Experiences – these are first hand revealing accounts.
Temple Grandin. credit: Center for the Study of Autism. Temple Grandin web site The Center for the Study of Autism (CSA) is located in the Salem/Portland, Oregon area. The Center provides information about autism to parents and professionals, and conducts research on the efficacy of various therapeutic interventions. Much of our research is in collaboration with the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, California. www.autism.com/ari/.
- An Inside View of Autism
- Choosing the Right Job for People with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome
- Evaluating the Effects of Medication
- Frequently Asked Questions about Autism
- Her recent book, Thinking in Pictures
- Making the Transition from the World of School into the World of Work
- Social Problems: Understanding Emotions and Developing Talents
- Teaching Tips for Children and Adults with Autism (Revised 12.2002)
How To Understand People Who Are Different by Brad Rand
When I learned to do sign language and use the computer in 1992, I was surprised that other people wanted to know how I think. I always wanted to learn how everybody else thinks because there are so many of you and I wanted to make myself like you so I could fit in your world.
But I learned that people wanted to know about me too, and when they learned how I thought and why I did things, they did things that weren’t as confusing to me and I could understand them better. I learned that I could stay like me and still fit in your world, a little. So I decided it is better to stay like me and fit in a little, than become not like me and fit in a lot.
So this booklet is about me and other people who are different. But I only know how my mind works and how I think, so maybe some of the other people who are different are a lot different, or maybe some of them are a lot the same, or maybe some of them are a little the same.
People who are different are never different in the same way. Every one of those people has some gift, like understanding animals or running very fast, or some talent, like drawing or music or math or creating songs or poems or stories, or some skill, like putting puzzles or models together, or something about the way they talk or look or move or understand things that makes them special.
People who are different may not understand how to talk to other people, or how to act the right way at all the right times, or how to understand feelings, or how to sort out all the sights and sounds and smells in the world, but they are still special because there is just one of them, like there is just one of you.
So this booklet says some of the things that people like me might do, and why we might do them. And this booklet says what people like you might be able to do back. So mostly this booklet is about me and about you.
Plus if you see someone who is different with their parents or friends, maybe their parents or friends will be doing things with them that you might not understand. Maybe this booklet will help you understand what they are doing and how it helps the person who is different.
Some people live in two different worlds. Some people who are different don’t understand how to communicate very well with you and the outside world, which could be called the real world. Some people have a world inside their head too, which is more peaceful and easier to understand than the real world.
The world inside my head is quiet and peaceful and there are no people inside and nothing hard to figure out. So it is a safe place when the real world gets too confusing.
So your world might be the one that most people know the best, but their world can mean a lot to them too, when they need it. The world inside my head is not a bad place or a crazy place, it is just a quiet and peaceful place. Maybe it is like a quiet closet you used to sit in when you needed to be by yourself when you were little.
So if you see someone and he seems to be in his own little world and his parents or friends are letting him do that, they’re not ignoring him. Maybe they’re just letting him be in a world he likes for a short time.
When you look at a wave on the beach, a smooth clear picture of a wave goes into your head. But a person whose brain is different or whose pathways have some bad areas might see a picture of a wave broken up into pieces or different colors or strange shapes. So maybe he isn’t even seeing the same thing you do.
Because seeing isn’t just with your eyes, it is also how the picture that goes in your eyes gets to your brain. You’re so used to it going to your brain the right way maybe you don’t think it could go the wrong way. But it does for some people who are different.
Also, when you hear the sound the wave makes, maybe your brain says it isn’t too loud because your brain is comparing it to something really loud, like a firecracker. But a person whose brain is different or whose pathways have some bad areas might not be able to compare the wave to anything else, so it could sound very, very loud to him when it is not compared to anything else.
Also, the sight and the sound probably go into your head at the same time, evenly, and balanced, they’re both part of that wave on the beach, you do those both automatically. But a person whose brain is different or whose pathways have some bad areas sometimes has trouble balancing information that goes into his head.
Sometimes only one thing can go in at one time. So the sight could go in first, then fade out because the sound is coming in. When the sight fades only the sound is left, it is the only information the person is getting, which makes it sound louder because it is all he can focus on.
So you shouldn’t always think a person who is different gets the same balanced information from the world that you do. His eyes and ears can be focused on the same things yours are, but once that information gets onto the pathways to his brain, it can go off in wrong directions or get changed or faded or scrambled or confused. So the information might not get to his brain in the same condition the information arrived at your brain.
Lots of times I’m surprised by what other people said they saw and heard, because it is not what I saw and heard. So what you see and hear might be the right thing, and the person who is different might be seeing or hearing the wrong thing. Maybe you could remember that he can’t help seeing and hearing the wrong thing, and he doesn’t even know he is seeing or hearing the wrong thing.
Some people don’t process information the same way you do. Once information gets to your brain, your brain does things with it. I learned that when you see things, they usually remind you of other things, this is called association and train of thought.
You could see a red balloon and it might remind you of a birthday party you had when you were little, or a birthday party you’re planning to go to next week. You might start thinking about birthday parties, then you might start thinking about gifts or eating cake and ice cream.
So you might think a person was not smart when really his mind just doesn’t make associations or train of thought like yours does, or makes them a lot more slowly.
Maybe it would be helpful if you said, That balloon reminds me of a birthday party I had when I was little, I’ll tell you about that party. Then the person might not be so confused why you suddenly started talking about birthday parties.
