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Background

I have a group of friends, and we've known each other for about 7 years now. We once all were colleagues. One of these friends, Alice, has an autism spectrum disorder. This friend got fired from our workplace. During the period when she was in between jobs and had limited money available, we all adapted our activities to fit her circumstances (e.g. no going out to town, but inviting her and everyone else to our homes for home cooked dinner).

Incident

After she found another job, I declined to go to one of her parties because she insisted on having a barbecue with food from the caterer she was now working for. I declined and explained that because I was going back to school full-time, this meant I could only work Saturdays, and so I did not have the money to spare for an expensive barbecue party (it is normal in The Netherlands that when organizing a barbecue, people pay per person).

This friend got very mad, apparently because I had ruined her party plans with my declination. My co-workers tried to mediate, but to no avail. She wouldn't, and still won't, say what is bothering her to either me or other co-workers.

Problem

Since this all happened, I have never again been invited to her parties. But her behavior at parties of mutual friends where we were both present is bothering me a lot.

She is completely ignoring me and my existence. Sometimes to the extent of just talking over a conversation I'm having with one of our mutual friends, like I don't exist.

It's not just not talking to me, she is actively showing that she is completely ignoring me. Other friends have noticed this as well, and we have tried multiple times to find our why she feels she has to do this.

Already Tried

I and other friends have tried:

  • Asking her directly what I did wrong to deserve such treatment. She never gave a reason, so we asked her to stop treating me different from everybody else if she can't give a reason/reasonable talk about it.
  • Asking her to have a one-on-one talk with me. This just gets ignored as well, doesn't matter if I ask or a co-worker. She even ignores it when we are both in the same room, and other people can hear me making the request.
  • Gently pointing out her behavior towards me ("Why are you talking over me?") when it is clear she is ignoring my existence. This usually results in her trying to start a shouting match, and leaving the party shortly after. This has also failed to show a reason for her behavior or start a reasonable discussion.

Question

I would love to talk this out with her, to make these parties a fun happening again for both of us. But at this point, I'm thinking that my 'normal' process of resolving a conflict (confronting somebody about a problem, asking what is wrong, how I could help to improve the situation and having a reasonable talk about it) is not going to work because of her autism.

How can I effectively approach somebody with an autism spectrum disorder that is acting as if I don't exist, so that she will treat me in a normal way again?

Notes

I am not talking to her at parties, or approaching her. But she still seems intent on ruining the party for me, by ruining the conversations I am having, hijacking them and then pretending I don't exist, acting like they just started a conversation with another person that was not having a conversation to begin with.

I am looking for advice on how to address that specific behavior, I am fine with not talking to her, but I am not fine with the way she is treating me. She is actively seeking these situations herself, not just trying to avoid me.

Alice has an autism spectrum disorder. I don't know if her behavior is caused or exacerbated by that, but her behavior is disruptive regardless.

I only mentioned the autism spectrum disorder because I know it can cause issues with interpersonal skills, and might be the reason why I have been unable to resolve this conflict in a 'normal' way, using 'neurotypical' interpersonal skills. So it is something I want to take into consideration when dealing with the situation/approaching her about the situation, so as to not inadvertently hurt her too bad.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Whether you think the ASD is relevant or not is something one should cover in an answer, not in comments. Thanks! – Catija Sep 7 '17 at 20:46
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I hesitate to suggest shunning her like the other answers suggest. It seems like it might work, but it also seems like it could be traumatic for her.

A little about autism

I think it's worth knowing a little about how she may see the problem. This is based on my own experience with autism, which probably isn't exactly the same as hers but might give some insight.

To expand on a few comments I've read:

Yes, this is childish behavior. No, it isn't unusual. Autism is a development disorder that slows mental and emotional development. While Alice may appear to be an adult on the surface, she's still a child on the inside[2], and her behavior makes a lot more sense when you understand that her physical and emotional age are different. Alice is currently inflicting the classic "You're a big meanie so I'm never going to talk to you ever again" punishment on you. The only difference is now her memory is long enough that a nap won't fix the problem.

As someone who's autistic myself, I can easily see how I'd behave the same way if I were a little further along the spectrum. I think the autism aspect is important.

