Gray Area for People on the Spectrum

Southwest Boarding Terminal
400 300 Paul Louden

One common issue for people with autism, is the lack of feel for non-literal conversation. Our view of self and the world tends to be very concrete, and we rarely see the abstract. You might say, “Just don’t think like that, life isn’t all or nothing.” And we would if we could.


In my mind, the lack of gray area when you’re on the spectrum means we can have difficulty dealing with or understanding that not everything is necessarily absolute.


For example, the way my mind works, an agreement between two people is an agreement, and it does not matter what your position is relative to each other. Once the agreement is made, you have to stick to it — no matter how small the agreement.


In college, it drove me nuts that an instructor could be five or ten minutes late, but if I arrived late I was penalized. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I just needed the concreteness.


It’s always important to understand that some people might not view the world in the same way that you do. Specifically, when communicating with someone with autism, you might want to be careful about sarcasm or about doing things outside of the “rules” of the situation. Another experience that comes to mind happened to me when I was in the airport. I was in line for a Southwest Airlines flight. I had a boarding number, like B-10. So, I casually took my place in line at the B-10 section. Someone in front of me had the boarding number B-13. But since B-10 through B-15 were all lined up in the “same” section, he just stepped in front of me and said, “you don’t mind do you?”


Honestly, I did mind. Rules are rules. And to me, I follow the rules and expect everyone else to do the same. Otherwise, why do we have them in the first place? Overall, try to remember that people on the spectrum don’t purposely try to take things as literally as they do, it just happens sometimes.


I hope this post is useful! And thanks for following along.

  • Patti Weaver

    I adopted my daughter, Ling from China 17 years ago at the age of 7 years old. she is a delight and we just thought because of changing cultures she was just a little quirky. I have adopted 7 children from around the world. My 22 year old son, Daniel was diagnosed with P.D.D. around the age of 5 years old. He is also bilaterally profoundly deaf. His language is American sign Language. I also, have a 23 year old son, Vidjay from Russia. He was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. so between Daniel and Vidjay we missed aspergers with Ling. She has many of the symptoms. I am going with her to see a neuro- psychologist. we live by the Arthur Center for Autism in Columbia, Mo. there is so long of a waiting list at the Arthur Center can’t get on their list. do you have any suggestions? She is married and some of her relationship quirks ( defense mode) are putting a strain on her marriage and making friends. Please help us with some recommendations. Thank you for offering help to people. I appreciate you! Patti Weaver

  • Paul Louden

    It’s difficult. I’ve lived through the “changing cultures” thing myself, since I’ve lived in other countries when I was young and developing, and it helped up miss the autism until I was 23. As for “defense mode” it’s something hard to eliminate. We learn to be so afraid of being wrong, that we need a lot of time learning to trust the people around us again. It’s important just to spend some time learning about how asperger’s has affected her personal life. It shapes each of us differently, creating anxieties, insecurities, and past traumas that all need time and effort to work out. This usually has to be a proactive process – the person who has autism needs to be shown comfortable spaces to grow in. Pushing for the change can often lead to further anxiety and have the opposite effect from what you want.

  • Shannon

    My 16 year old is really struggling with learning flexibility in thinking and or that others have differing opinions and or rules, do you have anything that was or is helpful in learning and or reminding yourself that not everyone will agreee with his change/understanding/and lack of grey?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.