Shy or autistic?

I thought it might be a good idea, for people who are looking for some advice, to explore the difference between being shy and being autistic.

There may be some individuals who suspect that they might be somewhere on the spectrum because they have difficulties with socialising and are not clear about the real differences between simply being timid and having autistic traits.

What are the key differences between someone who feels shy around groups of people and autistic people who have communication issues? How can you tell the difference?

  • Personally I do not believe there is such a things as 'autistic traits'.

    You either have autism or you don't.

    Autism is a medical diagnosis which consists of a cluster of behaviours.

    It is all or nothing, the emphasis is on the word cluster.

    The word spectrum refers to differences within the cluster.

    There are also many different official definitions of Autism and Aspergers which have different cluster profiles. Plus they have been changing throughout history.

    The concept of autism is a language and categorical construct that is imprecise and constantly shifting and experts disagree.

    A person under one autistic frame of reference may not be autistic under another all of which are in current use around the world.

    There is no biological test for autism and it is a subjective judgement based on usually very little information gathered in a very small time window.

    It's fundamental emphasis has always been focussed primarily on very young children who are not socially adapted and adjusted and who display severe challenging behaviours where it is a medical diagnosis with the purpose of providing special support for special needs. Children who clearly display severe impairments and disruptions to average development as witnessed in their peers.

    Autism is not a fashionable personality and lifestyle definition.

    Poor eye contact is not an autistic trait, it is poor eye contact and that is all it is.

    On it's own poor eye contact is poor eye contact.

    Shyness on its own is shyness, nothing else, not an autistic trait.

    It takes an entire cluster of factors to make the package called autism.

    And it is not a question of shyness or autism; this is a word game.

    Humans are diverse and have many different personalities.

    Shy people are not autistic.

    Introverts are not autistic.

    People need to stop trying to self diagnose and look for fashionable labels.

    It seems to me autism is becoming such a fashionable label.

    Every single neuro-typical person on this planet  has some form of communication issue at some point in some context. Nobody is perfect in social conduct. NT people have endless social and communication problems. The whole world does not have autism or autistic traits.

    This whole business of what is autism is a language problem and a semantic problem, a problem of the shared meaning of words. It becomes a matter of autism is in the eye of the beholder.

    By asking what is the difference between shyness and autism you are creating a semantic controversy where it is no longer a medical diagnostic question but a question of the use of language and meaning.

    If someone wants to believe they are autistic then they are autistic. A medical professional may or may not agree. Some lay people may or may not agree.

    It then becomes a matter of social consensus whether a particular person is autistic or not.

    Shyness cannot be mathematically defined nor measured numerically.

    A working class extrovert will feel socially anxious and shy in the company of high society.

    Should every shy socially anxious introvert run to their GP for an assessment for Autism ?

    No.

    Not every lonely isolated person has Autism.

    Low self esteem and low self confidence are not autistic traits because their is no such thing as an autistic trait in isolation; unless you want to believe there is, then there is.

  • What I was really trying to pin down, Aspergerix, was how does the experience of a person who is merely shy, qualitatively differ from someone who is on the AS in a social situation, such as a party, for example?

    There are probably people who struggle in social situations who assume they are just shy but may, in fact, be on the AS and I just thought it would be a good idea to provide some information as a guide to self-diagnosis.

    Problems with eye contact alone aren't enough to indicate deeper problems, it's true, so what else should someone look for that could point to something other than shyness? Yes, we all know the theory, but it would be nice to actually get some feedback from real autistics.

  • lostmyway said:

    What I was really trying to pin down, Aspergerix, was how does the experience of a person who is merely shy, qualitatively differ from someone who is on the AS in a social situation, such as a party, for example?

    There are probably people who struggle in social situations who assume they are just shy but may, in fact, be on the AS and I just thought it would be a good idea to provide some information as a guide to self-diagnosis.

    Problems with eye contact alone aren't enough to indicate deeper problems, it's true, so what else should someone look for that could point to something other than shyness? Yes, we all know the theory, but it would be nice to actually get some feedback from real autistics.

