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Autistic Communication

Discussion in 'Friends, Family & Social Skills' started by Alexej, Apr 16, 2021.

  1. Alexej

    Alexej Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    [This was posted recently on Facebook by a Scottish Autism group]


    If you or a loved one has gone through an autism assessment in the last few decades, you may have come across the dreaded ‘triad of impairments’. This is from a very deficit-based assessment model, thankfully not used anymore, and asserts autistic people are impaired in three areas: communication, social interaction and rigidity of thinking (the exact wording used varies depending on where you look).

    Based on that it looks like us autistic folk are pretty awful at communicating, right?

    You can probably already guess it’s not as simple as that.

    In more recent years we have seen more research done into this area by people like Damian Milton (who is, himself, autistic) and what has been found is that autistic people communicate differently but no ‘worse’ than non-autistic people. However, it is the case that – just as autistic people can struggle to understand and communicate well with non-autistic people – non-autistic people struggle to understand and communicate with us.

    So, it is not the case that non-autistic people are brilliant at communicating and autistic people are terrible. What’s actually going on is we have totally different communication styles and there is often a two-way break-down when we try. If you have a group of only autistic people, however, you do not get this same break-down in communication because we share the same communication style, which proves it is not that we are ‘lacking’ – simply different.

    You might be wondering in what way our communication differs. Obviously, everyone is an individual and no two people (whether autistic or not) are the same but the following does generally outline the differences.

    1. Clear use of language. Autistic people tend to be clearer and less ambiguous in our language. This doesn’t mean autistic people are unable to understand or use metaphors or sarcasm (though, some might) but that we don’t tend to hide information ‘between the lines’ when we speak. We say what we mean and mean what we say. This can mean we sometimes miss the hidden implication in what other people are saying but also that non-autistic people misinterpret us because they are looking for a hidden layer that often isn’t there when we speak.

    2. Social housekeeping. When non-autistic people meet up or first start a conversation there tends to be an introductory section to the conversation that involves asking the other person how they are, checking up on certain things that have happened in their life (e.g. how their job interview went or how their house renovation is going) and asking after spouses and children etc. At One Stop Shop Aberdeen we have taken to calling this ‘social housekeeping’ and it’s something many autistic people just don’t do, at least not to the same extent as non-autistic people. That’s not to say we don’t care – we often care very deeply about our friends and family members – but we tend to assume that anything important will come up in conversation naturally rather than us needing to check-box the information at the beginning of each interaction. Plus, we often really want to get to the ‘point’ of the conversation, which brings us to ‘info-dumping’…

    3. Info-dumping. You are probably already aware that autistic people tend to have ‘special interests’ (or SpIns). We like talking about our SpIns. We like talking about our SpIns a LOT. It’s not – as it may appear – because we don’t have any interest in the other person or their likes. In fact, it’s often a bonding experience for us because we want to share the feeling we get when we become immersed in a fascinating SpIn. It can also be an anxiety thing because sometimes I don’t know what to say and when I reach into my mind for a conversation topic, SpIns tend to be easily accessible. Sometimes, rather than being a SpIn or a bonding exercise, we info-dump because Autistic people tend to like to feel that we are in possession of all the relevant facts surrounding something and we feel uneasy if we might be in possession of incorrect information. As such, we assume other people also want to have these facts (if you have seen the brilliant Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas this will probably feel familiar) and we’re more than happy to provide said facts if they are ones we already possess.

    4. Sharing stories and interrupting to empathise. Autistic people tend to interrupt more than non-autistic people. This looks rude to non-autistic people. It looks like we think what we have to say is more important than anything else. In reality, we often interrupt in an attempt to show we’re listening and empathising and have something relevant to add. Sometimes we interrupt literally to finish the other person’s sentence and it really is to show we’re in-sync and keeping up with what they’re saying. Often the stories we use to empathise look like ‘one-upmanship’ to non-autistic people but we are genuinely trying to find something in common with the person speaking – a way of showing we understand what they’re going through. What can appear incredibly rude or self-centred to non-autistic people is often an autistic person’s way of showing solidarity.
     

