Rules nobody says

There are a lot of rules for socializing. For example:

  • When you see someone, ask them how they’re doing.
  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, say you’re doing well.
  • Talk quietly indoors.
  • Wear fancy clothes to fancy events.
  • Only talk about things you like for a little bit.
  • Don’t interrupt people.

Many of these rules are not written down or said out loud. People just expect us to know them. This can be really hard for autistic people. How can we know a rule if no one tells us?

Non-autistic people don’t have to think about the rules, since they just know how to follow them. But we have to think about the rules and how to follow them. We might not be able to follow them.

For example:

Sonya is in the library, and the rule is to be quiet in the library. But Sonya can’t be quiet, since her mouth makes noises even when she wants to be quiet. Sonya cares about the rule, and thinks about the rule a lot. But she can’t follow the rule.

The rules also change sometimes. It depends on where you are and what’s happening. It is hard for autistic people to know when the rules change.

For example:

Jane is autistic. She feels sick, so she goes to the doctor. The doctor asks “How are you?” Jane says “I feel sick. My head hurts and my nose is runny.” It is good that Jane says this to the doctor, because this helps the doctor know what to do.

After going to the doctor, Jane goes to a restaurant. The waiter says “How are you?” Jane says “I feel sick. My head hurts and my nose is runny.” The waiter is just being polite, and does not want to know how Jane is actually feeling. Jane could have just said “I am good.”

A lot of autistic people spend a lot of time trying to figure out the rules. We might come up with our own ways to understand the rules, or come up with our own rules. This is a lot of work.