Things not directed at others, but seen to be.

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[I’m sorry about not having the blog carnival post out yet. I’ve been working on it. Today is going to be a busy day. I will try to get it done by the end of the day.]

Someone wrote something privately where they referenced my last post. I can’t reference what they wrote directly, because it was private, but it gave me an idea I wanted to post about in addition to my last post. (And I want to give them credit for reminding me even if it’s anonymous.)

And by the way, I know that in this post I appear to be fitting a number of stereotypes about autistic people. Please be aware that not all autistic people fit these stereotypes, and that even I might not fit them in the exact way the stereotypes run, and that someone not fitting these stereotypes does not mean they’re “less autistic” or something.

It’s interesting to me that when doing something in the presence of other people, there is an assumption that the thing is done in order to affect them in some way, or as deliberate communication with them in particular, when it might not be something like that at all.

One thing that leaps immediately to mind is the fact that I used to dress in an extremely unusual way when I could get away with it. I particularly enjoyed soft fuzzy things and shiny things. I also at various points in my life liked to wear jewelry that I could play with all day, such as bells and things that caught the light in particular ways, and I liked hanging things out of my hair because I liked the way it looked if I saw a mirror.

I guess the first time things puzzled me in that regard was when my mother used to ask me, when I came home from school, “Did anyone notice your ______ today?” where ______ was some aspect of my appearance that had been changed recently. I was extremely puzzled by this, because I did not do these things in order to be noticed, and I also didn’t notice whether anyone noticed something about me or not. That wasn’t why I did things like this. (Edited to add: My mom emailed me to tell me that she didn’t mean that I was doing it for attention, but rather something else.)

Other people seemed to think I did these things to be noticed, too, and I heard a lot of scathing remarks along the lines of “You just look like that for attention.” Actually, I found compliments somewhat aversive, and also found comments along the lines of “You just do that for attention” aversive, so if people’s reactions had been my main motivating factor I would have dressed much more plainly and typically so as not to stand out and draw comments.

I have also always done a whole lot of things with the sole goal (if conscious or not) of reducing overload, comprehending things more, and being more comfortable, as well as just because I found them fun.

Once, during a loud performance by a school band, I clapped my hands over my ears in a rhythmic way. Pretty soon, unbeknownst to me, my entire class had joined in, presumably to see if it was something fun or not. I got in trouble for apparently instigating everyone else to do this, when I hadn’t even been thinking about anyone else. (I also was unaware it would be construed as disrespectful to the band.)

I’ve done the same sort of thing with rhythmic blinking, which I used to do a lot of in order to make the blobs of color generated by my retinas dance around in the air. I often move things in my peripheral vision to ward off migraine-induced visual overload. I used to handle having too wide a field of vision pretty simply — by taking all my hair and putting it around my face like Cousin It. And I move my body in a wide variety of ways, some more voluntary than others, in reaction to what’s around me but not with any intent of influencing the people around me or creating any particular image of me in their minds.

(One possible exception being that I used to have a compulsion to make people utter a particular word — the word changed from one point to the next — but part of the compulsion was to not let them know that this was what I was doing. And even in that, the goal wasn’t really the attention itself, but a weird compulsive desire to hear a particular word. I have only met one other person with this particular compulsion, so I doubt it’s a really common one.)

I can also remember in school, having to (I’m not sure why) flap my sandals so that they would hit the pavement hard with a loud slapping sound. I couldn’t seem to walk any other way even if I tried. (This was right around the same age I was developing vocal tics, so maybe that’s my answer. Or maybe I just liked the sound.) This confused even me. But I remember my teacher at the time, explaining to me, slowly and loudly and in a sing-song voice, that I did this, “To. Gain. The. Attention. Of. Other. People.” The sound of that sentence is embedded in my brain because I heard it so much that year, always repeated in the exact same voice. At that point in my life I did not know what the word “attention” meant (my receptive vocabulary was pretty bad), nor could I really understand the concept of wanting someone’s attention in that way even if I’d understood the word, and all I could really understand was the tone of disapproval in the teacher’s voice, but also the tone of satisfied knowingness, like she had caught me out at something. This puzzled and troubled me for a long time, and I wondered what I was always doing that was so wrong.