Some people don’t focus on the same things you do. At a carnival, you might see balloons, pennants, rides, games, cotton candy trucks, and ticket booths, and your attention might jump from one thing to another, quickly.
So if you see someone who is different looking in a direction, you might see a big car and you might say, Do you like the big car? Because you might see many things but that is the one that stands out to you. But he might be surprised by your question because actually he didn’t see the car because his attention had been caught by the sun reflecting on hubcaps. Because that is what stood out to him.
Or if you see someone tilting his head like he is listening to something, you might say, Can you hear the band playing? Because you might hear many sounds but that is the one that stands out to you. But he might be surprised by your question because actually he didn’t hear the band because his attention had been caught by the squeak of someone’s shoes. Because that is what stood out to him.
So you shouldn’t think that what stands out to you stands out to someone who is different.
Some people don’t know how to pick between all the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touches. You might not realize how fast the real world moves, people move around quickly and change the expressions on their face quickly and wave their hands around and change their tone of voice and point to things all the time.
In a schoolroom, it is busy and distracting. The kids talk at the same time and push and yell and make strange faces and throw things. The lights are very bright, and the chalk squeaks on the chalkboard, and the desks creak when you open them, and the mimeograph machine makes the paper smell bad. The teacher waves her hands around and rolls maps up and down on the wall.
This is all information that needs to be processed. There is so much information that it is hard to know which is the most important. If my attention tries to focus on all of it, my head gets overloaded with sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touches, I can’t process information that fast, it gets backed up.
So I pick what I think is important, but usually it turns out to be different than what you think is important.
I think some people who are different don’t really understand what Important means. So maybe it would be helpful if you told them exactly what you were looking at or listening to so they can focus on the same thing you’re focusing on.
Some people have tunnel vision, so it might be hard to get their attention from one thing to another. Once I have picked something to focus on, everything else fades out. Then people might have to say my name many times before I hear them. What goes through my head is, I’m looking at something and I can see it very clearly, but everything around it is just gray and fuzzy.
Then I think I hear something and I look around and sometimes I see a person shape or hear a person’s voice, but it is the same way I see a light bulb shining in a lamp or a clock ticking. Because voices and shapes and a ticking clock and light all seem the same in importance.
So some people might hear your voice, but their head is maybe not processing your words, they might not be seeing you as a real person unless you do something unusual that requires processing.
Maybe you could make your voice higher or lower, or say something interesting or unexpected, or change your position. Then my head usually tells me to look again, and the gray fuzzy areas separate into clear individual shapes and I might realize that one of those shapes is a real person, and you’re talking to me.
Some people have trouble processing what they see. Some people who are different don’t understand how something can be different from the way it looks. If their eyes see a hologram coming out of a picture, their head says that their hand can touch it. Then when their hand can’t touch it, their head might have trouble accepting that. When I saw a hologram, I thought the hologram hid whenever I moved my hand toward it, so I kept trying to sneak up on it.
Magic shows are hard too, how ladies can look like they’re cut in half, or people inside boxes can disappear, or rabbits can appear inside a hat.
In some people, the nerves that go from their eyes to their brain might be very sensitive, so some sights could come along these nerves too strongly.
Sometimes bright sun or certain colors hurt their eyes, like red or yellow if it is a big bright red or yellow on a lot of space, like on a Volkswagen. They might not like fluorescent lights or flashing lights like strobes. With all these things, they might blink a lot or put their hands over their eyes.
When a sight pathway is very sensitive, little tiny things can take up big spaces in your head, so someone who is different could look at the same speck of dust for hours. They might like reflections that make lights and colors look interesting or unusual, especially in water.
They might like wheels and other things that spin around. They might be great at doing puzzles or they might be able to take in so much information so easily through their eyes that they can memorize phone book pages and be great readers.
When you see someone doing these things, he might have a sensitive light pathway. It might be helpful if you didn’t turn on bright lights or flashing lights, or give him a bunch of bright balloons as a gift. If you were trying to get his attention away from something that was overloading him, maybe you could try to spin a wheel on a toy truck, or a quarter on a table. If he lost his sunglasses, maybe you could let him wear yours.
Or it could be the opposite, in some people the nerves that go from their eyes to their brain might be too insensitive, so some sights could come along these nerves too weakly. So they have to try very hard to get information from these weak sights. They might even stare at the sun because they don’t think it is too bright, but this is dangerous, of course.
When a sight pathway is not very sensitive, people and objects might be mostly outlines with fuzzy edges. They might have trouble figuring out where objects actually are, so they might walk around something and run their hand around the edges so they can understand exactly where it is.
They might pick things up and hold it near their eyes or move it into many positions or tilt their head at it to see if it still looks the same.
Maybe they can’t figure out heights, so they might be uncertain about walking down stairs or going in tunnels. They might be afraid of fast things because everything gets so blurry. They might be afraid to pour milk into a glass because they can’t see the edges of the glass very well.
When you see someone doing these things, he might have an insensitive light pathway. It might be helpful if you made the lights brighter for him. But don’t let him stare just at the lights, instead maybe you could show him how to look at the objects that are made brighter by the lights. Maybe you could even let him use a magnifying glass.
If he doesn’t want to go near something, maybe you could show him how to run his hand around the edges so he could find out more about it.
Some people have sight pathways that are bad in both those ways, sometimes too sensitive, sometimes too insensitive.
