Sometimes Tough Problems Can Be Solved…
Before my autism diagnosis, I experienced confusion as some adults seemed to perceive me in a manner that was wholly inconsistent with my self-perception. This contradiction troubled me. What’s more, I was a polarizing person. People either really liked me or really didn’t. It was hard to understand how I could affect people so differently.
…By Looking at Your Successes…
Interestingly, I have never (except as a child when other kids were my peers) experienced these communication issues when working with kids. I now realize that when I work with children I use a simple communication process – one that works.
I engage in an assessment of their emotional, academic, intellectual, etc., level and adjust my communication accordingly. Using their age or grade in school, I judge what level they are at so I have a starting point for determining how to communicate with them, what information they need, and how much they will be able to handle.
In addition, I tell them what I think and feel. I never skip steps when talking to them. Also, kids are much more likely to ask questions when they do not understand what I am saying. They give feedback that enables me to adjust my communication to be sure they understand what I am saying.
This process worked for me before my autism diagnosis, and it works for me now.
Comparing Your Struggles…
On examination, I realized I used a different process when speaking with adults that I was used when I communicated with children. Determining the emotional, intellectual, and academic levels of adults is tough without the clues that are available when working with kids. When a dialogue would open, I felt like I had to guess where to start.
This factor is complicated by my extreme dislike of people treating me like I am stupid. I avoid treating others like I feel this way about them because I know how it makes me feel.
In addition, I rarely shared my thoughts and feelings. When dealing with my peers and colleagues, sharing at this level seemed unnecessary. If I did not have a conscious awareness that it needed to be done, I simply didn’t do it.
Even further, it’s a lot of effort to convert my thoughts and feelings to a conversation with other adults. I can do it; it is just work. I made the assumption that adults were able to get to know me with less communication than kids and so I did not make this effort. What a poor assumption on my part!
I was also more likely to skip steps when explaining or discussing things with adults. If it seemed like I was communicating at too basic a level, I jumped to the next level. If I was too excited by the topic or I knew it too well, I was also very likely to skip steps. I love efficiency and sharing with others what they already knew seemed wasteful.
Want to know how many people jumped with me? Virtually none!
Finally, adults are considerably less likely to ask questions and give feedback. I need those questions and feedback to be able to function.
And Identifying Your Mistakes.
With adults, I frequently started a dialogue too far into my topic and lost people in the process. I was not sharing, and they were not asking. The feedback loop was missing. Without this loop, communication rapidly breaks down. Relationships crumble.
Recognizing this, all I had left to do was to decide how to convert this new level of awareness into something better for myself and others.
Applying What I Learned…
I share with many a belief that to change your life and your relationships, you have to change yourself. No, you don’t have to become a pretzel for others. Simply take the steps to identify the problem and change those things that are within your control.
It turns out that people are not psychic. If I don’t communicate my thoughts, concerns and questions, others are not aware of them! Huh!
If they don’t explicitly share their thoughts, concerns or questions, I have no way to adjust to their needs.
This communication gap resulted in adults being unaware of my good intentions, my compassion, and my drive to serve others.
I lost in the translation so many of the qualities that would have drawn others closer to me.
…..To Changing My Process…
- Engage in small talk to determine where adults are before diving into a given subject.
- Share my thoughts and feelings on the subject.
- Try to always make sure I include the why of my thoughts or feelings.
- Take all steps when sharing. No skipping!!
- Tell others I may ask a lot of questions.
- Explain to others that I hope they will ask me questions in the event that they do not understand what I am trying to say or if what I say hits them the wrong way.
- Let others know that I can be blunt or matter of fact, but there is never any ill intent behind that bluntness and that if they do not understand my true intent, they can just ask more questions.
- Recognize that I have to be consciously aware of these steps as I communicate and to continuously check to ensure that I am applying all of them simultaneously.
…Fixed What Was Broken…
My autism diagnosis gives me information to give others so that they can better understand me. It gives them a name for why I communicate differently, for why my interests are so intense and so focused. Giving that name seems to smooth the waters and make communications, relationships even, simpler and more rewarding.
I put additional effort into sharing and added steps to the process I use to communicate with adults.
As a result, I saved the enormous amounts of time and energy I had been exerting trying to understand why I was having such difficulty in this area. I freed myself from the emotional stress and discomfort of feeling like I affected others negatively. It wasn’t me, it was the process. This process closes the feedback loop!
I should make a quick note that not all relationship issues I had were my fault or the fault of my process. To the extent that they were, I am happy to have the opportunity to make the changes to show others how valuable they are to me.
To the extent that the issues were on my end, making changes has made starting new relationships considerably easier, becoming closer to those with whom I already had relationships is possible, and has allowed the mending of seemingly crumbled relationships.
And Transformed My Life.
The result of these disclosures continues to amaze me. Small process changes resulted in tremendous savings and a transformed life.
People around me appear to be more willing to invest the time it takes to get to know me once they are aware that there is a reason I am the way I am. People seem very interested in knowing more about autism in general and specifically how it impacts my life. More than that, they want to know more about how I could seem so “normal” or be so high-functioning and be autistic.
The best part? The substance of who I am changed not at all.
I found many of the problems I experienced lie in making decisions without all of the needed information and in the process I used to communicate.
We were all built to fit together differently. I am working to close the gap in my relationships and in my life, and I want to help you do the same.
Changing my behavior, not my values, not my sense of humor, not my attitudes, beliefs and perceptions has not been easy, but it has been worth it!
Each of these changes was moderate in nature, but the cumulative effect of the whole has proven transformative, and I am not done. I intend to continue to make these types of changes in my life and to thereby transform continuously.
A diagnosis may make communicating effectively easier for those with Her Autism!!!