It was one of those days today when Aspie literalness created a number of missed understandings. I assumed that what was said was what was meant and my partner assumed I understood the implicit meanings. Both of us repeatedly missed that the other had assumed understandings that had been missed until it was too late (ie actions of one provoked annoyance in the other).
After some serious deep breathing and a concerted effort to connect with my inner calm 😉 I explained what I thought my partner had meant – which produced even more annoyance – apparently it was obvious what was meant….. And this is at the heart of one of the difficulties of being on the spectrum and being articulate – people struggle to conceive that we might miss common understandings and we struggle to explain meaningfully why we missed the subtext, which seems to be so obvious to everyone else.
As an Aspie I have learnt the subtexts of large numbers of social chit chat type comments for example; see you later means goodbye for now, I’ll give you a ring means I may phone you sometime in the future and I may not and so on. However when there are subtexts that I am not aware of, I am just not aware. In much the same way that a non-french speaker would not understand the tone of a conversation in French unless they knew a number of French people and could read some of the other cues such as posture and tone of voice.
In addition, it seems to be the case that many people on the autism spectrum experience large numbers of missed understandings due to the issue of tone of voice. I teach and have a teacher voice for the classroom and playground. I also use this voice at home which provokes great annoyance in my partner who assumes that I mean x, y or z by the tone of my voice. This is rarely the case and I am usually just meaning exactly what I am saying with my words. On the other hand, I will often miss tonal cues even though I do know what they are – for example excited is more rapid up speech and anger is louder and either after or slower.
I really empathise with those aspie and autie kids getting into trouble at school for all those missed understandings! I deliberately use the term missed understandings to indicate that there is an understanding on both sides that is not ‘correct’ and this is not noticed because of a missing conception of how others communicate. For example, people not on the spectrum are often missing an awareness of how people on the spectrum interpret language as is evident when teachers ask their spectrum kids if they “want to do their work now” and then get angry when the aspie/autie says “no”, which is a perfectly legitimate answer to a do you want to question, except when it is a rhetorical question – which is a point completely missed by most people on the spectrum who generally say what they mean and mean what they say.
These missed understandings are problematic for all concerned if they create friction or frustration etc. Where the person on the spectrum is undiagnosed or has not disclosed their autism/Aspergers the perception of the other person engaged in those missed understandings can be very judgemental. However, even when people are aware that someone is on the spectrum their conception of language and communication can mean that they completely fail to see that the other person’s understanding of what is said/unsaid is significantly different to their understanding. This failure to see I believe leads to the idea that people on the spectrum are rude or arrogant. In turn our failure to see that non-spectrumites often mean more than their words convey leads us to think that they are deceptive or have very poor communication skills.
An example that illustrates one of the differences in communication styles between those on and not on the autism spectrum is how teachers tell students how long they have to finish their work. Non-spectrum teachers often give a certain number of minutes and then do not stick to that. Spectrum teachers who use minutes stick to it or renegotiate at that time or they say that they will call an activity to an end when it becomes clear that most students have finished the activity. I once observed in a classroom where a teacher had said an activity was going to last 5 minutes and yet did not call an actual end to it for 38 minutes! As a child I often wondered if my teachers were unable to read clocks because of this type of missed understanding….
It would be so great if people could say what they mean and mean what they say all the time!IMG_0560.JPG