I think it's unfair to expect her to "know better" like everyone else.

  • It assumes she's aware she's autistic, which isn't necessarily true. I explained my situation to someone recently and he told me his son is very similar and now he wonders if the son is autistic too. His son is 40 years old. Diagnosis happens late all the time -- especially with females since, as @bigbadmouse points out, they mask their autism better. The OP knows Alice is autistic, but didn't explain whether Alice said that herself or if she just put two and two together and figured it out without Alice's involvement. (Update: Comments say she's aware of her autism, so this won't apply to her, but may to others.)
  • It assumes she accepts she's autistic. I spent years in denial myself.
  • It assumes she accepts it's a problem. When I hit acceptance, I just shrugged it off and ignored it because I thought it was no big deal.
  • It assumes she knows there's help. When I was diagnosed, everyone was so busy fighting that they never bothered doing anything about it. I had no idea help even existed.
  • It assumes she accepted that help. There's a good chance I would have rejected any attempts at helping me because I had a hard time trusting anyone and thought I could do it myself. I still do to an extent.
  • It assumes the help she got was actually effective. Often, it isn't. I spent two years in therapy making no improvements at all before giving up in frustration.

There are a lot of shaky assumptions behind that assertion, and some potential landmines for taking it.

Being autistic, one of my biggest problems is loneliness. I attend school for several hours a day and church activities twice a week. I even talk to people while I'm there. I still don't have anyone I consider a friend. [1]

What concerns me is that she may be in the same situation: Even though she goes to social events and talks to your friends, she may still feel left out frequently. It wouldn't be too surprising if your social circle (and maybe some of her catering coworkers) were all the friends she has.

What would you do if your entire social circle suddenly ganged up and started ignoring you? What if you had no idea how you got that social circle in the first place? How would you cope if you couldn't replace them? How would you react "knowing" all your friends hate you now and it's all one person's fault?

If I were in her shoes explaining why I was upset, I might tell you something like this:

I spent a lot of my early life lonely and left out. One day I finally overcame all the anxiety and difficulty and got a job. To my delight, some of my coworkers liked me and made friends. They even invited me to social gatherings! I was in heaven.

Everyone is especially nice to the host. I wanted them to be nice to me too so I could feel liked and important. I watched the hosts carefully for several parties and, when I was feeling especially brave, I announced I was going to host one too. I was very careful to do everything exactly like the other hosts and everything was great! I was so happy!

The first party went so well I hosted another one. I carefully did the exact same thing again to make sure it all went well, and it did. I was doing so well I did it three more times. It was amazing being the center of attention for a change instead of getting ignored all the time.

Everything was going well, so I did it again. I'd been catering events recently and everyone really liked them, so I got the same caterer for my party because they make people like the party. But this time Tinkeringbell said she couldn't come. That wasn't supposed to happen. I double and triple checked everything and made absolutely sure it was all exactly the same as last time (except the improvements), but it didn't work. I was so discouraged I couldn't do anything right and the whole party was a complete failure. Everything went wrong. Nothing was predictable any more.

I didn't get my party and it completely ruined my routine. I was confused, stressed, depressed, and frustrated. I missed my social time, which was really important to me. I slept so much the next week to recover that I missed saying hi to the cute boy at work for two whole days in a row and now I'm scared to talk to him again because he probably forgot who I am by now. Tinkeringbell is the worst person ever.

You'd be hard pressed getting that out of me though. So here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Implicit is bad; explicit is good. If you ever write a book, having a character say "I'm angry!" is terrible writing. Unless they're talking to an autistic person. It's a lot easier to process your emotional state if it's made explicit instead of assuming I can pick it out implicitly. I'm bad at subtlety. Especially nonverbal communication.
  • Rules are good. I want to know the rules to follow to succeed. I don't care if you think they're insanely complex and situation specific. I want detailed instructions. It's either that or hours of grueling practice with people I'm scared of in situations I'm uncomfortable with. The good news is I can juggle a lot more detail than most (I'm not sure if that's typical of autism) (update: apparently it's very common).
  • Communicating is hard. While you're enjoying a relaxing conversation about the latest news, I'm frantically scrambling to keep up with the flood of information you're dumping on me. It would make a huge difference in my life if people actively encouraged me to take it substantially slower than the norm and made sure I knew they liked it when I did.
  • Predictability is king. Did you pick that out in the quote above? Many autistic people follow repetitive routines to the point of obsession. Personally, I have to plan small breaks to my daily routine a minimum of several hours in advance and remind myself multiple times or else I'll just go ahead and do what I always do. I might just do what I always do anyway. It's safer that way. Even when I take a risk and do something a little different, sometimes it's so traumatic I never do it again.