If I’d known what attention meant, I’d probably have tried to avoid it. Not that I didn’t like any attention, but then, as now, I prefer friendly and quiet sorts of attention. Loud congratulatory sorts of attention made me cringe (some still do), as does the “negative attention” that people so often assumed I sought as a kid. Direct communication of an emotional kind, even of a positive sort, and especially if it made reference to something supposedly going on inside my head (whether it was or not), was often the sort of thing that confused and scared me. It’s not other people’s fault for not knowing that, certainly, but I still react that way, which is one of the things I find pretty aversive about publicity. It still makes me want to squirm around and run off, although certainly less intensely than it used to. I prefer most of my attention to be mutual focus on something rather than focus directly on me, and I’ve to my knowledge always been like this, I’ve just built up some amount of armor against it over time to survive in a world where direct regard of certain sorts is a matter of course. I like having friends, I like spending time with people, I like when my friends care about me, I like caring about my friends, I just don’t like certain kinds of attention, especially the kinds people usually mean when they call someone “attention-seeking”.

There are also plenty of things where I’m doing something in reaction to some aspect of other people, but not in order to provoke a reaction out of other people. Unfortunately even the things I do to avoid attention come across to some people as attention-seeking.

What I’ve found really interesting (and by turns frightening, amusing, exasperating, and annoying) about all this is that people seem to assume that the vast majority of what another person does is directed at them in some way, or at least directed at making a specific impression on them. While I now, out of self-consciousness, react to my fears about what other people think (and what they might do to me based on what they think, more to the point), the vast majority of the strange things I do have nothing to do with what other people think (or if they do, it’s in a roundabout fashion, not in the way people would assume). There is often an internal reason, or several internal reasons, for doing what I do, sometimes known to me and sometimes not, but only very rarely does it have anything to do with influencing or manipulating people or gaining their attention or even communicating with them. (And those things that are genuinely intended to communicate, you have to know me pretty well — or know that system of communication pretty well — to differentiate them from other things.)

I am very curious as to how much of most people’s actions are directed at the goal of gaining the attention of or manipulating other people, because the amount I get accused of things like that seems all out of proportion to the amount that I actually do it (which in both cases is probably less than most other people do it, in some cases far less). I’ve encountered a few people who even have read (and believed) some theory that practically everything a person does is designed to get them various units of positive and negative attention (I can’t remember the exact words for this, but there was a whole jargon around it), and I found that a pretty alarming and egotistical-sounding construction of the world, and doubted it could possibly be true. Interactions with such people tend to be frustrating because they take every single thing a person could possibly do and assign bizarre motivations to it. (Some of these people, by the way, were autistic, so I’m not posing this as an autistic/non-autistic divide, if anyone’s wondering.)

But I don’t know how much of most people’s actions is geared towards gaining various sorts of attention. Most of my actions don’t have much to do with attention at all, but many of the ones that do have more to do with warding it off (my first interpretation of many kinds of attention, positive and negative, is as if it’s a threat) than gaining it. Given the amount that many people (both autistic and non-autistic) see “attention” as the primary motivation of most people as far as I can tell, I wonder exactly how commonplace it is (I also wonder what’s so bad about wanting attention, in people who want it — why is “attention-seeking” an insult in a social species?). It sound frankly pretty exhausting, I don’t think I would be able to constantly measure and adapt my body to influence other people or gain attention from them, even if I really wanted to. Are other people constantly doing that? If so, where do they get the energy? Or is it that they actually believe the attention they themselves bestow on others is so pleasant to be on the receiving end of that everyone must want it? Do they really not see how many of a person’s actions can be for internal (not necessarily selfish, just not done for the attention, manipulation, influence, or gratification of others) reasons that have nothing to do with other people at all?

