Parties are a bit of a conundrum for the extroverted autistic individual. Of course, I am not extroverted and I am not autistic, so this analysis is based on my (slightly biased) observations as the mother of such. Being extroverted, Nigel craves the fun social interaction of a party, especially when the party-goers include family and friends who know him and love him. But being autistic, he often needs relief from the very social interaction he so craves. And as a verbal autistic, he often finds that the topics he chooses to discuss can cause confusion or amusement (at his expense). Sometimes he unwittingly says something downright inappropriate or resorts to movie echolalia. It’s tough needing to work so hard at something that’s supposed to be fun.
I watch him at a party at our house. Nigel’s working the room, showing each person one by one his self-designed Lego mini-figure of JFK, discussing his theories on the assassination, and even thinking to ask those over the age of 45 if they remembered the day that it happened. He is trying to make connections with people the only way he knows how – talking about his interests and asking for others’ opinions. He would do this all night if he could. But after a while, the din of a party will get to him, and he removes himself for a moment to take a break. If he doesn’t, he will become over-stimulated and could have a meltdown. It’s happened before. He knows this about himself, but sometimes I need to remind him. This time, he does it on his own. And then he’s right back out in the thick of things. Back for more.
I, meanwhile, hang back as much as possible at a party. This is especially difficult to do when it is being held at my house. So, I have devised a method of getting as much ready as possible before the guests arrive, making sure all the refreshments are accessible, and then I sit at the far end of my kitchen counter, visible if anyone needs me for anything and near enough to throw out a comment or two should the spirit move me, but removed a bit from the action. Unlike my son, who is making the rounds with his homemade spear from 10,000 BC and a Peruvian Chullo hat on his head that my father brought back for him as a souvenir from a recent trip. Later, guests will be wowed by his Terminator sunglasses, floating pumice rock, and knowledge of space exploration history. He is in his element, and I am impressed and proud.
And then Nigel gets a little carried away, a little cocky, perhaps. Maybe he’s thinking, “I’m working this party good. Who says I need a social skills class? I’ve got it under control.” He notices Mom sitting a little close to her boyfriend (who was just introduced to all the relatives tonight). Close enough to tease her about it. And then something flies out of his mouth in his loud voice. Something that brings the party to a grinding halt.
Nigel: Mom, you’re sitting too close to his crotch.
Nigel: That’s okay, because I want to have a baby brother. I want you to have another baby.
Me (about ready to pass out, not sure if I have the strength or wit to manage damage control): Shh! Quiet!
Note to self: Time for a little talk about FILTERS!