Why direct confrontation is bad

As you pointed out, your system for handling conflict is to confront someone and directly ask what's wrong. When people do that to me, it creates an instant conflict. I see other people handle that by responding immediately, and I want to be like other people, so I want to respond immediately too. But my mind is still several seconds to several minutes behind on processing the flood of nonverbal information I just got hit with. My reaction is usually to panic, spit out whatever poorly thought out response pops into my head first, and hope you'll go talk to someone else so I can recover. [3]

Minutes to hours later, I'll finally develop a well thought out response to your request.

Real-time conversations are hard.

What to do

To be honest, it sounds like you already know why she's upset: You didn't go to her party. Skipping the party may have seemed a perfectly ordinary and reasonable thing to do (everyone does it every now and then, right?), but Alice wasn't prepared to handle it and got hurt as a result. Whether what you did was "justified" from your point of view or not, the appropriate response is still the same: Acknowledge you hurt her, reassure her that you feel bad, try to make it up to her, and take measures to prevent this from happening again in the future.

Since skipping a party hurt her, maybe you can help her feel better by going to one. And being mindful of her situation may give you more success. A less stressful approach would be to give her a letter instead. There's no overwhelming nonverbal information to deal with, and nobody expects letters to be responded to immediately, so she can take her time thinking it through. Something like the following would be good:

I'm sorry I hurt you. I feel very bad and want to make it up to you. If you tell me at least two weeks before your next party so I can save enough money and clear my schedule for you, I promise I'll come this time. --Tinkeringbell

Short, explicit, and to the point. It gives simple, predictable rules too.

Take a little time to make it look nice. Write it on good stationary in a pretty envelope. I'd probably go with plain red or blue, with a flap that stays closed but isn't sealed. Then approach her at the next gathering where she's present (preferably near the end after she's had time to get her socializing in), give her the letter, ask her to read it when she isn't busy, and leave her be.

Give her plenty of time to absorb and think about it and she'll be a lot more likely to give you a well thought out response. Don't pressure her for a response though -- let her give it to you on her own time.

A backup plan

If the letter doesn't work out (and maybe even if it does), you might consider employing your friends' aid in coaxing her away from your social circle. She likes parties for the attention and appreciation, so if you can give her a better alternative, she may pursue that instead (or at least split her efforts and attend fewer parties).

When I was young, I volunteered in my school's library. Every other day, at the exact same time, I'd go in and line up all the books with the edge of the shelf, then put all the books on the sorting cart away. There were no scary surprises, the rules were well understood, and following them reliably got me appreciation from the librarian. Working in the library is still one of my best memories of school.

Some places (like libraries) rely heavily on volunteers to help with their routine maintenance. Many of them "pay" their volunteers with heaps of praise and appreciation. If you or your friends can (and are willing to expend the effort to) get her involved with one (or better, several) of them, she'll likely feel at home in an environment with easy rules that reliably get her the attention she wants. It'll probably appeal to her more than the parties and distract her from stalking you all the time. Inviting her to join you on visits to them a few times and then assuring her she can go on her own too would likely work well.

Having multiple active social circles would also be a big improvement to her emotional health. It'll be easier to keep going and seek out replacements for unhealthy circles if she can turn to several others for support in the meantime.

Next time

Next time (if she gives you another chance), you can try to be sensitive to the fact that there's a reason for her parties: they're a bid for attention; an attempt to fit in with and be liked by people she desperately needs but who frequently hurt and confuse her. That doesn't mean you always have to go, but at least reassure her that you're happy she invited you and appreciate her caring for you. Make sure she gets some success, even if it doesn't go exactly according to plan.