Some people have trouble processing what they hear. In some people who are different, the nerves that go from their ears to their brain might be very sensitive, so some sounds could come along these nerves too strongly. High sounds like sirens and whistles hurt my ears, and sudden sounds like a car horn, and loud sounds like shouting, and booming sounds like waves on the beach, and roaring sounds like a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower.
When a sound pathway is very sensitive, crowds and traffic can be scary. It can be hard to sleep because of all the little sounds, like wind blowing outside or crickets chirping. Going to the barbershop is hard because the scissors make loud snips, especially around your ears. People walking on tile floors are loud. Sometimes a dog barking or a cat purring can be too loud. They might put their hands over their ears or keep shaking their head.
When you see someone doing these things, he might have a sensitive sound pathway. It might be helpful if you didn’t make loud sounds or sudden sounds, and if a loud sound is going to happen, you could warn him that it is going to happen. Maybe you could make a soft sound to replace the loud sound, like letting him listen to a ticking watch.
Sometimes they can tune out the sounds in their head, but that can make everything else tune out too, like your voice. But sometimes they need to do that if they can’t get away from the loud sounds.
Or it could be the opposite, in some people the nerves that go from their ears to their brain might be too insensitive, so some sounds could come along these nerves too weakly. So they have to try very hard to get information from these weak sounds.
They might lean their ear against the refrigerator to hear the motor vibrating. They might stay in bathrooms a lot because all the sounds echo against the tile and sink and tub. They might like sirens and whistles, squeaky toys, jingling bells, rattling garbage trucks, blasting TVs and stereos, roaring snowblowers, and crashing waves on the beach. They might tear paper or slam doors over and over to hear the sound.
Some people might spend too much time listening to their own heartbeat and breathing. They might spin around or hang upside down to make the blood roar in their ears. They might hum a lot too.
When you see someone doing these things, you might see his parents or friends trying to distract him into doing other things.
Some people have trouble processing smell or taste. In some people, the nerves that go from their nose and mouth to their brain might be very sensitive, so smells and tastes could come along these nerves too strongly. Chalk hurts my nose, and soap and perfume and aftershave and toothpaste.
Almost all types of food smell too sharp. And I don’t like the texture of some foods, especially foods that are hard to chew, like steak. I don’t like food that is slimy like shrimp, or the fat part of chicken, or food that wiggles, like jello. I don’t like smooth food with lumps in it, like lumpy mashed potatoes or crunchy peanut butter. All those foods feel bad on my mouth and tongue and teeth.
So when someone has a sensitive smell or taste pathway, maybe he is not backing away from you because he doesn’t like you. Maybe you have a smell he can’t tolerate, even if you’re very clean. It is not your fault and it is not his fault. It might be helpful if you made a lot of fresh air for him, like bringing him outside or opening doors or windows.
Or if he doesn’t like some food you cooked for him, it might be very good food, but the smell or taste might not go right in his nose or mouth or along the pathways to his brain. Maybe you could get him some water to drink, and some plain crackers.
Some people have trouble processing touch. In some people, the nerves that go from their skin to their brain might be very sensitive, so touches could come along these nerves too strongly. Sometimes touching actually hurts their skin.
I don’t like being touched by people when I wasn’t paying attention to them because all of a sudden these shapes are touching me and sometimes I don’t know what they are for a second until they focus in as people. Also, when people touch me, I focus on the touching and I can’t focus very well on thinking.
When you see someone doing these things, he might have a sensitive touch pathway. It might be helpful if you don’t touch him at all, or maybe touch him gently. He is probably not backing away from you because he doesn’t like you, instead maybe he is just afraid you’re going to touch him. Maybe you could keep your arms down straight so he knows you’re not going to do that.
Don’t give him something rough to hold, instead give him something soft and furry. Don’t judge the temperature by what you think it is. If he is shivering, give him another sweater to wear even if you think it is warm. If he takes off most of his clothes, that will look very strange, but maybe he was just too hot or his clothes were too tight or scratchy and they started hurting his skin.
Or it could be the opposite, in some people the nerves that go from their skin to their brain might be too insensitive, so touches could come along these nerves too weakly. So they have to try very hard to get information from these weak touches. Their parents and friends might hug them a lot and rub their arm and wrestle with them. So if you see someone who is a little rough, maybe he even hits himself on his head or body, maybe he has an insensitive touch pathway.
Some people wave their hands around or rock back and forth or do other strange things. When people have trouble processing information, which is sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches, they might be getting too much information at one time, then their brain and their nervous system can feel so overloaded they could just run and run.
So instead sometimes they do one simple thing over and over to calm down their nervous system and take control of it. These things might be waving their hands around or rocking back and forth or making strange sounds or hitting their head with their hand.
If I’m looking at something and listening to something at the same time, too much information might come in my eyes and ears at one time, so I might touch something. That gets information going in a different sense, through my touch, and it lets my eyes and ears have a rest.
Or if someone has trouble processing information, there might be times when they are not getting enough information. Then their brain can feel empty and stop processing and their nervous system can slow down and they don’t really see anything or hear anything or have any thoughts. They’re just there. Then they might get the information going again in their brain and nervous system by waving their hands around or rocking back and forth or making strange sounds or hitting their head with their hand.
So if you see someone doing these things, these strange things can calm down their overloaded nervous system or get their empty nervous system going again. So it would be helpful if you didn’t stare or think they were crazy. Because maybe they are just trying to deal with a nervous system that is different than yours.
