“what is wrong with you?”

What is wrong with me? What is wrong with her?


Something is just awkward and off about that person. They don’t understand your directions, they don’t understand your complaints, they don’t do a thing to correct their behavior, which is obviously inappropriate, wrong, bad, socially unacceptable, harmful, etc.

This is about autistic perception and processing, and how it can be different from NT (NeuroTypical) thinking.

Not everybody who is autistic struggles with this particular problem, but many of my autistic cohorts think in a very direct way which does not include guessing at less than specific directions, comments, thoughts, etc. Many of us are incapable of guessing from hints.

As a child it was a very painful struggle, and is still at the base of many of my worst memories of social mistakes and misunderstandings.

Direct communication as specific as possible, with plenty of details is the best way to reach my understanding.

Vague, generalized, hinting, innuendo or hidden, veiled suggestions or threats will not be noted or responded to. I just don’t understand them for what they are. I in essence can’t see or hear them as they are meant.

Today I ask for specifics, as a child I was thought of as being challenging, difficult, deliberately being naughty, uncooperative, etc etc etc.

My life growing up was full of questions about why I did not co-operate with the school group, the family unit, with others I was in contact with in almost any and every situation.

I wanted to perform as they desired, but did not understand what was expected of me.
I was often challenged with questions about “what were you thinking” when I did something I got punished, humiliated, mocked or degraded for.
This was an every day thing, sometimes happening multiple times a day. It could have been avoided, in many instances could have been helped and ended successfully.

“Why don’t you straighten up and fly right?”
“Pull yourself together and get on with it!”
“What’s the matter with you?, you better get busy!”

“You always” ( fill in the blanks, screw things up, ruin the fun, feel sorry for yourself, think only of yourself, are so thoughtless, are so selfish, etc)

Same for the “you never” lots of things to criticize and scold me about there, too.

I felt as if I was constantly wrong and bad, and in one sense perhaps I was.

But you will note that all of these comments are non specific… they do not explain exactly what I am doing at the time that engenders anger, frustration, impatience, disgust, hurt feelings, or other emotions.
I was never able to extrapolate from these exasperated comments what behavior was wanted from me, in what ways, and how to perform the expected behaviors.
All I knew was that I was once again being punished as a failure.

Today I can tell you that I needed specific instruction and perhaps explanations. I didn’t need to hear a lot about somebody else’s emotions, I just needed to know how not to anger you.

Tell me: “Stop kicking your brothers chair leg.” instead of “stop that”.

Tell me: “Take the laundry upstairs and put it away”, instead of just handing me a basket of clean clothing.

Tell me to set the table, instead of saying “dinner is almost ready”.

Tell me to empty the waste baskets in every specific place, and to then take the garbage bag to the can or out to the curb, instead of just saying “put out the trash”.

Tell me get ready to go to the store by saying “we are going to the store soon, so change to clean clothes, wash you hands and face and put on your shoes.”

General statements of intent such as “we are leaving in 5 minutes” does not tell me what I need to do to be ready to leave.

To Neurotypical people it seems things ‘should’ be automatically understood from short, non specific comments as above, but I can guarantee you those comments were not understood at the time and remain a puzzle in my mind and painful to my soul as reminders of how stupid I felt and how angry everybody was with me, when I did not understand a thing. If there is an autistic person in your life perhaps you and they may find life easier if specifics are given when requesting co-operation instead of using generalities.

6 thoughts on ““what is wrong with you?”

  1. Yes, me too. I came off as too uncaring in my earlier post. What a difficult time that little girl went through. Not knowing, not understanding, and no one understanding why. Judging her. Punishing her. Makes me want to cry, thinking about her and all the other little girls going through this right now.

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    1. thanks, it was nobody’s fault, nobody knew! I used the example to show how autism needs specific information because in general, we are not able to draw conclusions from hints and body language or other circumstances around usl I was not able to help in this situation because the “dinner in 5 minutes” was non specific. At times it could have meant for me to help serve food, pour drinks into glasses, round up my siblings and help the wash up before the meal, etc. That open phrase was not helpful to me in my autistic thinking because it was not specific enough. The little girl was a long time ago and today’s autistic old lady wishes every older person who experienced things such as this could learn of their autism and understand their own thought and learning processes… knowing I am autistic has been such a relief. these incidents finally make sense, I understand how and why they happened. I hope others can find the peace and comfort of knowing it was autism. It was nobody’s fault.

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  2. I know what you mean about it being a relief to know the truth. All my painful experiences in life because of my Asperger’s came into high relief when I received my diagnosis a couple of years ago. At first I felt an intense sense of shame at being “flawed” and “imperfect.” But that quickly gave way to a great sense of relief—all of my past missteps and my current and forever social awkwardness were and are NOT my fault! I don’t have to be ashamed of my failures anymore but can now see them more clearly, through the prism of Asperger’s. I can give myself a break. My therapists have always said I’m way too hard on myself. Being a flawed perfectionist will bring that out in a person. Self-hatred is a heavy thing to lug around on top of all the other burdens of life. I’m glad I found out the truth about me— the struggles to gain diagnosis (the Truth) were worth it.

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