Also, it may be worth introducing her to some other easy ways to get attention that are less likely to be rejected. Bringing baked goods to social gatherings, for example. The investment needed to take a cookie and say thanks is low, so she'll be likely to succeed often. Teaching her a variety of strategies and encouraging her to pick a different one each time will help keep her from getting too repetitive.

Shunning?

@JarkoDubbeldam really described the danger of shunning nicely in one of the comments:

From my own experience, negative experiences stick around for way longer than positives and can easily overwhelm them. I personally find it really hard to forgive. The negative experience would create a reaction, and in future references to that negative experience (in this example you might be that reference) it is very easy to default to that same reaction, to that same feeling. Even if at some point the default is not at all appropriate anymore. The default "rule" is just so baked in that it becomes hard to step away from it. Even to admit that it might not be appropriate.

Do note that I am not condoning the behaviour, but rather give a point of view as to why someone might act that way.

-- Jarko Dubbeldam

This is a combination of the Recency Effect and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. People's most recent experience with something has a disproportionate weight in their overall impression[4], so when the most recent experience is bad, it taints the whole impression. Then they expect the next encounter to be bad, causing them to be paranoid about every little problem, resulting in it actually becoming bad simply because they expected it to. Bad last impressions kill a lot of relationships.

Being often confused and overwhelmed by the world have given me a lot of insecurity, which makes the risk of a bad last impression a common experience for me. When the rules as I perceive them suddenly change out from under me (a regular occurrence), the negative experience has a strong tendency to make me just avoid the situation rather than trying again. It's better to stick to what's predictable and safe.

I think that ideally, she should be alerted to the change as early as possible and given the new "rule" so she can adjust to it. Easing into the adjustment doesn't always work, but it helps. For the first time,

Alice, I get upset when you interrupt my conversation with Tinkeringbell. I've been patient a long time because I like you and I thought you'd forgive her and be friends again, but you've been like this a long time and I'm starting to get frustrated. If you don't want to share a conversation, please wait until I'm done and I'll be happy to talk to you next.

Use that once per friend, then skip it afterward.

Note the explanation for why Alice was allowed to break the rule in the past (the speaker likes her and hoped she'd forgive) and why that's changing now (she hasn't forgiven for a long time and the speaker is frustrated). Framing it as an extension of the rules she already knows instead of revoking them shows her they haven't changed, and will maybe give her some hope they can still be understood.

Making it clear the speaker still likes her and wants to talk to her too is also important. It helps her know she hasn't completely ruined things yet and there's still hope for recovery.

The next time,

Alice, if you don't want to share the conversation, please wait until I'm done and I'll be happy to talk to you next.

And finally,

Alice, you're starting to frustrate me. If you keep interrupting, I'm going to stop paying attention to you until I'm done. I'll give you a turn after I'm done talking to Tinkeringbell.

Then ignore any more attempts.

She might guess that this applies to every friend after hearing it from the first one, but I'd give her the benefit of a doubt and give her the first warning from each friend.

The risk here is that she'll be discouraged by the rejection, leave the party and avoid the rejecting friend (or the whole group) after this. It will likely help her a lot if someone else she's still friends with intercepts her quickly and invites her to talk with them instead, since it would reassure her someone still likes her. It would also help a lot if the rejecting friend specifically seeks Alice out after talking to you and asks her what she wanted to say, so she knows the rejection was temporary and the rejecting friend still wants to have her company.

She might give terse answers due to persisting ill feelings, but just keep probing and showing interest until she opens up or gives a clear rejection.

Positive reinforcement of good behavior would be a good idea too. It's always encouraging to hear you did the right thing, even if it was hard or you didn't know whether it would be good. During the approach, say sorry for making her wait and thank her for being patient when you go find her again.

Parents?

I wouldn't go to her parents behind her back as some have suggested. You have no idea what her relationship with them is. Personally, I like my family a lot, but I'm extremely insecure about discussing my autism with them. If you brought it up with my parents, I'd be extremely embarrassed and pretty mad.