Some people who are different are not as smart as you are, some are just as smart, and some are smarter. Some people have minds that learn much slower than you do. No matter how much you want them to learn faster, they can’t, so getting mad at them or getting frustrated at them won’t help. They can’t help the way their mind is made. People learn by information going through the pathways in their brain, and if those pathways aren’t working right in some places, the information won’t go fast. Even a Porsche can’t go fast on a blocked road.
Other people who are different might not do well on IQ tests, but maybe they just don’t understand the real world well enough, or communicate well enough, or they have a different way of thinking that those tests can’t recognize.
So some tests can tell you how well a person can communicate his smartness, but not how smart a person really is inside, or how smart he could be if he could experience the world the same smooth clear way you do. How much you like a person shouldn’t depend on how smart he is or how well he does on tests.
Some people who are different don’t interact with other people in the right ways. Some people don’t understand when it is the right time and place to talk to other people. They might seem too friendly, they might shake your hand and hug you even at times that aren’t really right. Or they might tell you stories and jokes at times that aren’t really right.
Figuring out right times and wrong times, and right places and wrong places, can be hard because there are not always clear rules. There are many things to look at, like whether it is night or day, indoors or outdoors, whether there are a lot of other people around and who those people are, whether their expressions and their voices are happy or sad or friendly or angry, whether it is a familiar place or a not familiar place, or whether there is something else going on, like a carnival or movie.
If a person who is different is paying close attention and focusing on all the right things, he can put those things on a balance in his head until the answer comes down to You Can Shake This Person’s Hand And Be Friendly, or You Should Not Shake This Person’s Hand And Be Friendly Now.
But some people who are different don’t focus on the same things you do. At a movie theater, they might see something shining on a person’s shirt, like a bright button, and that information might go in their eyes so strongly they don’t hear the movie coming in their ears any more, even though the movie seems a lot more important to you than a bright button. Then they might talk about that bright button, loudly, because they’re forgetting about the movie.
You might be able to process the movie and the button at the same time and quickly decide that the movie is a lot more important. But some people can’t do that very well. So if someone at a movie is talking loudly about something that seems strange to you, he might be a person who processes things differently than you do. He might not hear the movie or see the people all around him, because something else is going into his head.
So it might be helpful if you told the person the most important thing to focus on, kindly. You could say, You’re right about the button, but this is a movie, so you have to watch the pictures on the screen and listen to the voices from the speakers.
Or if he tries to hug strangers in a bad neighborhood, you could say, You’re right to like people, but this is a bad neighborhood, see the writing all over the buildings and litter all over the ground and wrecked cars? So you shouldn’t talk to strangers here.
Or the person might not do wrong things at the wrong times or wrong places, but he might not do right things at the right times or places either. Maybe he just stands there. This could be because he learned some things to do at certain times and places, but he doesn’t really understand why he is doing them. So if anything changes from the situation he learned, he doesn’t know what to do, because he didn’t learn this new change. So he just stands there, because he is confused or uncertain.
Almost everything I do is because I learned it. I don’t really understand why people do things, why they laugh or get mad or wave their hands around or change their tone of voice, or how they know when to do those things, or what I should do back, unless I learned that exact situation.
So it might be helpful if you tell people who are different what they should do, if they’re just standing there doing nothing, especially if there is a new thing in this situation. You could also tell them how you knew what to do in this new situation, what new signs you saw or heard that told you what to do. Then maybe next time he could watch for those things, at least in that exact same situation. If one little thing changes, he might get stuck again.
Maybe you learned what to do in different situations because you always watched people, especially other kids, when you were little. You watched them so much that you could tell from their expressions and body language if you were doing the right things or the wrong things. Maybe you paid attention to people because your head told you that people are important, that they’re very different from furniture or trees.
But many times I don’t even notice that other people are around, because most of the things I see and hear seem the same in importance. When I’m not concentrating on people, they just look like shapes, like furniture and trees are shapes. So it is hard to copy people or tell from their reactions whether I’m doing right things or wrong things when my head doesn’t see them or hear them any differently than any other sight or sound.
If a person is having trouble focusing on people, it might be helpful if you were a friendly person who talked and laughed and pointed at things. You might think doing all those things would be confusing and put too much information in his head at one time and maybe overload his head. You would be right, that might happen.
But if you’re a quiet person who doesn’t say many things or doesn’t show many feelings or many expressions or tones of voice, you wouldn’t be confusing, but you also wouldn’t be interesting. Interesting means someone or something that needs to be paid attention to and processed.
If you’re too quiet, you might not give enough information to a person who is different and you could fade out to him. So it might be helpful if you could be interesting first, to get his attention, then when he is paying attention to you, you could quiet down and become easier to understand while you’re explaining something to him or listening to him.
Some people don’t understand feelings very well. Sometimes people who are different don’t seem to care about the feelings of other people, they might say things or do things that seem not polite. One reason might be because the person doesn’t see you as a separate person, his head is concentrating on something else, like a toy he wants, and the only information going into his head is about the toy, not about you at all. He isn’t ignoring you on purpose, his head just isn’t processing you. Some people who are different will push right by people like they’re moving a bush out of the way. Just because you’re a person and are really there, doesn’t mean a person with processing problems knows you’re a person and are really there.
