It is a two way street!
In other words, it takes two to communicate. Much time is spent teaching autistic children “how to communicate” with allistic/neurotypical others, but not much seems to be said for what allistic/neurotypical individuals can do to understand our communication styles.
Recent studies show that autistic individuals communicate very well between each other for the most part, because our communication styles are more similar to each others’ than the style of allistic/neurotypical individuals.
As an autistic person I am very direct. I am uncomfortable with social “chit chat” and don’t get subtle nuances. I don’t get “hints” or things like sudden complete silence, body language, or sudden change of topics as hints that what I am saying is making the other uncomfortable somehow.
I don’t get subtle signs intended to suggest things that are not directly stated and can not “read between the lines”.
I simply can’t take in any meaning of things that are hidden “between the lines” and meant for me to understand without your having to say it clearly , explicitly, and with as much detail as possible.
I am honest. I tell it like it is. An allistic or neurotypical individual may tell a “social lie” or fabricate excuses or carefully-carefully tiptoe around an issue to be sensitive to the other individuals emotions/ feelings. If you do that with me, I am likely to entirely miss your message!
I am usually unaware that what I say may or may not cause “hurt feelings”. I say directly what I think. Even though I have been warned to “think before you speak” and “put yourself in the other person’s place” I find this very difficult to do. I would not intentionally trample feelings, try to make another feel bad, or deliberately insult another, but often this has been the result of conversation “in person” or in written correspondence.
Hints for allistic/neurotypical folks when communicating with those who are autistic.:
Get to the point without a lot of light chit chat. Be direct, be honest and expect directness and honesty from your conversation partner. Be as specific and literal as possible, provide plenty of details for complete understanding.
We may not “fill in the blanks” easily or understand your intent unless you fully explain it. Don’t assume we are grasping subtle nuances or hints.
Don’t assume we meant to be insulting or hurtful in any comments we make in conversations. It is very difficult to understand things from another person’s perspectives and we may need explanations in detail to complete the thought in any suggestion or allusion an allistic/neurotypical person makes.
I read an article recently that talked about “parallel play” as it is used by adult autistics.
Parallel play is when one is in the company of others and each engages in an activity without much interaction between individuals. Each person may be in the presence of others but is solitary in the nature of what ever activity they are doing. Small children may use parallel play on the playground, for example, one on a swing, one on the climbing or bouncing structures, all seeing each other enjoy activities but not actually interacting. For most kids, that part of play is mostly replaced by interactive, organized games or pretend scenarios, tag, playing hospital or house for example, as they grow older.
In our household we 2 are content to each read a book in the same room, or even in different rooms, or to use the computer, do crafts, or other things individually, but knowing the other is there seems to add comfort or to be companionable without the need to interact.
We may go for most of the day without speaking more than a few sentences to each other. We rarely discuss emotions (almost never!) nor do we often play board games or card games or participate in similar activities together.
Usually even meal prep and eating is solitary. Once a week we may cooperate on a communal meal where we do at least part of the preparation together and we sit down and eat at the same table at the same time.
When we had our family, we always ate meals together but since the young ones have flown the nest, our health needs dictate specific and mostly different diets. It is too much work to figure out things we both can have and coordinate meals so that our metabolic schedules and caloric needs are addressed, etc.
There is growing recognition that autistic individuals are quite capable of having relationships but that the communication and interactive structure of such relationships may differ vastly from “the norm”.
Do you practice friendship and closer relationships using “parallel play” ?
I recognized that the successful interactions I reported in one of my recent blog and the friendships I found then were based on parallel play and information sharing.
More research needs to be done to learn the best modes of relating to autistic individuals. Instead of “teaching” us how to interact as neurotypical, and expecting our relationships to be based on neurotypical behaviors and “social norms” , there needs to be better understanding of what forms of relating and interacting are most comfortable and useful to those of us who are autistic.
Communication and relationships are best for relationships when not completely one sided.