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

16 responses »

  1. When I was a child I used to eat very slowly (actually, who am I kidding, I STILL eat very slowly :D) and was told it was done for attention. It wasn’t, I couldn’t have cared less what people thought of my speed of eating and the reasons behind it. Cosidering that even I don’t know why I eat slowly it’s a pretty fair bet ot say that somebody else won’t do either, so the only attention would be based, in all probability, on erroneous assumptions.
    Recently, I was very shocked to read that people in workplaces and in social groups often make friends partly as a way of climbing the social ladder (which is impossible to define anyway). As far as I’m concerned you make friends with someone because you get on well with them and you (often) have a common ground of interests. I can’t believe that people make friends partly because it might help them get a better job, or more pay, or because being friends with someone who is perceived as important might mean that they themselves are seen as important. I’m hoping that the people who have written that friendships are partly based on this are very much mistaken. But if they are right, then surely that’s more of a strong indication of the need for attention and acceptance than somebody slapping their sandals because they make a nice noise.
    And for the record, I’ve never tried to get somebody to say something because I liked the sound, but there are words and cadences that I’ll return to again and again, whether it’s repeatedly saying the word “hello” as a child, or playing a song just to listen to a particular few bars of music.

  2. I don’t know how hard the average person works to influence others (assuming that they need to get attention in order to influence others), but according to received psychological “truth,” most people believe that others spend a lot of time thinking about them, whereas most of those other people are NOT thinking about them.

    So, say you have 10 people in a room, including Joe, Mary, Bob and Celia… Joe will think that everyone is thining about him most, and Mary will think that everyone is thinking about her the most, and Bob will think that everyone is thinking about him the most and so forth. In a room of 50 people, it could still be where each person thinks that others are thinking about them the most, which is why people get nervous and self-conscioius in many situations where no one even noticed that they sneezed, or spilled a drink or whatever.

    I think that’s just kind of the background status of how groups work, obviously, if out of ten people one is doing something very different, like suddenly falls to the floor or is singing or dancing when the others are not, then most people would agree that most attention is going to the unusual person, still they overestimate how much attention they are each being given.

    One more thing, your mom’s question, “Did anyone notice what you wore at school today,” is a pretty typical mom question. People get new shoes or a new haircut and because the thing is new others will tend to notice it, and frequently people will comment, “Oh, new shoes!” or “Oh, new haircut!” and that can be good or bad, like “Why in the world did you get that haircut, you look ridiculous…”

    But, people do notice new things sometimes and it’s something to mention to someone else, like your mom might have thought you would answer, “Yeah, Sally noticed my new fuzzy sweater and said she liked it and she wants one just like it.”

    It’s a typical kind of chit-chat topic. Your mom might have been worried that someone had made fun of you for the new bells or crystals or whatever.

    But, of course, I don’t know why your mom asked you if others noticed.

  3. I’ve heard that before about supposedly doing something just for attention. It always puzzled me because I often tried to be in the background.

    The shoe thing is funny though. I tend to wear things I like over and over again and in school had these black leather shoes with a small but heavy heel. I would walk at a certain pace and the heel would bang on the floor. I realized that others noticed when (somewhat jokingly) the whole class started banging in rhythm when I walked up to the teacher’s desk. I also speak very rythmically. I don’t know if it is a pausing or searching for the right phrasing when talking. I don’t even realize it until someone mentions it – and sometimes as a compliment and sometimes just to laugh because the intonation just doesn’t fit with what I am saying.

  4. I am accused of “wanting attention” when I am raising an issue the other person does not want to address. Main people:

    My mother, when I was a child. Me: I’m cold. Mom: You can’t be, as it is not in my opinion cold. You just want attention. OK. Let’s play ball.
    Me: But I’m cold! Mom: Stop complaining! I’m giving you the attention you want – we’re playing ball!

    A shrink I saw in my thirties. Me: I am not satisfied with what is going on here. Shrink: You just want attention. OK, tell me your dissatisfactions, I will listen, you will get your attention. Me: I want actual, focused attention on my concerns, and I want something done about them. Shrink: That is impossible. You would have to be older or a man not to be suffering from hysteria. Therefore, I will assume that any concern you have is mere hysteria. I will listen to you, but not address any of the issues you raise, because that would be to indulge you too far.