But if he does know you’re there, he might still seem not polite sometimes, because he might not understand your feelings or his own feelings. People who are different do have feelings. Just like you, something can happen in their head and body when they’re happy, sad, angry, scared, or excited, but they might not be able to connect what is happening in their head or body to the right feeling word.
If you’re a mother or a father and you have a little child, maybe he learned things by watching you and other kids, and copying you and those other kids. So when he does something or expresses something, you recognize it because you were a little child too, a long time ago, and you know what the right feeling word is for what he is expressing or for the behavior he is doing.
But some kids don’t notice other people or pay much attention to them, so they might not copy people very well, any more than they copy furniture or trees. So they might not express things in ways their parents can recognize.
So when a little child who is different throws a new toy down hard, his parents might say, Why are you feeling angry? But actually the little child had been happy and excited about the toy, but he didn’t express it in the right way. But now he might think his happy and excited feeling is called Angry, and he might think that when people throw things, they’re having the same good feelings he had about the new toy. That would not be right.
Or sometimes their body doesn’t react much to their thoughts and feelings, maybe the areas in their brain that make their body react to thoughts and feelings don’t work as well as those areas do in your brain. Or maybe the reactions fade out while they’re going along the pathways from their brain to their body.
So they might not express much with their body, so their parents might never think they’re feeling anything, so they might never learn any feeling words at all. But just because a thought or feeling doesn’t come out the right way or can’t come out at all doesn’t mean it is not there.
Some people also might not recognize your behaviors as being connected to feelings. If you put a certain look on your face and hold your body a certain way, you might expect everyone to recognize that you’re angry or happy or sad, but some people who are different might not recognize that. I learned that certain expressions and body language match up with certain feelings, but it is still hard for me to recognize them.
It is easier with animals, their expressions and body language are simpler and more the same. Once I learn the expressions and body language of cats, most cats seem consistent in using those same ones to mean about the same things.
But the expressions and body language of people look different from person to person, and you make more complicated combinations with them, and you connect them to other things called moods. I can’t seem to put together what I see on all the parts of your face and body very well. And if you’re in something called a mood, those expressions and body language can mean something completely different than when you’re not in a mood.
You seem to recognize those combinations and moods of other people so quickly and easily that maybe it is something built into your brain that is not built into the brain of some people who are different.
So it might be helpful if you didn’t expect people to automatically know what you’re feeling from your expression or body language. Instead you could explain what you’re feeling, how your body feels when you have that feeling, how other people can tell you’re feeling that way, like what signs and clues they see on your face and body, and what happened to make you feel that way.
Because one time, tears in your eyes might mean you’re sad, but other times, it might mean you’re relieved or happy, like in a movie where a nice pet gets home safely to his owner. Or it might mean you’re missing good times you had a long time ago, or you’re angry or embarrassed because someone yelled at you, or you’re frustrated because you can’t do something.
Do you see how many things tears could mean? This is not easy to learn or remember.
So if someone is having trouble understanding feelings, maybe you could tell him, The word feelings is used in many different ways. Sometimes it means physical reactions, like something sharp poking you, or hot water burning your hand, or feeling sick in your stomach from eating too many cookies.
Sometimes it means emotions, which happen when something you see or hear or think about becomes important to you, instead of just being something you see or hear or think about. When you have an opinion that something you see or hear or think about is good or bad, and you want to do something about it, like stop it or keep it going, that is an emotion, not just a thought. Maybe that would be a good way to explain feelings to someone who is different.
When you’re trying to explain feelings, maybe you could try not to use other Feeling words. On Star Trek The Next Generation, Geordi was trying to explain about being angry to Data, who doesn’t understand feelings, too. But Geordi kept using other feeling words to explain what being angry was like. This might not be very helpful.
Instead, you could tell them that when something happens that you didn’t expect to happen, that is called Surprised. You can like the surprise, like a birthday gift, or not like the surprise, like when someone cooks chicken when you wanted spaghetti.
When your mind has many thoughts all jumbled together, especially about something new and interesting, and you want to express those thoughts, that is Excited.
When you like what you’re doing and you want to keep doing it, that could be Happy.
When you don’t like something and your heart is beating fast and you want to get away and your stomach is spinning around, that could be Scared. Unless you ate too many cookies, then it might just be sick.
Some people can’t put themselves in your place. Sometimes you can guess what someone else will say or do by playing a movie in your head. You can actually make a moving picture in your head that puts yourself in the other person’s position, then you guess what you would say or do in that situation. That is really interesting that you can do that, it must be very helpful, but some people who are different can’t do that at all.
If a man is waiting at a ticket booth and the ticket booth runs out of the tickets just before they get to that man, and he gets mad, you’re probably not surprised. You know what you would feel like if that were you, so you have some idea what he feels like. But I would be surprised, because I can’t imagine myself in his position.
Even if that had happened to me one time, I never think that is the same as it happening to someone else. My head just doesn’t make that connection at the time.
One way I learned you teach little children to be nice to other children is to say, How would you like it if he did that to you? Then the little child thinks, I wouldn’t like it, so I shouldn’t do it to him. But some people can’t put themselves in anyone else’s position, they just don’t have any way to do that in their head, or maybe that area of their head is very weak.
That is why a person who is different might do things that seem not polite to you. Maybe you could remember that he doesn’t mean to be not polite. If he does something wrong, like cutting in line, maybe you could tell him that what he did is not allowed, it is against the rules. Because if you tell him that cutting in line makes everyone else feel sad or mad, and how would he like it if people cut in front of him, he might not understand what you mean. He might agree with you that he wouldn’t like it if someone did that to him, but he might never understand that other people feel the same way as he would.
