Naive Safety & "Signals"


An autistic woman wrote about her sense that when she was young, her naivete about sex protected her from possible sexual overtures (or worse). I responded:

When I was 15 or 16 years old, I spent quite a lot of time wandering. My mother had to work full-time (and look after my much younger brother the rest of the time), and that left me unsupervised. Looking back, I recognize that I did things that were dangerous. Like you, I decided it was naivete that saved me. Fully adult men used to attach themselves to me, for example, when I was wandering around center city (downtown) Philadelphia. Sometimes one of them went as far as touching me (putting a hand up my skirt, for instance), but it never went farther. The reason, I think, is not only my naivete but also my autistic lack of "signals."

As I understand it, most non-autistic people communicate in large part by non-verbal means. I have read about it and know in theory that it consists of gestures and tones of voice and body language, but my ability to connect that theoretical knowledge with anything real in the world is extremely limited. When I was a teenager, I hadn't even heard about it yet. That means I was unable to "read" the signals the potentially dangerous-to-me adults were emitting. And it also means that I failed to emit the signals they must have been expecting to feel emerging from me. I think my failure to respond as they expected kept them in doubt (or confusion) and made it harder for them to proceed with whatever behavior I might accidentally have provoked if my mind/body functioned in the NT manner by sending out automatic non-verbal messages in response to non-verbal messages emitted by other people.

Of course, I also was lucky. I didn't attract the attention of anyone whose will to do damage overrode his ability to recognize the "something strange" about me.



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