How to Talk Like a Normie
A Step-by-Step Guide for the Autistic (Written By Someone With Autism)
To be clear, the following is based on my experience with autism:
- The answer to “How are you?” should never be the truth. When a person greets you, they’re not actually listening. Respond “Fine” or “Good” and reciprocate the question, ignoring their response.
- On Mondays, the follow up to your greeting should be, “How was your weekend?” When someone asks this, always say, “It was great!” and mention what you did in one or two sentences, though nothing too extravagant; e.g., “I fed cockatoos at the zoo.”
- If you haven’t seen someone in more than a day, it’s necessary to engage in “small talk” before conducting business as usual. You first need to acknowledge them (e.g., “Nice stapler, Becky”) and remember to ask about their kid who’s sick and look at photos of their cat being a cat.
- If someone shows you a picture of their new baby, never, under any circumstances, say what you really think it looks like. Tell them, “Aw, so cute” and get out of the conversation as fast as possible; e.g.; “Did you hear that? I think someone just spilled orange soda on my desk.”
- When your objective is to talk to a group, it gets more complicated. To effortlessly join a conversation you’re not involved in, you must strategize and make quick decisions like you’re about to engage in armed combat.
a. Observe your targets from a distance to detect what information is being exchanged and get a sense of the current climate. Limit 12 seconds. Be discreet; e.g., pretend you’re watering the ficus plant. b. They will usually be facing each other in a tight circle, creating a barricade. Keep your eyes on the lookout for a gap in their defense.c. Once you identify an opening, approach quickly and casually. Make yourself known when advancing toward the targets; e.g., “Hey, did anyone see [insert recent sporting event]?” Ambushing is never recommended (see point #3).d. Have something in one hand like an avocado or a pencil sharpener, no arms crossed or hands in pockets, don’t fidget or shift your weight from foot to foot: What isn’t said says a lot.
6. Once you do talk, say enough, but be careful not to say too much. There’s a fine line: 2 minutes and 10 seconds max.
7. Look people in the eyes when you speak (that’s polite), but don’t stare (that’s rude).
8. What you say must be relevant to the other speaker(s) and connected to the topic being discussed. If you’d like to talk about something else, gradually transition to that topic by executing a coordinated sequence of moves; e.g., from talking about summer, to barbecuing, to your concern that the Hamburglar may be in danger because you haven’t seen him in a while.
9. Silence is considered awkward. Do not allow a silence of more than three seconds to occur. I’m not sure what happens, but people will do anything to avoid it.
10. Topics to refrain from: the colonoscopy you just had, your sex life, Aunt Edna’s suicide, the bacne you can’t figure out how to treat, a detailed explanation of your scrapbooking hobby.
11. Throw in a bunch of, “Tell me more about that” — people always love it. You can actually hold a 30-minute conversation without having to say anything else.
12. Have an escape plan just in case; e.g., “Oh my god, I’ve developed a sudden adult-onset avocado allergy and need to go home!”
13. When asked a question, either tell the truth or use the escape plan because you’re a terrible liar.
14. Don’t be awkward. Plan everything in your head before you say it out loud, but don’t sound rehearsed.
15. The most fundamental rule: Just be yourself.
Now get out there and break a leg!*
Your Friend on the Spectrum
*Please refer to my other guide: How to Read Like A Normie.
Marisa Russello is currently at least six feet away from you and working on a memoir entitled Everything You Can’t Control. She writes from her home in upstate New York and works as a peer recovery specialist at a local nonprofit where she supports individuals improving their mental health and wellness. Find her on Instagram: @marisarussellowrites.