    An X. Me: I am unhappy in this relationship. We will either have to make some changes, or I will leave. X: You are just trying to get attention, and I will not indulge that. Me: Good-bye, then. X: Don’t you dare! You do not have my permission! You are just trying to get attention! Me: … X: It is unfair! You do not want my attention! You are trying to get my attention by acting as though you do not want my attention! I need and demand access to you! You need my attention, you really do!

  5. I have heard plenty of “You are just doing that to get attention” and I often second-guess myself to see if I did something to “just get attention.” Recently it has involved my emails to other autistic people. I will write something because I have a strong urge to write whatever it was right then… usually tending to be really long-winded…and then I don’t like how I wrote it, and I think “Maybe I just did that to get attention” (which is somehow separate from *communication*). So I write back to the person to tell them I don’t expect a response. Sometimes I get one, sometimes not (then wonder if I wrote the second one just to get attention, so sometimes do NOT write back to someone I just wrote an email to even though I keep thinking I should). I can drive myself nuts over this. I am probably writing THIS just to get attention. Probably I am since I once wrote you what I thought was a stupid email….then did not write back to clarify it as I thought I was just trying to get attention. Well, screw it, I AM writing this!

    I DO know I want to communicate with other autistic people. Is communication equated with “attention-seeking?” When is it not?

    The whole attention thing is confusing. “Attention” seems to be defined in whatever way the person hurling the accusation of it wants it to be. Or maybe not and I just don’t get it.

    It might be that “attention-seeking behavior” (or dress) is anything that is not bland and predictable.

    I used to live in a place where it was very safe to wear unusual clothing or “mismatched” clothing and I would pick my clothing based on what I thought was really really cool! Like a striped shirt and plaid skirt, two pairs of socks with my sandals. One pair would be the red sock with the blue one over it, with some of the red showing. And on the other leg I would have the blue sock, with the red over it, with some of the blue showing. Who REALLY cares whether it “matches”? I did that ON PURPOSE, of course, and was sometimes told that I was doing it to get ATTENTION. I did know that people often liked to see what I was wearing, so I did get some positive attention. But mostly I wore it because it was SO COOL! I liked to look at my legs with the reverse double socks during the day, a lot. I would look at one leg, then the other, then back again. Very stimmy.

    Now I work part-time in a place where I have to ask my husband before I go out the door if it’s “OK to wear this.” I do have to spend a bit of time trying to not do some of the things I like, certain movements, even looking blissfully happy at seeing a beautiful tree…. sometimes I get the idea that one does not bliss out over a tree in “public” (“one” in this case being a “neurotypical” person especially one climbing the career ladder)…but I am able to do them at home a bit. I also still am tending to make sure my mouth is not hanging open… ever since I read the post about frugality I have realized that even that is a big waste of energy. So now I both have to remember to keep my mouth closed and then have to remember to NOT keep it closed when I want my energy for something else. Am I opening my mouth to get attention (as a subtle way of letting people know I am on the autism or at least the dyspraxia spectrum)? Or am I trying to avoid it when I keep my mouth closed? Probably so in that case. It IS exhausting, actually.

    Rhonda

  6. My comment “Well screw it, I AM writing this!” is actually something to myself, in a way, just in case anyone thinks it was directed to them. My second-guessing was making me a little nutty so I was trying to say “At least I realize I am writing this, and trying to be as accurate as I can!” I was trying to get myself out of the loop of thinking of as many variations as possible on the concept of “am I doing THIS, or THIS, or even THIS, to get attention?”

    Rhonda

  7. People talk about “attention seeking behavior” as if it means something singular & coherent, but I don’t think it’s either. There seems to be acceptable & non-acceptible ASB and both seem totally arbitrary. And, the acceptable kind is never called ASB — it’s fashionable, artistic, stylish, intriguing, eccentric, fun, etc. So, all ASB gets talked about as if it’s bad.

