Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a funny story with me that further illustrates the natural responses that other human beings compulsively elicit from us.
My friend was at the golf nets practising his shots, when a golfing acquaintance using the next net began to offer some advice. My friend knows that this guy plays well, so is aware that his advice may well be valid, but there are some aspects of this guy’s behaviour that he has observed to be quite odd, so he doesn’t necessarily want to change his style based on this guy’s advice alone.
The guy proceeded to tell my friend what he was doing wrong, and instructing him how to position himself and his golf stick instead. My friend went along with it, not wishing to offend him.
And this is the point of me sharing this story. What is it about us that compels us to feel obligated to follow the instructions or guidance of another when it is not what we want to do? I imagine it’s because we are typically polite, and to refuse to follow could be seen to be rude and even causing conflict. Yet, it was actually the other guy who was rude and imposing, correcting, criticising and giving directions rather than asking if my friend minded, or was interested.
I see this situation as illustrating another aspect of what happens in relationships where one partner is on the autism spectrum (ASD) and one is not (Neurotypical). We know from the years of personal stories that many adults on the spectrum can be very controlling in their relationship and home environment. They seem to have a set way they feel things need to be done, and they are never backward in imposing those ways on those around them, frequently correcting and directing in such a way that the partner feels compelled to comply, often out of fear of upsetting the adult on the spectrum. They seem so adamant that there’s only one correct way, and their very survival and well-being seems determined by it being done that way.
To push back, or to refuse or try to reason or argue is seen as disloyalty, as being against them, as causing or creating conflict, and the ordinary “typical” person doesn’t want to be accused of these things because it’s not our nature to be quarrelsome, so we comply.
Funny that. So, once again we note that it’s the person on the spectrum who is actually in control of the home environment. Their position seems unmovable, inflexible … we are adaptable and flexible, so we adjust and compromise … until we’re really just lined up next to them on their terms, a clone as it were, a paper cut-out, with no agency of our own.
The ASD person typically seeks to adjust the environment to meet their needs, whereas those who are “neuro-typical” typically adjust themselves to fit the environment. The perfect partner, responsive and functional, but invisible. If you'd like to comment please email firstname.lastname@example.org