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  2. Alexej

    Alexej Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    [continued]

    5. Over or under-sharing and explaining. Related to our use of stories to empathise is the way we often overshare information about ourselves and overexplain ourselves. Again, this can be a bonding thing. It can also be connected to the above mention of needing the ‘truth’ or the right facts all the time. There have been many occasions when I have told someone things about myself that might seem inappropriate or ‘too much information’ to other people but to me, once the topic had arisen, I felt like not mentioning it would be like lying by omission…and lying makes me extremely uncomfortable. I also like to make sure (probably because autistic people are so often misconstrued) that I’m being clear so will also overexplain things (the length of this post might be a good example of that – I really would like to make it an awful lot longer!). However, many autistic people have been stung by oversharing/overexplaining or simply aren’t confident enough to do it in the first place and then we often go to the other extreme and undershare or underexplain. All of these can end up making us look untrustworthy to non-autistic people as it can look like we’re justifying or lying when we go on too long or that we’re hiding something if we don’t say enough.

    6. Eye contact. It is not true that autistic people are all unable to make eye contact. It is true, however, that many of us make different levels of eye to non-autistic people and that it can vary both from one autistic person to the next and within the same person depending on context. It is also true that for many of us eye contact can be uncomfortable or even painful. This can lead to fleeting or inconsistent eye contact, which can often decrease as more sensory input is added (it’s much easier for many of us to maintain eye contact in a quiet area with less visual stimuli surrounding us). To non-autistic people it can appear we’re not listening when we don’t give a certain level of eye contact but we are actually often much better able to take in and process what someone is saying if we don’t have to worry about eye-contact. Other times we look like we’re hiding something. It is also the case that some autistic people give a LOT of eye contact, which gets misconstrued as either flirting or aggression when that’s not intended at all.

    7. Tone of voice and/or facial expressions not matching internal emotions. Sometimes autistic people say things and our tone of voice doesn’t seem to match the content of what we’re saying. Other times our facial expressions don’t seem to match, either. I have been accused of being angry about things when I genuinely didn’t feel any anger. I did, perhaps, feel enthusiastic about it and somehow the loudness of my voice and speed at which I’m speaking ends up sounding like anger when that wasn’t my intention. Other autistic people might be told they look confused when they’re not or that they seem upset when they are perfectly content. Quite a few autistic people have said to us that using Zoom so much in recent months has made them much more aware of what their face is doing while they’re talking or listening, which can be useful but also disconcerting.

    Given the differences in communication between autistic and non-autistic people you can probably see why situations often arise where there’s a misunderstanding. The good news, however, is that when autistic people know about non-autistic communication and non-autistic people know about autistic communication we can all be much more understanding of those differences and meet each other halfway.

    We would also like to thank Autistic Not Weird for the inspiration for some of our graphics today.


    [email protected]

    #AutismAcceptanceMonth
     
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  3. Raggamuffin

    Raggamuffin Well-Known Member

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    I find it a little tricky when it comes to highlighting aspects of autism - as everyone is different. At times I read things about autism and I relate so much it makes me feel very emotional. Other times, I read traits or examples that don't relate to me at all, and make me feel rather negative - either angry, or questioning if I even have Autism at all.
    From that list described:

    1 - I find I struggle piecing sentences together at times. I've yet to see a pattern in it, but it's occurring more since being sober. I only say what I mean around people I know well, and usually that's only online. In face to face conversations - I often tip toe aroun what I really think so as not to cause offence.

    2 - I find I'm easily bored by small talk. It tends to annoy me, whether this is coming from a friend of an acquaintance. I can't really relate to the statement that I care deeply about friends or family members. I'm quite distant in that regard. I've been moved more by the death and suffering of animals I've only seen for a few seconds than a death of someone I've known for many years.

    3 - Due to masking I find I often don't talk about my interests a lot because I've had people react negatively to it a lot. So instead, I talk out loud to myself about it instead. Because I hate confrontation, and have been confronted about behaviours in the past - I make sure I don't info dump. On so many occasions I've heard people talking about things I'm keen on, but I don't talk. I even hear people making mistakes, or even lying about things I know - and I don't say anything. I just feel awkward and angry inside.