That happens to me all the time and I still haven’t figured it out. Just because my head knows how something feels to me, or what I would do in a situation, doesn’t mean my head knows how it feels to someone else, or what they would do.
That connection never happens in my head automatically, someone else always has to tell me. I don’t do it on purpose, my head just doesn’t jump from what I am doing to what someone else would do, or from what someone else is doing to what I would do.
In fact I learned that many times a situation feels very different to someone else than it does to me, and that someone else would do something completely different than what I would do in that situation.
I would return money if I found it on the ground, but I learned many people would not. So I’ve never figured out how people can put themselves in someone else’s place if there are some situations where people would all do such different things. I would not know when it is a time for doing what other people would do, and when it is a time where everyone would have a different reaction.
So mostly I just try to let each person be himself, and I treat each person as very different from any other person, I try to watch carefully what each person does and what he says and how he feels about things, and I try to understand that one person. It is easier than trying to learn about people in groups, because I learned each one is so different.
So it might be helpful if you didn’t expect someone who was different to know what you are interested in, or what you’re feeling, or what you want to do. Because he probably can’t understand you based on his understanding of himself, or his understanding of anyone else. He needs to learn all about you first, before he can understand you.
Instead you should just tell him what you are interested in, what you’re feeling, and what you want to do. Maybe you could also tell him what your expressions and tones of voice mean and what he should do when he sees those expressions and hears those tones of voice from you.
That is another reason why people who are different seem to do best with people who are very friendly and talk a lot. Because those people explain and express everything they think and feel, which is helpful to people who are different.
It might be a mistake if you try to figure out someone who is different, based on your understanding of yourself or other people who are not different. Because he might not see or hear or think or process information the same way you do. So you shouldn’t think you know what someone who is different is seeing, hearing, thinking, or feeling, if you’re basing your guesses on what You would be seeing, hearing, thinking, or feeling.
You shouldn’t even compare one person who is different to another person who is different. Instead you have to learn about that one person. Maybe you could ask him what he is interested in or what he wants to do, instead of assuming that you know. If he doesn’t know or can’t say, then you could guess, but it should be based on what he has been interested in or wanted to do before, not in what you would be interested in or would want to do if you were in his place. Because remember, you can’t really be in his place.
Some people might get confused when things change or when things go wrong. Some people who are different like routines. They like to know what is going to happen next, and they like it to be the same thing that happened last time. When information, which is sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches, goes into their head, if it is information they’re used to because they’ve had this information before, it can go into their head on the same pathways to the same places and get processed the same way as before.
So if someone learns that a picture hanging on a wall usually hangs straight, if they see a picture hanging straight, that information is easy to process because it is the same as before. It goes along the same pathways to the same places, maybe those places are checkpoints that decide what the information means. Like it is flat, it is colorful, it is scenery, it is hanging straight on the wall. So it gets to the same result. It is a picture.
But if a picture is hanging crookedly, it might start being processed along the same pathways to the same checkpoints, but then it might suddenly stop at some checkpoint because something is not the same as before so some checkpoint made a different decision about the information.
Then the information might go off that pathway along different pathways, and whenever different pathways have to be used they could turn out to be bad ones, which means the information could just stop completely or get backed up or go off on wrong pathways. So it might never get to the same result, that it is a picture, or it might finally get there, except that it took longer and was a lot more work.
You seem to learn general things, like shirts hang in a closet, then you can process little changes about those things easily and quickly, like the shirts are still shirts hanging in a closet no matter what order they’re in, or if one has fallen off its hanger a little, or if pants have accidentally got mixed into the shirts.
But some people who are different learn specific things, like when they learn about shirts hanging in a closet, they learn those exact shirts in that exact order. Anything different that they see next time is not what they learned.
Maybe it is like kids who learn to read by memorizing the shapes of letters, instead of by phonics. They can read Sat because they learned s and a and t equal Sat. But they can’t read Cat, because the c changes everything.
So if you see a person at an amusement park, like Disneyland, and he is doing something that looks strange to you, like rocking back and forth or hitting his head with his hand, maybe a ride was closed when he didn’t expect it to be. Some persons who are not different get mad when that happens, this is called a tantrum.
But some people who are different might not be mad, maybe they’re just having a hard time processing the new information that the ride is closed. Maybe the new information isn’t going in the right pathway or maybe the pathway isn’t working right so the information isn’t going in at all, it is getting backed up and overloading the person’s head. Then doing one simple thing over and over, like rocking, can calm down an overloaded head and get the information processing more smoothly again.
If something goes wrong, or something is different from what they expected, some people can’t do something new until the wrong thing is cleared up. If you could fix the wrong thing, that would be the best, like if the ride at Disneyland could open again.
But if you can’t fix the wrong thing, maybe you could explain why it needs to stay wrong or why it is actually better that it is wrong. You could tell them the ride needs to be closed for repairs, because if it didn’t work well, it would be a dangerous ride, and that would not be good for little children, so sometimes they need to close it for repairs. Or you could tell them that it is actually good the ride is closed because now you have extra time to go on another ride twice.
