More on Low-Functioning Allism

This post originally appeared on the Field Notes on Allistics Tumblr.

Final grades were turned in today, so I’m back to blogging.  My allistic students were great this semester – over half of them earned an A or a B, and everyone greatly improved their symbolic communication skills!  Congratulations to all of them!

This post, however, is about so-called “low-functioning” allism (again).  My husband’s neuronormal brother (I’ll call him Norm) has recently started dating an allistic woman (I’ll call her Alice).  She’s not the first allistic woman he’s dated, and he’s usually quite comfortable with allistics – probably the result of having grown up with an allistic older brother (my husband, Al).

Alice, however, is profoundly socially impaired.

I’m used to allistic people who need excessive social stimulation, who stare inappropriately, or who become noticeably agitated in settings with ordinary amounts of social recriprocity.  Normally, however, these things can be accommodated if one just has the will.  It’s a myth that allistic people aren’t actually interested in others – their brains are just wired in a way that makes it very difficult for them to express this interest or to understand when other people are demonstrating interest in them.  If it seems like they’re just running off at the mouth or mindlessly imitating other people’s facial expressions, often what it means is that they’re trying to cope with their social deficits.  They reallywant to participate in ordinary social life, but they don’t know how.

But Alice displays a level of social functioning I’ve never actually seen in an allistic adult, especially not one who actually has a part-time job and claims to live alone.  Not only does Alice demand constant interaction from others, she actually needsus to physically mirror her emotional states.  If we don’t smile when she smiles, laugh when she laughs, or frown when she frowns, she gets noticeably unsettled, agitated, and moody.  If we persist in holding a normal conversation, she withdraws and complains to Norm that we “don’t like” her and are “just faking it.”

I actually feel sorry for Norm.  Accommodating such severe allism must be exhausting for him.  He seems happy enough, but I suspect this honeymoon period will soon be over.

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