When a person goes to a library to read a book, they need and expect, quiet.
A normal speaking voice in that environment will sound like a shout. A person dropping books will make a noise that is both loud and startling.
A group of people talking loudly and gossiping will seem rude and unnecessary.
The person reading might get annoyed. They might even snap at the person who tries to bring them into a friendly conversation.
They might be viewed by the group as cold and impolite.
This is the normal experience of a person with autism. They try to escape into a more peaceful environment than the “real world” typically provides.
Yet, they can’t. Harsh, bright, noisy realities follow them everywhere causing distress.
An unusual shape or texture will stand out harshly against the plain background.
Normal background noises that most people filter out are extremely distracting.
The person is struggling to find a focus and is being drawn in several different directions at once.
It is as if the smoke detector is going off, the baby is crying, the spouse is shouting and suddenly the lighting in the room becomes blindingly bright. All this happens as the person is trying to take an important phone call.
This is the version of reality that autistic people experience. Sometimes their reactions to it may seem harsh, but they are usually just trying to survive.
A little time away from the chaos (ear plugs, sunglasses or alone time) can help to resolve what seems to be an impossible situation.
In the event of a meltdown, there is nothing to do but ride it out, analyze and do things differently next time.
The most helpful thing to do is to allow the person space to resolve difficult emotions, then, in a calmer moment, ask them what went wrong.
It is not helpful to excuse rude behavior, but understand that it isn’t always personal and reassure the person that they are loved and respected.
Chances are, they feel much worse than anyone they may have offended.