One of the most common phrases I hear this time of year is that “Autistics need to speak up.” If you want to be heard, speak louder. We are speaking. We can be found at the United Nations. We can be found on social media. We can be found on main-stream media, although a certain organization drowns out our voices with their expensive, slick campaign. The campaign that so many people give to and follow while at the same time proclaiming that Autistics don’t speak.
We do speak. We talk to you verbally. We talk to you using assistive technology. We talk to you through behavior when our words escape us. We are talking loudly. We wish you would listen as closely as you listen to A$.
1. the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself
You may have heard that Autistics don’t care about others. That we are unable to reciprocate feelings or provide visible signs of caring. I have to tell you…that is just not true. Sometimes you have to look a bit deeper to see these feelings, but I assure you they are present.
They are present in a smile, a hug or a hand grasped in your own. Words do not necessarily indicate emotions. Non verbal communication plays a larger role in conveying feelings than most people think. While people accept smiles and giggles from babies as signs of contentment, they seem to think that older people have to “tell” their emotions for those emotions to be valid.
It’s just not true. There are two reasons I’d like to share with you. First, words can be misused or misunderstood. Some words are just patterns we all repeat, like “have a good day.” Meaningless chatter that works as social grease. The multiple meanings of words in addition to the varying interpretations of intensity lead to misunderstandings. I love sunny days, but not the same way I love people in my life.
The second reason is that I empathize with many people. I feel their pain as if it were my own. I recognize younger versions of myself in the students I teach. I can see where others have made mistakes that I made in the past. If I verbalize any of these feelings, they are usually misinterpreted. I just can’t seem to match my emotions to my words.
So, gestures. A hug. A smile. A hand shake. Doing something for someone. These are rarely misunderstood. There’s an almost universal language of unspoken feelings that most people “get.” This is a good thing for me. My words fail me so often that I wonder exactly how people perceive me.
Please don’t mistake my awkwardness for unwillingness. Understand that while I am fairly adept in social situations, I’m constantly stressed by them. I’m thinking 10 steps ahead, running through the scenarios and hoping I’ve picked the right response. I notice your body language and try to follow that “conversation” as well. When the two “conversations” don’t match, I try to figure out which one I should follow.
Yes, I care too much. At the end of most days, I feel I’ve failed. I feel I could have done something differently that would have made someone’s day better. I could have been more helpful. I could have been more kind. Yes, I beat myself up over these interactions that many of you probably don’t even give a second thought to. It’s cool. Just understand that my hesitation to join in is probably based out of fear of failure, not because I don’t want to join, but because I’m scared to death of that chasm of misunderstanding that looms right in front of my feet.
How many times have you heard or said this taunt? I know I say things along these lines. I’ve done it for as long as I remember…Eat your vegetables! Make me! Clean your room! Make me! Take out the trash! Make me!
Almost every time, the words are said out of anger or frustration. It’s like reaching the point of no return and digging in your heels. Challenging someone to force you to do something you have no desire to do. I dare you…make me do this.
Getting boxed into a corner brings out this phrase. Not being able to process a situation brings this out. Not comprehending how far along that path someone has already traveled also leads to this type of confrontation. At some point, communication just breaks down and, well, make me.
I honestly can’t think of a single person I’m around on a regular basis that hasn’t gone into make me mode at some point. I believe that most of these confrontations resolve with some space and maybe a time out. But what if they don’t? What happens when someone decides to dig in and truly make you do something?
You have a choice. Recognize the confrontation for what it is. Understand that the other person has reached their point of no return. Step back. Breathe. It’s not easy to do in the heat of the moment. I get that. Sometimes my sense of “justice” demands that I dig in as well. When that happens, let’s just say that there’s smoke behind me from the bridge I just burned.
Sometimes, you do have to be the person who gives a little. Sometimes, you are the person demanding a little. Either way, you’re much more effective if you step back from “make me.” That’s a challenge. It riles people up. And resolving things is much more difficult when people are riled up.
Your challenge: Breathe. Pause. Regroup. Be respectful. Evaluate your options. Keep in mind that what you feel is right may be the other person’s point of no return. Work to improve communication so you don’t run into “make me” moments. Trust me, it’s much less stressful to pause than it is to get caught up in the heat of the moment .