If you can pull it off, a better idea would be to organize a very small party with you, her, and a few close friends. Make it a "Parent Party". Tell everyone to bring a parent or two (she might not have two). Provide plenty of details about places, times, and what you're planning on doing (something good for socializing around, of course). Make sure everyone seems to be looking forward to the special party and inviting their parents. If she's comfortable mixing her parents and friends, she'll probably imitate everyone else and bring a parent (or two) too.

If you're lucky, her parents will have seen her behavior toward you a few times already, pick it out right away and help you resolve it even before being asked.

Prevention

@Dzyann pointed out that even once you get back on Alice's good side, this will probably happen again the next time you have to skip one of her parties. That puts you under a lot of pressure and sets her up for failure.

Setting some ground rules would likely help. In the letter above, for example, I asked for two weeks notice to have plenty of time to rearrange schedules.

Since Alice went through a period of time where she couldn't afford to attend parties, she's likely to understand when you explain that now you're going through a period where you don't have a lot of money, and can't afford to attend parties either. It's possible she might decide to solve the problem by offering to pay your part the way you helped pay hers.

Another good approach would be to invite her to help in planning your parties and those of your friends. Chances are she thinks the rest of you are at least somewhat "better" at this than her, so offering to let her watch how you do it may appeal to her. If she doesn't think you're better, she might find it appealing anyway since she seems to enjoy parties. She'll be a lot less likely to completely ignore you if it means losing out on chances for fun activities together.

People also tend to hide their mistakes, so it's easy for autistics to get the impression that everyone else is perfect and never fails at anything. By letting her see you try, fail, express frustration and recover while hosting your parties or doing other activities, she'll get the more realistic view that setbacks are normal. She'll also get to see recovery systems in action and maybe start employing those in her own parties for higher success.


[1] I consider everyone I know to be acquaintances since we mainly discuss school work and never go out to do anything together. I've never had anyone I consider a friend.

[2] Autism is one of those things that gets better with time. Eventually the "normal" people fully mature and essentially stop developing mentally and emotionally, giving the autistic ones a chance to catch up. It's easy to tell when a ten-year-old is acting five, but a lot harder to recognize a forty-year-old acting twenty. It might take a while depending on the severity of their autism, but they do improve a lot over their lives. Someone suggested to me that a good rule of thumb is that autistics' emotional age tends to be about 2/3 of their physical age.

[3] I once told someone I was wearing a black shirt today because I couldn't find anything but hunting shirts, with the implication that I checked every store in the whole city. I did check every store in the city (and 500 pages of Amazon search results), but I found a lot more than hunting shirts. I'm honestly surprised he took that the way he did -- maybe he wasn't paying attention.

[4] People are also heavily biased toward the first impression (the primacy effect). Overall impressions are generally made up of a first impression, a last impression, and everything else. Since "everything else" is a much larger category, individual experiences in it tend to have a disproportionately low weight.

  • 4
    Thank you! This is giving me so much insights on how to handle this better. Just for your info: Yes, she knows she has autism, she's the one that told me she had. She is getting help, but as you said, that doesn't necessarily mean she is accepting it, or that the help is working. I declined her invitation, but my other friends did go, so it's not like the entire party was scrapped. But I agree that my declination was unpredictable for her, I went to every party before that one. She is not ignored by all of us at parties now, only when she starts picking on me. Might feel like that though. – Tinkeringbell Sep 8 '17 at 5:52
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    A great, great answer that I read just now (very late) and immediately nominated for the 100 days special award -- but @Tinkeringbell had already nominated you so I have strongly supported her nomination. We feel so proud. I want to eventually write such a good answer sometime. Do post more excellent answers on this site @ Ever Lee Foxton! – English Student Oct 17 '17 at 9:16
  • @EverLeeFoxton I see your point. Yes if you care about the person, if you hurt them even if it makes no "standard" sense you have to say you are sorry. One thing to consider is that I was aiming for rules more generic. I saw your edit and I think it will help her. However, I wonder, If she understands him and everything goes back to normal, do you think she will extrapolate it to other people? The issue I see is that people don't normally know how to deal with Autism, so chances are that any new friends could skip a party also and get in this same problem. – Mykazuki Feb 7 '18 at 22:24
  • @Dzyann: I think if Tinkeringbell and friends take the time to explain why things are happening the way they are in terms she can understand, she'll likely be able to generalize. The trick is doing it in terms she relates to. In my case, that involves starting with the assumption that everyone is basically selfish, then somehow justifying contradictory behaviors like altruism from that. I actually enjoy trying to do that; others may not like it so much. – Everly Foxton Feb 8 '18 at 6:33
  • Ultimately, Alice really needs some systems for dealing with disappointment. Or rather, systems that have built-in backup plans and alternatives for when the main approach fails. The frustrating part though is most systems are tailored to the person using them, so just copying someone else's system rarely works. I think to be really successful, she'd be best served seeing a lot of failure and a lot of coping systems, while having her attention specifically pointed to those things. With any luck, she'll start assembling bits and pieces of what she sees into a system that works for her. – Everly Foxton Feb 8 '18 at 6:40
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I am not talking to her at parties, or approaching her. But she still seems intent on ruining the party for me, by ruining the conversations I am having, hijacking them and then pretending I don't exist, acting like they just started a conversation with another person that was not having a conversation to begin with.