Some people talk in unusual ways. Some people who are different talk a lot, they say funny things or sometimes strange things, at the wrong times or the wrong places. This is because they don’t know which things you think are right to say and which things you think are wrong. They don’t know which times you think are the right times to say things, and which times you think are the wrong times. They don’t know which places you think are the right places to say them in, and which places are the wrong places.
Those kinds of Right and Wrong depend on many things that might be easy for you to put together and remember, but that are hard for some people who are different. Their ideas of what are the right things, the right times, and the right places might not be the same as yours. So they’re not trying to be rude or strange, they’re just doing the best they can to pick the things they think are right and say them at the times and places they think are right.
So it might be helpful if you could smile and say something kind, maybe you could say, Yes, that is a funny story, and you told it very well, did you know that funny stories usually aren’t told in church, because this is a time and place to be more quiet, but I would like to hear another funny story right after church in the lobby, which would be the best time and place.
Some people might not say their own words, instead they might repeat what you say. If you say, How are you? they might say, How are you? If you meet someone who does this, maybe you could answer your own question with a cheerful voice and say, I’m fine, this is a beautiful day. Because keeping someone’s attention is a good start.
Some people might say, “I’m fine” when you ask them what their name is. Or if you ask them, What TV shows do you like? they might say, Birds like to fly. That might sound strange, but it is an interesting thought in their head so maybe you could talk about that thought. You could say, They do like to fly, eagles and hummingbirds are some types of birds who like to fly.
Because keeping their attention on interesting thoughts is more important than making them answer a question that isn’t processing in their head. Maybe you could find a bird show on TV, then ask them what other TV shows they like. That might connect birds with TV in their head, which is the question you wanted them to answer.
Some people have flat voices, their voice might not go up or down very well. Or they might not talk at all or they might use sign language. Talking isn’t the most important thing, communicating is more important. I don’t say many words because they get all jumbled up and stuck between the thinking part of my head and the speaking part of my head. Maybe that pathway is bad. But the pathway is okay between my thinking area and my hands, so I can do sign language and type on the computer.
Also when I’m trying to find the right words to say, many people are already talking about other things. I have a lot of information in my head but it is all organized in places and I have to find it before I can say things or answer questions. Most people talk too fast and jump around subjects too fast to keep up.
Also I get distracted because most people don’t stand quietly, they move around and wave their hands and change their expressions a lot. That is interesting and it makes my head pay attention to you, which is good, but sometimes it makes my head stop trying to think of words.
So it might be helpful if you didn’t do too many distracting things when someone who is different is talking to you, or when you’re talking to them. It is good to be an interesting person in between those times, that might keep their attention, but during the talking times, it might be distracting. Maybe you could just stand quietly when you talk and listen, then you could become interesting again so they’ll keep paying attention to you.
Some people don’t use their eyes the same way you do. Some people who are different might stare at you, and others might not look at your face at all. But just because they’re not looking at your face doesn’t mean they’re not listening to you. Sometimes they’re concentrating so hard on what you’re saying, they don’t want any information coming in their eyes to distract them. So they might look at the floor or off to the side. If they make some reaction to what you’re saying, even just a little reaction, probably they are paying attention. If you’re not sure, you could just say their name or you could ask, Can you hear me okay?
Some people tilt their head to the side when they look at things. Sometimes the information they’re learning from the front is getting to be too much or too strong. If they turn their head to the side, the information becomes different, because now they’re looking at it from a different direction. So the information coming in from the front stops, which could give their head a chance to catch up.
Or it might be the opposite, the information is not strong enough from the front, maybe because it is coming along a pathway that is not working very well. If they turn their head to the side, the information becomes different and maybe goes in on a different pathway that is working.
Also they might want to see what something looks like from different directions, if it stays the same object when they turn their head sideways. You might know that it does, but the person who is different might not know that. So he has to learn it by himself.
Some people are awkward when they walk or run or jump or play games. Some people who are different can do these things very well, but others might do them stiffly. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them to try activities like sports, because usually they don’t even know they’re awkward because they don’t compare themselves to other people anyway. Sometimes it is people who are Not different who do more comparing.
You might be surprised that many people who are different will not try to beat you at games. Instead they might just do the game because they like the thoughts that game puts in their head, or how that game makes their body feel. Or they might be trying to accomplish the goal of that game, which might be winning. But trying to accomplish the goal of winning is not the same as trying to beat you.
Some people who are different don’t understand winning and losing, they might be surprised when you get excited about winning or losing. They just play one game, then they move on to another game. All I think is that I either do the goal or not, it is just a fact whichever way it turns out, like sometimes it is sunny and sometimes it is cloudy.
So if you play games with someone who is different, you don’t have to let them win just because you think they’ll like that. Maybe you could ask them what they’re trying to do in this game, then maybe you could help them accomplish that goal instead of thinking they must want to beat you. Because beating you might not be in their mind at all, so it might be good if you didn’t put that in their mind, because sometimes people who are not different seem to pay too much attention to beating other people.
Some people have different imaginations than you do. Some people who are different have very good imaginations, they make up stories and jokes, and they like to play Pretend and Wish games. Other people don’t do this at all, they don’t understand things that are not real, like trolls or talking rabbits on Bug Bunny, or how a toy horse could pretend to do real horse things.
When I put my hand on a toy horse, my hand doesn’t do anything, I think because my head doesn’t know what to make the toy horse do, like if it should move fast or slow or in which direction or how far. But mostly my head doesn’t know why I would want to do this with a toy horse.
