One of the many cliches that an autistic person may hear is that they make everything about them. I’ve heard this on numerous occasions throughout my life. The context always seems to suggest that talking about myself in relation to the conversation at hand is a negative. The impression that I get from this accusation is that I’m self-centered or attention seeking. None of these things describe what is really going on.
It’s very common for me to talk about myself during a conversation. I’m not looking for attention and I’m not trying to make the conversation about me. This behavior has several components to it. These components consist of trying to show empathy, not being able to reliably speak on behalf of others and using my situation as an example that I can most accurately speak about.
I’m hyper empathetic. There is a misnomer that autistic people lack empathy, especially those in my general area of the spectrum. This isn’t necessarily true as recent research has discovered. This often relates to us not showing empathy the same way non-autistics do. Using myself or a situation I have been through as an example in a conversation is my way of letting people know that I understand and empathize. I’m attempting to connect with the person over a shared experience. Unfortunately, there are many occasions where the non-autistic is looking for the conversation to be entirely about them and want displays of empathy that I’m not very good at or that make me uncomfortable.
I also can’t reliably speak on behalf of others in most cases. The best I can do when talking about a group of people, or individual, sharing a certain behavior capability, etc.… is to do so based on an average of what I think is true based on my personal experience and/or data collected from studies I’ve read. Even when I write about the autistic experience, I try my level best to ensure that I make it clear that I am not casting autistics as a monolith. Every autistic person is different, and I can’t speak on behalf of all of them on every matter. The same is true of just about anyone. I can’t speak as confidently about someone else and their experience as I can my own. Using my own experience allows me to tap in to nuanced thought and understanding that allows me to connect with the person on a deeper level.
In no way is my use of myself and my experience designed to take the attention off the other person and seek attention for myself. I don’t want the attention. What I want is to be there for someone and help them the best way I know how. I want to connect with them so that they know that I understand and empathize. I’m attempting to comfort the person.
In some situations, I may also use my self and my experience to help someone solve problems. I may have been through something similar. Before I offer a solution, I attempt to empathize, my way, while also establishing that I have been in a similar situation and have overcome it. By doing this I also establish credibility before telling the person how I solved the problem. This way they can know that I understand where they are coming from and that the solution that I came up with has considered many of the nuanced issues that come with enacting the solution. I’ve made many hard choices in my life to overcome major problems. I’ve also had people that had never experienced those problems offer advice on how to fix the problem. I find that often their solution doesn’t factor in some nuances of the situation that play a role in the problem, thus making their solution useless. I’m trying to ensure the other person understand that I’m not coming from that place.
Looking through the thought process, hopefully one can see that it’s not about being self-centered and attention seeking. It comes from a very empathetic and thoughtful place. The process is about the other person and their situation. I genuinely care about other people, and I think many autistic people would say the same. I don’t like to see people in pain, and I want to help, but my help doesn’t look thr same as a non-autistic’s help.