Apply here the usual disclaimers that I’m not engaging in armchair diagnosis. Someone can have what could be seen as autistic traits without themselves being actually autistic. I just find parallels interesting.
First, we have reverie’s difficulties with small talk, which they describe as “nemesis” and “most hate enemy”.
So, is small talk just a skill? Then why can’t I hone it, like any other thing? I just keep fucking it up, even though I’ve had so many opportunities to practice!
I mean, maybe this is another case of feeling like I have nothing interesting to say. If so, is that a ravine I need to jump before I can improve at small talk? Or will practicing small talk eventually reinforce that maybe I do have something interesting to say?
Many autistic people might say a couple of different things about this. They might express a similar problem with small talk, to the point of not really understanding what the point of it is at all anyway.
They also might instead simply describe that small talk involves a number of different, simultaneous mental activities and therefore runs afoul of our difficulties with rapid task-switching—which normatives call “multitasking” despite that not really being a thing.
Small talk requires the capacity to listen to another person while having one’s own thoughts about the conversation, keeping track of both, and being able to spot when the turn-taking is meant to happen while also judging what the other person or people involved mean to be getting out of it. All of this somehow in the context of not really talking about anything.
For me, small talk differs from the brief and basically formulaic exchanges that happen every day when checking out at the grocery store or ordering your usual afternoon coffee. These pleasantries mostly just are social lubrication, and neurodivergent and neurotypical alike basically have scripts for them.
Small talk is at some other level, because it sits between social pleasantries and deep engagements. Mostly, for me, small talk happens more or less smoothly if I’m in a comfortable situation. If it involves discomfort or the unfamiliar, I’m more likely to run into some cognitive walls.
I guess what I really mean to be saying here is that reverie should first figure out what they want out of small talk or if, in fact, they just don’t want to engage in small talk at all.
The first can be challenging to answer, while the second comes with the challenge of figuring out how to avoid it either without offending someone or without caring if you do.
What’s important for all parties to understand, though, is that small talk isn’t a given. It takes two to tango, and no one somehow is owed the dance of small talk. It’s an agreement between parties, casual though it may be.
Then we have Tracy Durnell discussing scent sensitivities, like smelling “wet wood on the day our hot water heater pipe ruptured”, as well as other sensory matters.
Sometimes I wonder whether I have sensory sensitivity because I also was the only one to notice (and be driven off the wall by) an unseated, faintly rattling light fixture at my old office, I had to move a new phone charger out of my bedroom because its whine was keeping me awake, and I wrote such a scathing review of the Kindle Paperwhite that someone from Amazon called me to figure out what was going on — it turned out the page refresh that everyone else ignores set me off.
So, I know I said I wasn’t armchair diagnosing, and I won’t here, but, yes: this is almost certainly some fashion of sensory processing difference. Those examples are just too specific and anyone autistic or otherwise sensory sensitive immediately knows the feeling even if their own specifics are not the same.
Interestingly for me, while I’ve trouble filtering out sounds and definitely have some degree of photophobia (as well as heat sensitivities), I have one of the worst senses of smell of anyone I’ve ever known. Back when I was around goats all the time, it was well understood that if I could smell the barn, it was time to change the bedding straw.
I’ve paired these two not because they’re about the same thing, except if you zoom out enough they possibly share an implicated dynamic: do you think there’s something wrong with you, or do you think there’s simply a mismatch between the way you function and the way other people function?
Which isn’t to say either necessarily is the case. It’s entirely possible that reverie does want to be able to engage in small talk. Even there, though, clearly they’d need to approach it in some manner differently than other people, in order to do so.
What I’m getting at, I guess, as I close this out, is that first you need to judge your own situation on its own terms, not on someone else’s. Then you figure out how to apply that to the world around you and what you want out of it.