Some of the most notable autistic traits that a neurotypical person encounters when meeting autistic people is greeting. These issues are also the first to be adressed when community identifies someone as non-standard and later on autistic. Trainig an autistic person to greet is among first educational and rehabilitation goals when treatment is provided, but also the most pointless one.
As you probably know, autistic people seldom greet spontaneously. They frequently get into trouble because of that. The society sees them as unfriendly, moody or downright rude. This hallmark of autism is therefore very popular to tackle. Special education teachers and psychologists usually jump at it with vehemence and consider it a major success when the autistic person “learns how to greet.” But they rarely examine the reasons behind that trait.
Autistics and aspies are shy. They also contemplate a lot. If you put the two together you get a horrible feeling of insecurity. They’re usually well aware of the fact that they are “different” and that people think they’re “weird”. They try to act as normal as possible while knowing they weren’t exacty born with a sense for social cues. Aspies therefore know that greeting is expected from them, but they’re not sure how to act it out. The more they think about it the more it becomes awkward. They are unsure about the timing, they might also be unsure on what type of greet to use. And what if the greet is unheard or misinterpreted – what then? There are countless concerns going through an aspergerian mind.
Then there is another problem. Aspies are known to experience so-called social hangover. Even when they summon all their powers to socialize (and they might have a great time) they afterwards feel drained and exhausted. A simple greet might lead to conversation and socializing which will eventually result in exhaustion. While there are times when an aspie enjoys other poeple’s company and even actively seeks it, at other times they will rather avoid the initial contact, the greet, than to risk getting themselves caught in a social event. To an aspie it seems quite unnecessary to point this out, but I feel that some NTs are not aware of the fact, but this avoidant behaviour has nothing to do with the other person. It’s just that the aspie is not in the mood for socializing.
There is even a third reason for not greeting an aquaintance. They might not recognize them. There are two possible causes of that. Aspies have extremely hyperactive mind. They get easily caught up in their thoughts. When they go out and about they might meet a friend but they’re so absorbed in their thought process that they don’t even notice anyone. Another reason for an aspie not recognizing an aquaintance is, literally, not recognizing them. Some aspies have difficulties recognizing and remembering facial features. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a clue who a person is. Of course they recognize people upon looking carefully, but at a glance they might not recognize someone they’re not that close to, especially if they meet the person in an unfamiliar situation, for instance, if they meet their doctor, whom they haven’t met outside the doctor’s office, at the football match. If it’s someone they meet frequently they will recognize them eventually, but their reaction time is significantly longer than that of a NT person.
Taking all the above reasons into consideration we can understand a bit better why a person with Asperger’s Syndrome might have difficulties greeting. What a neurotypical person can do about it is simply be aware of that and not take it personally. Because it’s not personal.