Every now and then the MBTI makes its rounds on social media, and I’m surprised to see many of my friends identify as the “rarest” type, INFJ. But those same friends tend to be autistic, too. And very friendly. So I started to wonder if type indicators just don’t know what to make of autistic extroverts. What if my huge cohort of INFJ friends is really a huge group of ENFJ autistics?
What makes us different from other extroverts?
Many of the characteristics of introverts are also common among autists. We need a lot of down time to recharge, we spurn shallow conversation, we like quiet, and we prefer smaller groups or being on stage to being in the midst of a crowd. But for autistics, the reasons tend to be due to sensory regulation and our built-in need for sincerity.
Autistic people love other people, and we’re often interested in their lives, but in our own particular idiom. Here are some of the traits I’ve observed in autistic extroverts:
- No nonsense conversations. We might be good storytellers, but our sense of humor is based in truth rather than deception. We might seem to have a wry or dry style. We might say awkward things or state our ideas and opinions in very strong terms. If we talk to you, it’s a matter of respect, and we don’t want to waste the effort of coordinating ourselves to communicate by saying something we don’t mean.
- Accepting people as they are. We accept people as they are, not as they aspire to be or as they pretend to be. This can be disturbing to people who like to put up a front or who like to evade reality-based conversations. But for people who see this trait as the strength it is, this trait makes for very honest friendships.
- Lacking favoritism. We don’t seek out friends based on their prestige or popularity, and we don’t suck up to people in power. This can be perceived as insubordination or rudeness by people who prefer sycophants or who long to be acknowledged as better than someone else. But it’s actually part of trait two, accepting people as they are: humans, with whom we might have goals and values in common, or not. We respect everyone as humans, but it takes demonstrable acts of justice or injustice to move up or down in an autistic person’s regard. We don’t like or dislike people just because someone tells us to.
- Using lots of analogies and pop cultural references in order to be understood. We have to find ways to bridge the gap between our visual or spatial thinking and speaking or writing for people who seem to need things spelled out for them differently. It’s easier to use analogies and pop culture frames to make sure we have a common touchstone in our communicating.
- Working a lot harder to communicate. I can’t speak for all autistic extroverts, but I know that my desire to make friends has often been waylaid by my needing to do so much math to predict what the other person does and doesn’t know or is or isn’t asking. When you have an autistic brain, sometimes it’s hard to know which stimuli or information is the focus of the group’s attention. For me and many others, apraxia (difficulty coordinating speech) adds to the challenge. I am fluently verbal–apparently–but have to expend a great deal of effort to plan my speaking to make it understandable to others. I love talking with people, though, so I make the effort when I can. I also have to plan ahead and take time to recover after I have big speaking events or social times.
- We don’t like loud noises, including loud voices. Sometimes neurotypical extroverts are incredibly loud, but this is not so common among autistic extroverts. We will have a harder time talking with loud people in the room. This might make us seem reserved when we’re actually just overwhelmed or unable to process our thoughts in the presence of louder voices.
- We love to share joy. I’ve met autistic extroverts from across the spectrum, some who use speech output devices, some who talk, some who do a bit of both, and sharing joy effusively is a common trait. It’s unfiltered, sincere joy over anything or anyone we love.
What would you add? What does autistic extroversion look like to you?