Simply ignoring you is something that you could choose to handle on your own. Actively interrupting your conversations requires that your friends start standing up for you.

How do your friends react when Alice interrupts? Do they stop talking to you and start talking to her? That only encourages her. They need to shut the conversation with Alice down in some way. Talk to your friends ahead of time to explain how this makes you feel and to come up with a plan of action. If Alice interrupts, your friend could say,

Alice, I'm trying to have a conversation with tinkeringbell. You are welcome to join us, but only if you are willing to include her in the conversation.

If she tries to continue her conversation and ignore you, your friend needs to be persistent and refuse to engage. As Sachin suggested you could walk away and continue your conversation elsewhere.

If Alice continues to behave this way, you are not going to be able to enjoy your time with your friends unless they stand up for you. If your friends aren't supporting you, then leave, and tell them exactly why you are leaving.

Jen, I'm leaving. When I'm here I can't actually talk to anyone because Alice keeps interrupting. I know that she doesn't respect me right now, but when you let her treat me like this I feel that you don't respect me either. I don't feel like anyone wants me here, so I am going to go home.

As Ilmari Karonen mentions in a comment, if you don't want to cause a scene at the party, it may be better to explain why you might need to leave ahead of time. Then when you do leave you can simply say, "I've already explained why I need to leave now. I will talk to you later."

You may need to have a conversation with them later and give a more explicit ultimatum. If they want to spend time with you, they need to stand up for you. If they aren't willing to stand up to Alice for you, then tell them you won't be attending any events where Alice is present. Making your friends choose between the two of you is usually not a good idea and should only be used as a last resort. Hopefully you don't get to this stage, as it's likely to mean the end of multiple friendships.

You aren't trying to mend your relationship with Alice at this point, and you aren't asking your friends to try and mend things for you. You just want to be able to spend time with people without being treated as less-than-human.

  • I like this answer as well. Yes, Alice is allowed to interrupt, eventually. Ever tried to keep a conversation going when somebody else is talking over everything you say, raising her voice when you do? But yes, I agree me and my friend should both shut down Alice, preferably at the same time. As for now, it was always either me, or the friend. Maybe that approach is too soft. – Tinkeringbell Sep 7 '17 at 11:03
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I can't give an answer based on the fact that your friend has autism because I don't know much about it.

So one day, Alice decides to start acting this way after you decline one of her party invitations. Since you have been attending her previous parties, this does seem bizarre unless she had already paid for you before confirming whether you could attend or not but still holding such a grudge over this doesn't make much sense. I don't know if you are supposed to pay up front for the barbecue. Either way, her behavior is not easy to figure out. It seems childish and passive-aggressive or someone who knows more about autism might not find it that unusual.

To answer your main question, you might not be able to approach her at this point. She has demonstrated that she doesn't want to be approached by the way she acts around you and towards you. From a behavioral perspective, (from what I remember from a behavioral modification class in University), the more you pay attention to her behavior, the more she will continue to act the way she does. Without you realizing it, you are reinforcing a negative behavior.

