Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spectrum Soundtrack: Hello In There

John Prine didn’t write “Hello in There” about autism. He wrote it about the elderly - the overlooked, the ignored, the invisible. I am 35 years old. I am not old, and I don’t know how old feels. I shouldn’t understand the harsh truths in this song. But I do understand. I am autistic, and I know how “in there” feels.

Who I am “in there,” doesn’t always make it “out there.” It’s not that I want to stay “in there.” It’s more like the real me gets lost between “in” and “out.”

I get lots of “hello’s.” Hello’s as we pass every morning. Hello’s across the lunch table over pizza. Hello’s that start conversations about Egypt, or movies, or pet goldfish. These are hello’s “out there.” With these hello’s, you may think you know me, but you really only know pieces of me.

Do you know the difference between my polite laugh and my genuine, heartfelt laugh? Do you know what my eyes are saying that my mouth never will? Do you know my hopes or dreams, or anything about me that matters?

If you’re a neurotypical, you’re a natural connector. You find someone, or many someones, to share what’s “in there.” I don’t connect so easily. My desire to socialize switches on and off like the weather. I find it a mystery how to move from small talk to meaningful. Times when I want attention, no one is really listening. Other times, I have someone’s undivided interest, but my mouth can’t find the right words, before that brief window between us closes. Sometimes, even between friends, our closeness remains a chasm. Missed connections, over and over.

I know there are many of us, starved to relate, to belong. Many, who go without. When we fail to connect, we lose so much.

No, it’s not like being without food or water. Yes, we function. We should not be satisfied with functioning. The goal is not a functioning life, but a fulfilling life. Can I fully thrive when the part of me that matters the most, that makes me human and not just a character, remains unknown, and unshared?

We all have a need to be understood. We all have a need to be seen for who we are. When you’re old, or disabled, or otherwise different from the norm, that need can go unmet. We sense fear, ignorance, or ambivalence in others. Even if it’s only subconscious, we sense it, and it puts more distance between us. What’s “in there,” what’s real, stays inside. We save it until we feel safe to share. We wait…

Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

So what is the right “hello in there?” I think it’s a little like being in a hamster ball. If you push too hard, you might push me away. If you don’t push hard enough, it won’t go anywhere. The right “hello” is a push that’s just right. I am autistic, and I have much to share, if you are truly listening.

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow [autistic] eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care. Say, "Hello in there, hello.”


  1. Matt,

    This was a beautiful post and you made me cry. Big hugs to you for sharing so much of yourself with us and for helping others.


  2. Laura, thank you. This topic tends to be discussed anonymously or in private chat rooms, and in so doing, we don't let others in on the reality. So this post is very much to support and give a voice to those individuals.

  3. This is beautifully written. Thank you for describing everything so clearly, and best wishes for finding the right kind of connections.

  4. Well done. Well done. My son is 3, we're still trying to find the balance. This helps

  5. Thank you Sarah, and thank you Brian.

  6. As the parent of a young adult aspie, you have hit the nail on the head with this: "The goal is not a functioning life, but a fulfilling life." That should be our mantra, and we're working on it! Thanks.

  7. Thank you, #6, I know many others like you are working on it!

  8. *Nods*

    I know a couple of NTs that don't seem particularly good at connecting. For me, I think it's harder because as someone who isn't all that interested in romantic relationships, I have to connect with a larger number of people in order to get the level of emotional intimacy that people expect from partners. I feel like it's hard to attain mutuality. Sometimes, what seems like a meaningful connection to me wasn't all that meaningful to the other person. Or vice versa.

    I also find small talk--> meaningful very mysterious. For me, it seems like either I start off with meaningful conversation right off the bat with someone, or it never happens.

  9. lly, you are right, it's certainly not a situation confined to Aspies - there are many out there who want to connect but don't for one reason or another. And I also agree about the "all or nothing" phenomenon. If it's not meaningful right away, there's definitely less chance that it'll ever get there.

  10. How unfortunate it is that your blog reaches such a limited audience. Your words poignantly express a universal search that too often goes unfulfilled, the search to free “me.” Your words would encourage many who travel your road.

    You have discovered an extraordinary “me.” I wish you the best in your quest for a free self. It is perhaps the noblest struggle of all.

  11. Thanks, I appreciate that you saw those things in this post.

    I don't think of my audience as limited at all. Between the 100+ who follow me on Twitter, and 200+ on Facebook, it's quite a large following! This post alone has 85 views in less than a week. So it's an audience that's increasing all the time, and I'm grateful to all of them!

  12. Matt,

    Wonderful Blog! I am very close to two teenagers, both of whom I've known since one was 3 years old and the other since he was 8. One has Autism and the other is an Aspie.

    Your blog and cartoons really capture their worlds, especially the Aspie. He loves to doodle. I especially love two of the panels: the one where he says, "Don't interrupt me while I'm listening." So many people forget that and do interrupt. The other is your explanation about doodling as your 'hobby' and you say you are glad it isn't washing machines. Well, my friend with Autism; his hobby is washing machines.

    Thank you for your blog. I have forwarded it to my friends. I wish you the best life.

  13. This post gets to me because it explains what I've been dealing with my whole life. Thank you for writing this.

  14. You're welcome, and I hope you know you're not alone in what you're dealing with.

  15. Thank you, Matt. Very well said. My 14 year old son is an Aspie. He's a great kid. You're a great guy.