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Breaking Down the Communication Barrier

Aug 26, 2020

"Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behaviour to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers."

Autism diagnostic criteria;
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Part of autistic masking is what is often referred to as being a social chameleon.

This means that depending on culture, family, gender stereotyping and performance, social settings and environments, amongst many other elusive socially evolving factors, we become very good at changing our outer expression to fit into many different settings.

This isn't true of all autistic people.

It is true for me, however.

A friend once said to me "I'm amazed at how you connect with people; you can literally talk to anyone in their social language".

THAT may seem a social skill to many, and may even prevent us from being identified as autistic.

The hard and very sad reality, however, is that this is more often than not a SURVIVAL skill.

We often spend our lives observing others very, very carefully in order to learn how to comply, to adapt, to fit in, and also to not be targeted or bullied, harassed or controlled.

Many autistic people become skilled at befriending the bully, or the unsafe person.

We learn how to charm the snake.

Another term for this, is "Fawning".

For the PDA autistic, fawning is another form of maintaining a sense of autonomy and control.

But let's focus for a moment on social skills, please.

Social skills groups for autistic people imply that there is one correct way to relate to others and that the autistic way is, in fact, disordered.

Yet on reflection of studies such as "Diversity in social intelligence" we can see that there is documented evidence of the communicative culture of autism. (See below for more).

When we consider autism as a culture, we come to understand that the communication barrier between autistics and non autistics is no more than a cultural mismatch; in the same way that we might encounter a cultural mismatch between say a Japanese person who speaks English as a second language and an Australian whose first language is English.

Autistic communication for me, is energy first. Verbal language is not my native tongue. Sure, I'm fluent, but I rely MORE on energy. The way a person feels speaks more to me in truth than their words.

Words are learnt. They lie. They don't match the energy a person emits.

There are NO social skills that are fitting for every single human being.

There are no right or wrong ways of engaging with a person when intention is good and kind.

It is okay, and helpful to tell another person "Hey, I'm neurodivergent, is there another way you can say that so I can understand better? I'm having trouble clarifiying", in the same way we might ask a deaf person what the sign is for coffee or we might google the translation of one language to another; or we might investigate cultural traditions, laws and customs of another country before visiting.

It's about acceptance and respect.

It's okay to say "Can I just check in with you that we're okay here? I'm autistic, so I ask a lot of questions to get clear on topics and sometimes people might think I'm questioning their truth".

It can be difficult making ourselves vulnerable and letting people know our communication needs, or differences.

But with practice, I'm comfortable with it now. I've also found it gives others the safety and opportunity to be authentic when engaging with me as well and that is powerful.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

The sooner we begin sharing the way in which we communicate as neurodivergent people, and the more we reject the notion and the understanding that our communication is disordered, the stronger the drive for change.
Kristy Forbes
inTune Pathways
Image Credit: mentatdgt

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