    The trouble is, the “bad” ASB seems to usually work out to be the same thing as the good, with only someone’s subjective judgement making them “different”.

    I guess my point is that I think there is good ASB, even if it is not called that. I.e. it’s impossible to communicate with someone if you don’t get their attention first; they may not even know you’re there.
    I think it’s a terrible mind game that all ASB is always considered bad, in all circumstances. (It’s also too convenient a tool for ignoring all meaning in another person’s communication.)

  8. bullet: the friendships thing was something I first discovered at university, talking both to people I knew and even the careers department. We were supposed to spend our time at uni ‘networking’ for our future careers (it was an old posh uni, so there were people there who were well connected). I was truly gobsmacked at the idea that a large proportion of my peers were choosing who they hung round with not because they liked them, but because these people had connections that would be of future financial use.

    I don’t know that I’m ‘most people’, but I do indeed engage in ‘attention seeking behaviour’ (also NT if that makes a difference). It’s difficult trying to analyse something that I do quite naturally, but I’ll try. I think it’s partly to do with peer acceptance (they like my shirt, the herd likes me, am good member of herd). Some of it is also very visceral – when someone gives me positive attention it gives me a ‘warm & fuzzy’ feeling. Negative attention can also serve the same purpose – obnoxious, I know, but if my mode of dress when a teenager caught the attention of someone I didn’t like I’d get the same warm and fuzzy feeling. It didn’t particularly matter whether the attention came from strangers, as long as it was the reaction I was hoping for from that particular group (positive or negative, depending). I may do it more than most people – I tend to assume that I’m crap at everything, and look to external attention/praise for reinforcement, so I could be a bad example. Yes, it is exhausting. I’ve spent time trying to accept myself as I am, rather than looking for this external acceptance. But as I teenager I was desperately trying to adapt and change all the time so I could be something that would be ‘acceptable’. Sometimes I do worry, like rr, about whether I’m just being ‘attention-seeking’, but I’m trying not to.

    I have no idea why it’s such a bad thing when so many people do it. Is it just a case that *your* attention seeking behaviour is wrong, but *mine* is perfectly ok?

    And also, of course, that NTs can’t ‘mind read’, we just delude ourselves that we can.

  9. In my opinion, the term ‘attention seeking’ is too broad to be really useful. I think you need to know why they want attention.
    Here are some examples:
    My cat will seek attention by meowing, bumping up against me, and if I still don’t pay attention to him, scratching at my papers that have fallen on the ground (which I really hate). Once I give him attention, he leads me to his food dish and looks between it and me meowing. So clearly, he isn’t looking for attention just for the sake of attention, but because he wants to communicate a desire for food to me.
    When I’m having flashbacks, I’ll do desperate things to get attention (a few days ago I beat myself on the arm with a fork). It’s because I’m feeling this desperate sadness and terror mixed up together and I know the only way I’ll be able to calm down is with the help of my parents. At the same time I’m so scared of seeming vulnerable that I can’t just tell them what I need, they have to figure it out on their own. The suggested treatment for attention-seeking behavior is to ignore them, but if my parents managed to ignore me in this state, I’d probably end up killing myself. And the wrong kind of attention only makes me start screaming at them. What I’m really seeking isn’t precisely attention, it’s love.
    When my parents are arguing, my brother will often pick a fight with me. My motrher says he does this to get attention. The reason is, I suspect, that he is scared of them arguing and wants to distract them from their argument. If he and I are the center of the argument, it’s not as scary for him because he has more control over it.
    When I’m excited about something I’ll often run over and eagerly tell my parents about it. This is attention-seeking, but is considered normal. It’s called ‘spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment’ and is something autistics are described as lacking (and I have met some people who seem to have no need to share their interests with others, but I’m not like that).

  10. personally i have tried to avoid any sort of “attention seeking behaviour”, in other words, I would rather be a wall flower, than dancing in the middle of the floor alone.

    My first reaction to people deciding that you were seeking attention was that they did not understand or want to understand what was going on so they chose to give it an easy label out of frustration and to deflect any sort of responsibility of the issue since it was your “fault”.