Maybe you could notice if someone is understanding you when you talk about make-believe things. If they’re not, it might be helpful if you explained to the person who is different that they’re just make-believe.
Some people will take everything you say just the way it sounds. This is called literal thinking, which means they believe the exact words you say. They might have a hard time understanding things like What If, or expressions like, It is raining cats and dogs. It might be helpful if you picked clear words that mean exactly what they say, direct words, instead of phrases that just suggest something.
Of course if the person understands those phrases and likes learning about them, you should use them, and teach him more about them. Maybe he thinks they’re funny.
Some people have a different sense of humor than you do. Some people who are different will laugh at things you don’t think are funny, but they won’t laugh at things you do think are funny. If everyone else laughs, they might laugh too, but they might not really know why they’re laughing.
Maybe humor is so hard to understand because humor is usually when something doesn’t fit, when you expect something to mean one thing when it is actually being used to mean something else in a way that surprises you. The problem is, some people don’t even understand how things fit in the normal way, so they can’t recognize when it is not fitting that way.
They might recognize when something doesn’t fit in a big, clear way, like putting a beard on a lady. Some people who are different can recognize that and would think it is very funny. But other people might just think that is wrong, they might even think their eyes are giving them wrong information, because beards and ladies should not go together, from what they learned.
But the interesting thing is, most people who are different like humor a lot, maybe because it makes other people laugh, which is a friendly sound. When people are laughing, there are good thoughts all around them and all around the room they’re in. When people are laughing, they usually like other people at that time.
So you should do humor with everyone, but if some people who are different don’t understand complicated jokes, you should pick jokes that are more clear and you should laugh so the person knows it is a joke, and not something serious that he should be trying to add to his head about the world.
Some people know they’re different, and some don’t. Should you ask someone who is different what condition he has? And if you don’t really understand that condition, should you ask him to explain it to you?
I like people to know how I’m different so they’ll know why I act in the ways I do, and so they might not act in ways I won’t understand. And I would like them to learn about all kinds of conditions, because how will they know about that person’s world if no one tells them? Just like people who are different can’t learn about your world if you don’t tell them about it. When no one knows anything about the other person’s world, everyone just stands there and doesn’t know what to do because they’re afraid to do something wrong.
So I think you should ask the person or his parents or friends, politely. If they don’t want to tell you, at least you tried and you should know that you did the right thing.
Some people don’t mind being different. There are many good things about being different. I noticed that when you don’t understand other people who are different from you, many times you’re afraid of those people. But I noticed that the people who are different seem much more open about accepting you.
People who are different don’t seem to be very prejudiced against people who are different colors or different backgrounds or who have handicaps like no legs. Not being prejudiced is a good thing.
Even though people who are different sometimes get upset about things that seem like nothing to you, they are sometimes much calmer than you are in real emergencies. Maybe they don’t think quickly enough to understand that this is an emergency, or maybe they don’t get as involved as you do with your feelings. They use their thoughts more instead of their feelings and they do everything at their own set speed, no matter what the environment or situation. This can be very helpful when everyone else is rushed and panicky.
People who are different sometimes understand animals very well. Animals don’t talk, which makes it harder for most people to understand them because you depend so much on talking. But not talking actually makes it easier for some people to understand animals better.
People’s talking can be hard to figure out because you use many similar words to mean the same thing, like great and wonderful and excellent and terrific. You use opposite expressions like Oh Joy, when you really mean something is not very good, like you have to clean the garage. You tell people you like their new shoes when you really don’t. You say sharp things, then you say you didn’t really mean them. You use strange expressions like Two peas in a pod, when you just mean something is like something else. This is all very complicated to figure out.
But animals make very clear and simple sounds, they usually say what they mean, and they usually mean what they say. They show very clear and simple body signals, which is not like people, who have lots of complicated body signals that change very fast.
And I think animals do some telepathy, I think their minds send out signals which are very quiet, but most people have such a busy mind, so many thoughts jumping around in your mind, you can’t hear the signals or you have no room for them.
But some people who are different have minds which are much quieter and not as busy, and sensitive nerves, so they can hear these signals and they have room to let these signals in, and these signals are interesting enough to catch their attention, and simple enough to process.
People who are different can sometimes see things more clearly than you can, because they see things more simply. Sometimes things are complicated and you do those complicated things better than people who are different. But sometimes you worry too much about little things that are probably not going to happen, or you worry about someone being mad at you or looking dumb, so you make simple things more complicated than they have to be, and you don’t do things you could have done if you didn’t worry so much about what other people thought.
People who are different sometimes have simple words and simple thoughts and simple ideas, but sometimes those are the best ideas. Maybe you could try them sometimes, maybe you would be more relaxed. Then maybe you would be able to hear the animals.
So I think it is okay to be different.
On Star Trek The Next Generation there was an episode called Tapestry. Captain Picard went back in time and changed some things he didn’t like about his past, some of the things he had done in his past. But when he came back to the present, everything had changed. Because of the changes he had made in his past, he was a changed person in the present. He found out he didn’t like this new person, so he went back to the past again and changed it all back.
That episode was called Tapestry because a tapestry is a heavy cloth with a complicated design woven into one solid piece. Every little thing about you and every little thing you do adds together to form the tapestry of your life. If you go back and pull out part of the design, it changes the design.
So even if I could change my being different, I don’t think I would want to. I wouldn’t want to make me a changed person from who I already am. Because I think I’m a good person and I like myself.
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