Social expectations don’t usually come naturally when you’re autistic. But autistic people like me also tend to live in a world guided by rules, both self-imposed and otherwise. One of the first things most children are taught is how to be polite to others, like saying please, thank you, and you’re welcome. You say excuse me when you have gas, and you reply certainly when someone else excuses themselves.

And you say bless you when someone sneezes.

I get excessively agitated if someone doesn’t say, “Bless you!” when I sneeze. It’s worse when both my husband and my kid fail to do so, and I will clear my throat and point out that I just sneezed. I’m sure it irritates my husband when I do this, but he blesses me after the fact.

It’s not that I’m superstitious about evil spirits, or whatever it is that started people saying, “God bless you!” in the first place. It’s that I was taught that you always bless someone when you sneeze. It’s just what you do. Every time.

I’m the same way when people fail to say “please” and “thank you” – although I won’t prompt other adults to say it unless we’re close and I can pass it off as a joke, or if it’s a child I’m related to who should know better. I’ve also been known to passive-aggressively say, “Excuse you,” when my husband or kid burps and doesn’t excuse themselves. Sometimes my husband claims he said it and I just didn’t hear it, but my hearing is pretty sensitive, so I’m not sure I always buy that from him.

Failure to bless me is what brings on the strongest reaction though. I’ll bless complete strangers from across the room if they sneeze. Don’t bless me? I start showing physical signs of tension and anger. And it’s completely out of my control.

I’m not trying to be obnoxious when I prompt anyone to be polite. I’m trying to stave off a totally irrational meltdown. Common courtesy isn’t so common anymore, so my politeness radar goes off way too often.

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