in my memory as a formula, and can access it for future interactions. Then the next time I appear to sail through it!

I am often confused because I can find it hard to understand why people don’t see certain things as extremely important, or why people think it’s okay to let something go that is wrong. I simply can’t. If I think something is unjust, I struggle to let go.

Living life with this confusion is exhausting. Every interaction involves my brain spinning and trying to process whether the interaction is sarcastic, a joke or serious. Whether the person has good or poor intentions. Whether there is a hidden agenda. I don’t understand how other people’s brains just process and filter this information without difficulty. Like, apparently assessing situations in this depth isn’t something everyone has to do? Some people can just read the room or understand when someone is joking.

I do a lot to try and adjust to non-autistic communication patterns, and it would be really helpful if non-autistic people could try to make my life easier too. This doesn’t mean treating me like a child or as if I’m ‘stupid’. But it could include not laughing at someone if they don’t get the joke or sarcasm, being straightforward when it comes to instructions and requests, and acknowledging that sometimes communication is difficult!


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