    My second reaction to all this attention seeking labelling was “who cares”. Unless the person if of great value to me, I can chose to accept their observation or discount it. I usually dont put too much emphasis on someone who does not know me well. My opinion is just as valid as theirs, in fact, more so since I know myself better.

    If people chose to ignore or react out of ignorance or fear to something they do not understand then this is their loss. Unfortunately, when we are young, or vulnerable, sometimes these people can have lasting affects on our lives. I found it very disturbing to hear that a teacher would continually torment you with her so-called judgement of being attention seeking. She didnt take a step back once to re-evaluate her statement when she saw it had no affect on you, nor did she question why.

    Its really very subjective and highly personal, we all have different perceptions. Not all of them are true just because they are voiced, or even voiced by many.

  11. I can remember people saying that about others ” they are just doing it for attention” which always puzzled me. Couldnt a person do something just because they wanted to do it ? Why was it such a crime to have attention. Plus the same people seemed to think that attention and seeking comfort or affection were the same thing. I could never understand why some children could wail about getting a minor bruise and everyone would express sympathy but if someone else wanted sympathy because they had been unjustly attacked then they were accused of “wanting attention”.
    I think the “wanting attention” accusation is really the equivalent of saying ” you want us to treat you with the same respect that we expect from our friends and family. We have decided that you dont deserve that respect and so we will ignore you ” To me what it really translates to is that people dont want to accept that everyone has something to contribute. If they can demean a person long enough maybe they will go away. Then they wont have to deal with this person on an equal level.
    As for why NT’s think that everyone is focusing on them.In part I think thats the way a lot of people operate. They have to track the latest hairstyles and clothing and sports etc etc. So because THEY track what everyone else is doing (so they can stay in the game) they assume everyone else is too. I have probably insulted more people because I didnt notice their new shoes or hairstyle or new whatever that they got. To me thats not important. But to someone who is trying to get on top of the heap its important. Of course thats a whole nother issue as to why its a sign of maturity to trample over other people to “get to the top”. Why not just try to be the best you can be and encourage others to do the same ???

  12. I have never thought that much of most people’s actions are directed at getting some sort of attention. I don’t particularly want attention. Like you, Amanda, I prefer mutusl focus on something rather than attention being focuses on me. I don’t know why your teacher at school thought you flapped your sandals to gain the attention of other people. Maybe she believed that people are attention-seeking and that was the only reason for your sandal flapping.

    I would have thought that according to Kanner’s criterion for early infantile autism of a profound lack of desire for affective contact with other people, that the stereotype for autistic people would be that they would not want attention because they live in a world of their own.

    It may be that extraverts seek attention, while introverts don’t want it.

    Attention-seeking is regarded in some way as being self-centered and self-regarding. Not being attention-seeking is thought to be more virtuous – modest, self-effacing and humble – and more spiritual in some way. Maybe it’s a class thing. Attention-seeking is considered to be in ‘bad taste’. Middle class people are thought not to be attention-seeking, or they do it discreetly; while working class people are regarded as brash and ‘in your face’.

    It maybe that people who have a strong sense of self-worth and high self-esteem are content not to want attention.

    I don’t believe that in a group of people in a room each person would think that the other people are thinking about them.

    A slight adaptation of the Carly Simon song has been going through my head in connection with this post: ‘You’re so vain you think this post’s all about you.’ Though not thinking about anyone.

  13. I think Kanner got it wrong when he assumed autistic people lacked that desire, but yes, the stereotype does run that way.

    The boy I mentioned in the previous post spent most of the day sitting in one place rocking and repeating the same syllable over and over. However, because the staff saw some of what he did as “attention-seeking”, and because he grabbed people’s hands to pull them places (which is a very standard thing for autistic people to do), I heard them start telling each other that he wasn’t “really” autistic (their knowledge of autism was limited to what they’d seen on some TV show about Raun Kaufman from what I could gather of their conversations). Even though he behaved outwardly quite a lot more like the stereotype (especially in an institutional environment, which I think is the source of some of the modern stereotypes) than most other autistic people I’ve seen.