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I interpret your last statement as a snide remark insinuating that I am not a real autistic.

    I am a real autistic, I have an official diagnosis.

    Your headline says shy OR autistic which should be shy AND autistic, and, shy AND not autistic. Shyness is the same whether you are autistic or not.

    But this is turning into a debate about semantics and the meaning of words.

    Shyness is not a characteristic of the autistic diagnostic cluster so if someone is shy they should not be looking for signs of autism.

    If someone is having life problems related to autism then it would be obvious they need medical help because their day to day functioning would be severely impaired .

    Shy people with autism are all unique so anyone thinking they are autistic for whatever reason need to see their GP

  • Hi both. 


    Aspergerix I thought your post was really well written. It explains exactly how autism should be diagnosed you are so right introverts can be just introverts Shy people can be just shy but as you say the number of cluster profiles will determine whether someone is autistic or not just having those traits alone won't define you as autistic.

    I don't at all think lost my way was making a dig at you at all I think they were just asking what other characteristics an autistic person has that a shy person may not. 

    Lost my way I can't comment on what a shy person feels however I have been accused of being shy on more than one occasion. I define shyness as low self esteem where as if the shy person was made to feel welcome in a group eventually their true personality would emerge and they could be themselves. I can only talk from experience that whilst I may appear shy I am not. If people welcomed me with open arms to a group I would still never fit in. I would still never feel like I was like everyone else. So whilst I may appear shy I am actually just watching the group to see how I can adapt myself for a short period of time to fit in. I couldn't keep it going all night. I would also be experiencing my other autistic clusters such as sensory overload due to my surroundings. I would be watching everything, trying to filter conversation from other noises. Watching where I sat/stood that made me feel comfortable. I would also  be thinking I have nothing in common with these people (even if I did) because they weren't like me. 

    I think you can't tell a shy person from an autistic one if you are an NT it would only become apparent over a number of times you met that person that there was something else going on. If you are on the spectrum you may see signs. 

    I have been targeted by do Gooders social NT who want to take me undee their wing and help me fit in. I think it's nice of them (although if I'm honest I do think to myself they are on an ego boost haha) but then I remember once when one woman had a funny accent and I felt the need to repeat back something she said to me copying exactly how she said it. I had no idea I was going to do that. Foot in mouth as usual it just came out. Needless to say she no longer thought me shy but actually sarcastic and rude (which I'm  not but can see why she might have thought it)

    Sorry I'm rambling. I can only talk from experience but as Aspergerix says it's about clusters of traits.

  • Hi both. 


    Aspergerix I thought your post was really well written. It explains exactly how autism should be diagnosed you are so right introverts can be just introverts Shy people can be just shy but as you say the number of cluster profiles will determine whether someone is autistic or not just having those traits alone won't define you as autistic.

    I don't at all think lost my way was making a dig at you at all I think they were just asking what other characteristics an autistic person has that a shy person may not. 

    Lost my way I can't comment on what a shy person feels however I have been accused of being shy on more than one occasion. I define shyness as low self esteem where as if the shy person was made to feel welcome in a group eventually their true personality would emerge and they could be themselves. I can only talk from experience that whilst I may appear shy I am not. If people welcomed me with open arms to a group I would still never fit in. I would still never feel like I was like everyone else. So whilst I may appear shy I am actually just watching the group to see how I can adapt myself for a short period of time to fit in. I couldn't keep it going all night. I would also be experiencing my other autistic clusters such as sensory overload due to my surroundings. I would be watching everything, trying to filter conversation from other noises. Watching where I sat/stood that made me feel comfortable. I would also  be thinking I have nothing in common with these people (even if I did) because they weren't like me. 

    I think you can't tell a shy person from an autistic one if you are an NT it would only become apparent over a number of times you met that person that there was something else going on. If you are on the spectrum you may see signs. 

