My autistic friend doesn’t know I defended him.

It was at least five years ago, probably seven, since everything feels two years off due to the pandemic. I was in the office of where I used to work, and somehow a conversation came up about my autistic friend.

Being my friend or not was irrelevant. It was his autism that was under attack, and I didn’t like it. He had a position, not of any real consequence or power, as far as I know. But, he apparently crossed some line, upset some people, and he was forced to relinquish that job.

I’m uncertain whether he enjoyed it or not, but I suspect he did. It was voluntary, and he probably thought it was a way to contribute. Maybe someone had asked him, and it possibly was more of a hassle than others realized. I simply don’t know his mindset, but mine would most likely be very mixed, so I bet his was as well.

In those situations, a mixed mindset really is an autistic person wanting to do something but finding it a bit challenging when a bunch of neurotypicals are around. Some of our autistic traits are bound to appear, and most NTs just think we are being purposely annoying or obstinate, not following orders.

The conversation about my friend was between me and a person who wielded quite a bit of influence at my workplace. When it came up, I asked him why my friend lost his position.

He said he was adding inappropriate comments to the official minutes of the meetings. (His job was to record them in writing.) I kept pressing him with questions like:

“What did he do wrong?” I got a vague response.

“What exactly did he do wrong?” No real response.
“Did anyone tell him?” “He was warned.”

“How many times?” “More than enough.”

“Wasn’t he just joking?” “Inappropriate.”

“Why did it matter?” “He was asked not to do it, repeatedly.”

The conversation ended when the man found my questions to be a bit tiresome and pointless. I think his final response was something like, “Well, he shouldn’t have, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

My questioning ended, but I wasn’t satisfied. It bothered me. I knew what had happened without seeing a shred of “evidence.” Since the minutes were kept on file and accessible to me, I tried to find them, but they had been removed. What had been so bad? I’ll never know. But, the suggestion of inappropriate implies he was adding comments about other people, and they likely were of a sexual nature. Normally, “inappropriate” is a way of getting around saying that directly, isn’t it?

I knew what my friend was doing. It wasn’t what the others saw. Of course, the actual action was the same, but the reason for it was not to be an annoying autistic person. Like me—just like me—he wanted to be helpful, make others laugh, and just fit in.

He got rejected.

Now, here is the craziest part of all. Somehow, in whatever twisted fateful universe, I apparently made similar mistakes. However, this time, it was my friend who wanted me to face consequences for them. I had defended him, taking on, without any hesitation, a person of influence my job. He, on the other hand, decided to attack me, costing me not a voluntary position, but my job, income, friends, and potentially my life.

Why did he do this? I don’t know. But, I do know that he never knew I defended him. Maybe he wouldn’t have cared. Perhaps, he would have, in a moment of paranoia or rigidity (both common in autism), decided I planned to use that as an excuse. It wasn’t. Though the pain was similar in many respects, I never would have imagined he would have inflicted on me multiple times over the pain anyone did on him. His application of justice towards me was unbalanced, unfair, and done without all the salient facts. Yet, I understand his mistakes all too well. They are the ones I try not to make myself, but sometimes do. Like him, I’m just trying to do the right thing, but it doesn’t work out as planned.

But, not all autistics are the same. Pain tends to get passed on. I’m guessing that, in his mind, he was passing on to me the judgment that had been given to him. He had become obsessed—over the years—with getting some sort of revenge on people who had upset him. He didn’t let it go. Furthermore, he isolated himself from a larger group because he wanted to avoid seeing a few people. When the chance arose, he must have been overjoyed and even relieved to do to me what others had done to him. They probably felt relief, as well, when they let him go.

Unfortunately, he didn’t know how much I had defended him. I’d like to think it would have mattered, but an autistic brain fixated on something is difficult to unlock. Throw in some paranoia, and the results are usually a disaster.

I’m not mad at my friend. That’s the part most people would find confusing. I’m not upset at him because I understand what he was feeling and probably still feels. Like me, he feels misunderstood, unappreciated, and ultimately outcast. Just as he did to me, he was, in his mind, unfairly treated, not clear on what he did wrong or why people were taking something so seriously when they most likely did the same thing. Yes, they probably did the same—or similar—things. However, somehow, they can do it, and he could not. Somehow I could not do what others do as well.

Just as I got a vague response as to what He did wrong, so too did I about what I had done wrong. Nobody seems to want to offer any sensible evidence. Maybe it’s because they know it’s a sham, not by the letter of the law perhaps, but by the spirit of it or the grossly unfair misapplication or arbitrary application of it. If nothing else, it’s a ridiculously shortsighted hypocrisy, wrapped in either an expensive fur or blazing foil.

Technically, virtually everyone could be pulled over for speeding at some point. When you are autistic, it feels like other people are flying by you and can often get away with it. Meanwhile, you go one mile over, and you get a ticket or a stern warning, possibly even yelled at when you point out all the other cars going by faster. In many team sports, there are infractions that could be called virtually at any time. Athletes generally don’t get too frustrated as long as they are called evenly on both sides.

For me, and for my friend, I suspect, when others do certain things, say certain things, and act a certain way, everything is just fine. It even can be encouraged or applauded! People laugh, give them praise. But, when we do them, there is “hell to pay.” It’s their neurotypical hell we were trying to avoid to begin with, and now we have to pay them to be pushed to a lower level. They make the rules, and they break the rules. We try to follow them, and we are punished. “No good deed goes unpunished” surely was coined by an autistic person or someone who observed a poor autistic soul being devoured by bloodthirsty neurotypicals.

I didn’t put all of this together until recently. As I’ve frequently said, it can take me a year to figure out what many children might know right away. While I was focused on how I was not being appreciated for defending him, I’d forgotten he didn’t know about it. More importantly, I’d not realized his perspective was not of me defending him but of what had happened to him.

When I thought about that, I no longer was upset with him. If he could ever put that together as well, and connect his situation to mine, I doubt he’d be upset either. I’ll trust his autistic brain on that, even though I know it needs some time, just like mine.

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