September 3, 2023

Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a group of friends, and after the meal, everyone left without you? Or at least they would have, if you hadn’t jumped into action and scrambled to catch up?

This happened to me a lot in my teens and twenties, and now I understand why.

First, I missed the unspoken clues that people were getting ready to leave – the restless shifting around, the gathering up of things, the wrapping up of stories. I could see when the bill was paid, but the time between that and our departure could vary depending on everyone’s interest in continuing to talk, which they signaled in subtle ways.

Second, I needed more transition time than most. Once I knew we would be leaving soon, I had to disentangle my brain from the thread of conversation, bundle up if the weather was cold, and look around to confirm I wasn’t forgetting anything. If my first clue of my friends’ departure was the departure itself, then I didn’t have time for all that.

Third, I think that people leaving a restaurant tend to focus on who’s ahead of them, not who’s behind them. The lack of attention made me feel forgotten, but it likely wasn’t personal – it just never crossed their minds that someone was at risk of falling behind.

If I’d known back then that I needed explicit communication and extra time for transitions, I could have asked one friend to point out when the others were getting ready to leave – or, if that happened too suddenly, to stick around while I finished getting ready myself.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.