    4 - I can sometimes cut in during phone calls at work. But I'm making sure I leave longer pauses to avoid it happening as it causes me to feel very on edge. When I hear people talking over each other I feel extremely uneasy. I hear it on radio interviews and I just switch the radio off for a few minutes to ensure it's passed. As for feeling self-centred, I know that I am incredibly self centred. It probably comes from spending most days engaging in the fawn response and people pleasing, whilst forgoing myself. So, in my free time I'm incredibly self-serving and don't really care to help or bother with other people if I can avoid it.

    5 - I overshare with friends or strangers online and tend to under-share with people in real life. In relationships I rarely talk about what's been slowly eating away at me. I only tend to open up when I'm at breaking point. Lying can be uncomfortable - but the more you do it, the more you get used to it. Masking is lying - I pretend to be normal, and it feels poisonous in the process. I find I'm too trusting of people, and have been taken advantage of many times. I'm naive and somewhat socially inept at times. When I speak my thoughts to Kristy, she frequently laughs and mocks my way of thinking. It reminds me of how often my mum would make me the centre of jokes whenever she had company.

    6 - With practice I became better with eye contact. People glean a lot of information from each other's faces, and a lot of this occurs on a subconscious level. As for appearing to not listen when people are talking - event when I make eye contact I'm rarely taking in a lot of what people are saying to me, especially if it's something I'm not interested in.

    7 - I think I have more issues with facial expressions when I'm not talking as opposed to how I am in conversations. However, I have often been told to "stop shouting" or "there's no need to be angry" when I have replied to someone. These sort of comments make me extremely upset.

    Ed
     
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  4. Ronald Zeeman

    Ronald Zeeman Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Very informative, passed it on to my wife to read so she can understand me better.
     
  5. SDRSpark

    SDRSpark Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I relate to pretty much everything in this thread (but I don't have the spoons to address each point like @Raggamuffin did).

    Especially, though, on the topic of relating to others and showing empathy by sharing stories - I was in my 30s before I figured out that not only do other people not do this, but that they think it's rude or self-centered when someone does. For me, when someone doesn't relate by sharing stories, I think they're just scripting/faking empathy and that they're not really interested.

    Eye contact is very variable for me - it depends on the situation and the person.

    I'm keenly aware that my facial expressions often don't match what I'm actually feeling - recently I've become VERY aware that my "public face" - a brilliant smile that hides at times severe depression to the point where everyone talks about how happy I am and how much they love my positive attitude - is just a public face. At home, when I don't have to "perform", I have total resting B face. I rarely smile at home, when I'm alone, and even if I'm reading or seeing a joke that I think is absolutely hilarious, my face probably won't react (even if I am typing ROFLMAO in response). I feel a lot freer to communicate online than I do in person. (It's really wild being AWARE of the "public face" going on. I can be total Resting B Face then someone walks up to me and in a nanosecond I involuntarily have the beaming smile on again, regardless of how I actually feel inside. Apparently this is an extremely admirable trait among NTs. It just makes me feel isolated and misunderstood.)

    My face also does react to my thoughts, which may have nothing to do with the situation at hand. This has gotten me in trouble or at least questioned a lot...for example I'll be laughing at an internal joke and people want to know what I'm laughing about, or think I'm laughing at them. I had at least one letter sent home from school about my "inappropriate facial expressions".

    As for interrupting- I constantly interrupt or talk over people. I don't mean to, and I'm really embarrassed about it, generally. I blame it on a processing issue. I used to get scolded regularly as a child for interrupting, and I'm in my 30s now and I still can't figure out when to speak in a conversation. I either wait too long (resulting in awkward silence) or interrupt and talk over people (worse, it then takes me several seconds to process that I'm talking over someone and stop).

    This comic explains it better than I can:

    buffering.jpg
     
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  6. PastelPetals

    PastelPetals Well-Known Member

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    I speak very clearly and very straight forward but extremely detailed I fell that it tends to catch people off guard. I also make very little to no eye contact and sometimes will keep talking even as I am turned away and that makes people upset in my head as long as I can hear you and you can hear me it's fine but I think other people need the nonverbal stuff I don't pick up on anyway.
     
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