    I also think that most people want at least some attention, that this is natural for a social species, and that many people who think they don’t want any attention whatsoever, actually probably would find that without any human contact for a really really long time they’d probably start missing it, even if they wouldn’t miss it as much as other people.

  14. I am not a doctor or anything but I tend to assume autism is the complete reverse of attention-seeking.

    Autism seems to be extreme self-centeredness to the point of not caring at all what others think. Children born with “severe” autism probably are not aware that there is anything outside themselves to aware of, and most of the early years are spent by NT parents trying to get the child’s attention and engage them to think about more than themselves.

    Noncommunicative people with autism are likely not mentally retarded.. they simply do not care what other people want, and are generally oblivious to the wants and desires of others, including the desire to communicate and socialize.

    To me, there’s a big difference between being mentally incompetant, and finding the cracks in the plaster wall to be significantly more interesting than what some self-important doctor is demanding at the moment. “NOW what does this fool in a lab coat want? Can’t he see I am busy?? The topography of this plaster is exceptionally intruiging!”

    For the deeply introverted, facilitated communication is probably the best way to get and engage their attention since it involves physically grabbing the arm/hand of the autistic person and moving it in certain repetitive communicative patterns, and then the autistic person may finally start to acknowledge at least the FC’er and try to understand why this FC’er is moving their hand around in this strange way. “Oh, it’s you agin today. So why are you moving my hand like this? Oh, you want to TALK? You want to talk to ME?? I see now. I see…”

  15. Javik, autistic people are not necessarily unaware of or uninterested in other people at all, even when people assume us to be. That’s a big stereotype but it has almost nothing to do with the reality of our lives in general. (There can be a grain of truth to it, but the way you’ve described it, with autistic people gradated by levels of awareness of other people, does not capture the reality of it.) That’s a way people see us because they don’t see how we react to our environments, they see a warped version of it because they don’t see the cues they normally get.

  16. The social psychologist who I just did undergraduate reasearch with is famous for building what he calls self-presentation theory. This is the idea that most of our social behavior (i.e. things we do when we are not alone) is intended to help us craft and maintain an image or identity. We have our own idea of what we are like, and we are trying desperately to make sure other people’s idea of what we are like matches up to it.

    I think this theory has some applications, but I think it’s a bit rediculous to attribute ALL social behavior to self-presentational concerns. I also imagine that the degree to which behavior is motivated by getting other people to have a certain opinion of you varies greatly by individual and depending on the context.

    One way of measuring this personality-wise is the Meyer’s Briggs introversion-extroversion dimension. I get lonely easily and like to have a lot of friends, but when I take the MB I score as very introverted. This is because of my “loud thoughts,” meaning I pay more attention to my own musings than I do to the social cues going on around me. Once I was living with a roomate in a dorm, and I saw on her desk a letter she was writing to a friend that said some mean things about me. I started talking to myself loudly about how rude this was, how I didn’t need her as a friend anyway, etc. I didn’t realize until about five mintues into this that she was laying in her bed the whole time. Very embarrassing.

    In terms of behavior meant to convey something to other people, I think there’s a big difference between trying to communicate something and being manipulative. Genuineness in my communications is a huge value for me, but that doesn’t mean that things I say, do, and wear aren’t meant to influence people. As the self-presentational people would say, mostly it’s meant to convey something true about myself, so they don’t get the wrong idea. I like to wear long flowing skirts because I think of myself as a nurturing, spiritual person, and so I want others to see me that way. I wish I were athletic and strong, but I know I’m not, so I’m uncomfortable wearing athletic-looking clothes because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me. Why this is so important, I don’t know. I suspect it has to do with identity- somehow your image of yourself is more legitimate if you can get other people to say, “yes, she’s an awkward, intellectual, creative, kind, clumsy, person.”

    I have another post germinating about the term “attention-seeking,” but it’s such an emotionally-laden and complicated issue that it’ll take a while.

    Hope your mouth is doing well,

    Rachel

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