Autistic people aren’t supposed to be any good at communication. It’s this word that is always used – deficit – like there is something wrong or something lacking from the way we choose to communicate. Granted, autism is a spectrum, and some people on the spectrum do find communication difficult, and aren’t very good at it. But then, some people who aren’t on the spectrum also find communication difficult, and aren’t very good at it.
I am *exceptionally* good at communicating my feelings, thoughts, opinions, and desires to other people. I say *exactly* what I mean, no more, no less. The trouble is, I have realised as I’ve got older, that most people don’t like this at all.
I have to admit it drives me slightly crazy. People are always reading things in to what I say that just aren’t there – and I’m supposed to be the one with a communication problem?! I have been called manipulating, accused of always needing to get my own way, told I am undermining people, being bossy… it’s really upsetting, and absolutely baffling. I don’t think I would know how to manipulate someone even if I wanted to.
Yesterday I emailed someone saying ‘could I suggest we try this…’. That’s what I meant. I have an idea, I’d like to make a suggestion, what do you think of this? What do other people mean when they say that?? I’m struggling to understand, because based on the reply I got today I’m not sure whether I accidentally wrote ‘I think you’re doing this completely wrong.’
I have had a few incidences in my life where I have literally been knocked sideways at how someone has responded to me. The first time I was still in school, and it was a music teacher. I’ve got no idea where it all came from, all I remember is that the teacher was pretty stressed out and I – trying to be helpful – said I’d be happy to take one of the lunchtime clubs if she wanted me to. I think I was about 15 or 16 at the time, a competent musician, and perfectly capable of taking a lower school recorder club. The next thing I know she is screaming at me, and I’m crying in my Head of Year’s office because I have *no clue* what just happened. From her perspective, I think she’s a useless teacher and that I could do a better job than she can. From my perspective, she was stressed out, I was offering to help ease the load.
I know it wasn’t my fault at all, but that isn’t the only time this exact scenario has been played out, with a few minor variations. I’m always the ‘underling’ – I’m a TA and she’s a teacher, I’m a new volunteer and she’s been there for years – and she is always overworked, stressed, and very likely has her own mental health issues that are not being resolved. It always happens the same. I try to be helpful, they think I am trying to usurp them. I try to state very clearly what I mean, they say I’m being manipulative. The women do, anyway. The men say I’m pushy and aggressive.
When my ex-husband and I split up we had a discussion (argument) that completely baffled me at the time. Back then I was gigging quite a bit, and early on in our relationship he had decided that he didn’t like me driving home by myself after gigs, so would accompany me and share the driving if necessary. Over time, he got a bit bored of doing this, but he never actually told me directly Our conversations would go something like this:
Him: I don’t think I’ll know anyone there tonight
Me: Oh yes, Joe and Chloe are going, you’ll be able to sit with them!
Him: But I’m not sure I should just turn up to your gig
Me: It will be fine, it’s a ticketed event so it’s not like it’s a private party
And so on…
I thought he wanted to come, but was anxious about whether he would know anyone, or feel out of place. I had NO IDEA he was trying to tell me he didn’t want to come. He thought I was pressuring him to be there.
I, like many other autistic people, find it ironic (frustrating, hilarious…) that non-autistics think that we are the ones with the communication problem. Non-autistic people hint at things all the time, without really saying what they mean. They expect us to be able to ‘guess’ what’s really in their heads. Maybe one day this will all be turned on its head, and people will realise that autistics had it right all along. Imagine how much easier life would be if people just said what they meant the first time.