For as much as this might be hard for you, or for as much as you would like to know or are curious about the reason, try not to focus on that but instead focus on how you can have fun without letting her behavior ruin it. For now.

If possible, ignore her behavior. By doing so, you are discouraging it. And by discouraging it there is a chance it will stop or that at least you might get some kind of an explanation, whether it is what you think or something else.

This is a behavior that needs to be ignored by everyone, not just you. So ask your friends to do the same. This is something I feel you and your friends should be on the same page with. They should help you by not allowing her to act that way towards any of you.

Have a discussion with your friends and ask to come to a decision as a group. Perhaps one of these friends could actually tell her that if she continues this behavior which she doesn't want to explain and which is ruining everyone's mood at the parties (unless the rest are unaffected-in this case this gets harder to resolve and makes me wonder about the other friends), she is forcing them to stop inviting her unless this issue gets resolved.

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The best thing to do right now is to stop making efforts to communicate with her, whether it is asking what exactly she is upset about, or trying to patch-up with her.

The fact that she is ignoring you actively enough for people around you to notice means she wants you to not talk to her (maybe even feel bad/guilty about it)

Also, the fact that she is disregarding other co-workers' requests to talk/sort out the differences between you two indicates that it might be wise to stop trying at all and let her be.

Maybe after some time(could be days/weeks/months depending on her), when you see that her anger has subsided, you may try to approach her. But for now, I say you just watch her from a distance and abstain from any communication.

This is not just about her but also about your peace of mind. I understand you people are friends and anything like this would cause some hurt but it's best for both that you wait for her to cool down. If she shows some signs of willingness to patch-up, go ahead and do it.

EDIT1: You mentioned she interrupts your ongoing conversations. You can actually ask your friends (calling by their names), for example, 'Hey, A, B and C, let's go outside(or someplace else) and talk', so that you can avoid her. If she still approaches you guys, you can be sure that she is there just to run your spirit down. Then you actually give-up on patching-up or even reconsider being friends with her.

However, if you really want to get some answers (you said you could get her parents involved), it'd be a good idea to ask them if her parents know anything about the incident where it all went wrong. Although, I'm not sure how she will react when she finds out you approached her parents. Do this at your own risk.

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Well, this was going to be an answer in a comment, because I know very little about autism, and I have no direct extended experience with people with that disorder (though some with a person who has Asperger's), so I'm prepared to delete the answer if it's inappropriate or harmful in any way.

You could choose not to talk to her

Stop asking Alice to talk to you. Go out, go to parties, have fun, talk with everyone who is there but only smile and nod your head when you meet your ex-friend's glance. Does “ex-friend” sound a bit too harsh? Unforgiving? On the other hand, she is not acting like a friend should, friends, real friends make up, and let bygones be bygones.

She wouldn't, and still won't, say what is bothering her to either me or other co-workers. Since this all happened, I have never again been invited to her parties. But her behavior at parties of mutual friends where we were both present is bothering me a lot: She is completely ignoring me and my existence...

It sounds as if Alice wants to punish you, or make you suffer in some way. Obviously, something is bothering her, and she refuses to tell anyone. I'm not sure if this is typical behaviour of someone on the autistic scale, but I would say it is typical of someone who sulks. The only cure I know is to ignore the sulking and continue to live your life, relieved that your real friends know the truth and have not ostracised you.

After she found another job, I declined to go to one of her parties because she insisted on having a barbecue with food from the caterer she was now working for. [...] This friend got very mad, apparently because I had ruined her party plans with my declination.

Maybe you could ask your Alice's family if they can shed some light. Are they aware of the BBQ incident? And maybe they could talk gently to their daughter and make her come round to see that she is not hurting one person but two, you and herself, and needlessly too.

EDITED TO ADD

You have repeatedly offered your friendship, shown you are upset by her stony silence, asked what you did wrong and, in the end, stopped talking to her but Alice continues to ignore you publically and continues to hijack any interactions with mutual friends. I'm afraid there is not that much else you can do. But I suspect she is unhappy and feeling particularly stressed.