    I have been targeted by do Gooders social NT who want to take me undee their wing and help me fit in. I think it's nice of them (although if I'm honest I do think to myself they are on an ego boost haha) but then I remember once when one woman had a funny accent and I felt the need to repeat back something she said to me copying exactly how she said it. I had no idea I was going to do that. Foot in mouth as usual it just came out. Needless to say she no longer thought me shy but actually sarcastic and rude (which I'm  not but can see why she might have thought it)

    Sorry I'm rambling. I can only talk from experience but as Aspergerix says it's about clusters of traits.

  • Also one last thing. I may seem shy but if a group of people were talking about something I thought was unjust or not right or going against my code of justice  I tend to shock people by being very vocal about my opinions which I'm not sure someone who is just shy would do :-) 

  • Aspergerix said:

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I interpret your last statement as a snide remark insinuating that I am not a real autistic.

    I am a real autistic, I have an official diagnosis.

    Your headline says shy OR autistic which should be shy AND autistic, and, shy AND not autistic. Shyness is the same whether you are autistic or not.

    But this is turning into a debate about semantics and the meaning of words.

    Shyness is not a characteristic of the autistic diagnostic cluster so if someone is shy they should not be looking for signs of autism.

    If someone is having life problems related to autism then it would be obvious they need medical help because their day to day functioning would be severely impaired .

    Shy people with autism are all unique so anyone thinking they are autistic for whatever reason need to see their GP

    You don't have to be autistic to be shy or vice-versa.

    The question is: does being shy mean just being shy?

  • Lost my way wrote: "What are the key differences between someone who feels shy around groups of people and autistic people who have communication issues? How can you tell the difference?"

    An autistic person won't necessarily look shy. They may have learned to imitate social behaviour. They may seem cool and detached, aloof even, if they are analysing the situation and the behaviour of other people. They may not interact at all, or they may talk endlessly about a topic of interest to them. They may look bored, or leave the room at intervals to seek either a quiet space or something of more interest to them. They may misunderstand things said to them, or have a problem explaining something. 

    But I believe that the key difference with autistics, despite their different personality and behaviour traits, is that in a group social situation they won't start to relax after a while, as you would expect someone who is just a bit shy to do. I think that an NT would relax when they got a feel for the group and their place in it. Autistics don't "fit in" properly in a group, and stay feeling uncomfortable - it can even get worse as time goes on and we get tired of working at trying to interact in an acceptable way.

  •  "I define shyness as low self esteem where as if the shy person was made to feel welcome in a group eventually their true personality would emerge and they could be themselves."

    Thank you, Confused39, this is what I was getting at.

    It seems the point I was trying to make has been misunderstood, however.

    It's all very well for people who have been diagnosed as being on the AS and know quite a lot about it to be aware of the signs of autism but I was thinking of someone who has never suspected they might be autistic but do know, for example, that they have great difficulties in social situations and just put it down to being shy.

    I was thinking of people who sometimes come on this MB and ask for advice because they feel they are 'different' from other people but have never really gone into the reasons why. One of the obvious signs of autism is problems with social communuication, which is why I was curious about the difference in simply being shy (in the terms you have explained) and the experiences of autistic people who have a set of unique problems.

  • Pixiefox said:

    Lost my way wrote: "What are the key differences between someone who feels shy around groups of people and autistic people who have communication issues? How can you tell the difference?"

    An autistic person won't necessarily look shy. They may have learned to imitate social behaviour. They may seem cool and detached, aloof even, if they are analysing the situation and the behaviour of other people. They may not interact at all, or they may talk endlessly about a topic of interest to them. They may look bored, or leave the room at intervals to seek either a quiet space or something of more interest to them. They may misunderstand things said to them, or have a problem explaining something. 

    But I believe that the key difference with autistics, despite their different personality and behaviour traits, is that in a group social situation they won't start to relax after a while, as you would expect someone who is just a bit shy to do. I think that an NT would relax when they got a feel for the group and their place in it. Autistics don't "fit in" properly in a group, and stay feeling uncomfortable - it can even get worse as time goes on and we get tired of working at trying to interact in an acceptable way.

    Thank you, Pixiefox, that was well explained.