You could ask if she would prefer to see you go. Perhaps that shock tactic will unsettle or take her by surprise. If she does respond “Yes”, do exactly that, leave. Let her feel either victorious or ashamed. Maybe hearing your friends protest–I'm sure they would–might force her to reflect on her actions and behavior. Again I don't know how someone with autism might react, or how successful this approach might be.

I did find this article which describes typical aggressive behavior observed in adults with autism, it might help you understand what your friend is experiencing and why she reacts so angrily.

Cycle of Rage and Family Violence of Adults with High Functioning Autism

  • If someone can leave constructive criticism and tell me that my possible solution will only make matters worse, I'm ready to delete this answer. It is after all, quite similar to Sachin who posted their answer one minute before mine. I hope nobody thinks I may have copied it. (You never know...) – user3114 Sep 6 '17 at 11:48
  • @Mari-LouA: I don't believe you copied and nobody should. It's just a matter of chance that we answered within a minute of each other. – Sachin Sep 6 '17 at 11:55
8

Having Autism means that you have a harder time recognizing social cues, not that you are unable to learn social rules. The fact is that Alice is breaking social rules, and your friends are letting her get away with it.

It is her right to be angry with you for whatever reason. It is her right to withdraw from you. It is not her right to interfere with others' interaction with you. That's just not done.

Alice may need this particular rule stated for her explicitly (by one of the friends she's still talking to). Once that's accomplished, your friends should react to her boorish behavior in the same way they would react to it from anyone else: an odd look, withdrawal, resumption of the conversation with you, and with repetition of the behavior avoidance of Alice.

6

I'm very much afraid that you have become 'the enemy'.

You action has firmly placed you in this category. She will treat you as dangerous, and this will not stop. Social convention, making apologies and such will fail as she does not speak this language.

In general.

Autism hinders you in interpreting human motives and makes social processes a minefield that has the potential to cause great harm seemingly out of nowhere.

Alice's behaviour may seem out of proportion as well as rigid but this is caused by 'speaking another language' rather than out and out enmity. She sees parts and bits, has a lot of trouble making that into a whole and has to cope with these very very unpredictable human beings, all the time.

If you can find a way to say, I want to be friends, I will be there for you, you will have to signal that in a way she can understand.

Some people with autism keep to one person that they 'let in' as that is what they are most comfortable with. Alice seems to be a lot more open to the world than that; good for her! But still dropping a person that has violated her recipe of friendship will be easier than allowing that same person back in.

What to do?

Maybe you need to give here some flowers, or perhaps you have to save her life and die in the attempt before you stop being the enemy and become part of her team again. As her value set will be hard to determine you can perhaps best approach someone who knows her from way back in order to assess whether the situation can be salvaged at all and if so what will work, what will speak to her as gesture.

I very much hope it will succeed!

3

I had a situation like this sometime not long ago. I have this really great friend which has been there with me like 10 years now... And the only thing and i mean the only one thing that got my friend get over our problem was that i started mimicking all of his actions. From: pretending i'm not there while our group is having a conversation, to: talking behind his back when he was not there. And i didn't even say bad things about him. I just talked about him with other people.(Usually asked questions about him since we were not talking) He got so frustrated that he eventually asked me to meet and sort things out.

So my opinion is: Do exactly what your friend is doing to you, hopefully she will come to her senses and realize what a jerk she is being to you.

P.S. Going behind her back and talking to her parents might not be a good idea, since you are both mature enough and this will make her mad she will have more reason not to talk to you.

Thanks

  • while this tactic can be effective on most people who would ignore you to annoy you. i would not find it likely to succeed with someone on the autism spectrum who would ignore you simply because you're confusing. – james turner Sep 6 '17 at 20:13
  • @jamesturner I don't think the "ignoring because you are confusing" is very likely, even when considering the autism spectrum disorder. And that's just in general. The described behavior goes well beyond "just ignoring", so there definitely seems to be more going on. – Jasper Sep 7 '17 at 12:41
  • i realize the OP perceived the behavior as intentionally disruptive, but i don't see anything object in her post that makes it clear the ignoring party is malicious – james turner Sep 7 '17 at 22:02

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