There are many things that I do and say that can range from amusing to exasperating to those around me. That’s the joy of having a brain that’s hard wired slightly differently to that of the average person. In my post ‘10 things you shouldn’t say to an aspie’ I took a light hearted look at some of the things that have been said to me that have been less than helpful, but I also recognise that sometimes the things I say aren’t helpful in return. It’s great to recognise that the way I understand other’s communication is strained, but it’s also important for me to recognise that the way I communicate back is also potentially different to yours. Communication works both ways after all. Here is a look at the top 10 things I sometimes say that hasn’t had the response or affect I’d expected.
So anyway let me start by say ‘Hi, How are you?’
1: Answering honestly ‘How are you?’
‘Not so good’ I reply, ‘I didn’t sleep well last night as it was hot. My bedroom doesn’t cool down very well so I was up at 4am. Otherwise I’m not too bad but I’ve had a few concerns on my mind lately about the increase in water rates and whether I'm on the best phone tariff. At the moment I’ve been trying to figure out whether to visit a friend this weekend as they live a long way away but at the same time I’d like to see them. I am however really enjoying writing this blog about life with autism.’
- puzzled look back
‘Oh sorry, fine thanks and how are you?’
You see to me the question ‘How are you?’ requires an answer. In true aspie style it is so easy for me to automatically bombard the poor recipient with exhaustive details about ‘how I am.’
This isn’t the askers’ intention. It is simply a greeting that requires no more than a simple ‘fine thanks, and how are you’ type response. Any more results in being given a very strange and scared look back from the person who asked!
2: How old are you?
So how old are you?
You NEVER ask a woman her age!
Why just women?
In settings where I’m surrounded by fellow aspies the question of age doesn’t appear to have such a stigma as it does out in the wider community. It is a simple factual statement. In reality as an adult, knowing someone else’s age has never been that important. I’ve always tended to either enjoy someone’s company or not (regardless or age or any other demographic). It’s when the conversation starts taking a bewildering dance around age that I have the tendency to just say ‘How old are you?’
‘I’m so much older than you!’
‘You look so young’
‘How old do you think I look?’
These questions will all likely result in me bluntly telling you how old you look or asking your age (you’ve asked mine in a roundabout way after all!) – if you don’t want to know then don’t ask.
I’ve been advised that telling everyone that they’re 21 is the best approach (Although it mystifies me why anyone would want to be 21 – I hated that age, 31 is so much better!)
3: Who are you voting for?
So people fought and died to give me a right to vote and live in a democratic country but I can’t talk about politics?
I can understand the reason that politics talk can lead to disagreements but I will and do openly talk about politics when an election is looming.
Filtering information from a random selection of leaflets on who to vote for is bewildering. I’d much rather balance my opinions by having open chats with those people around me who’s opinions I respect.
4: Do you have a faith?
This is one I both understand but also find frustrating. Whatever your faith may (or may not) be is a deeply personal thing that quite clearly can and does cause great conflict. Two people who hold opposing views but both have deep convictions justifying their respective stance can clearly clash on this issue so the reason for having discretion when discussing faith is clear.
The frustration comes for me when deciding where and when is an appropriate time. Faith has played a big part in my life. It has been a fluid journey with times of holding a Christian faith close to heart and more recently settling for more agnostic views. I have a genuine interest in faith and religions but exploring this has always felt restricted due to lack of open communication. I have no answers here, so lets quickly move on before arguments erupt or I’m smited by the almighty…..
5: Lets talk about the birds and the bees…
There are no birds and bees involved so at least there aren’t going to be any seagull sized bee hybrids, but if there were it’s certainly be much easier to talk about than the subject in question.
The unwritten rules on how, when and where sex can be discussed is so perplexing that it can be a huge minefield. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can not only lead to huge embarrassment but has the potential for much worse. A single statement that could be light banter in one setting could lead to formal action in another. Knowing the boundaries can be challenging enough for anyone. One thing is certain; no one seems to know how to talk about this. It’ll cover this more in a future post, but for now I’ll stick with the giant bee hybrids, they scare me less!
6: You don’t understand
Chances are you don’t, but then again at least you’re trying to relate? Saying ‘I know how you feel’ is often said and tends to illicit a blunt but factual statement back from me, ‘no, you don’t understand’
I’m seeing it as a whole and there is no way you can understand everything from my perspective, but by saying this I’m missing the point. You can understand and relate to certain emotions, situations or experiences I have (fully understanding the intricate details isn’t really relevant).
It’s probably best I reserve my judgement on your understanding and keep my mouth shut. After all, you may just understand far better than I give you credit for…
7: I don’t understand you
As above, but chances are I don’t understand either. Again I tend to look at the intricacies of things rather than just trying to relate. When faced with a situation I will quickly judge that I don’t understand you and say so. This gives one clear message – I’m aloof, am above your problems and un-empathetic. This is far from the truth and avoiding saying that I don’t understand you is wise.
Perhaps you’ve just split up with your girlfriend and are upset. I would feel unable to relate as I haven’t dated this particular girl, gone through what you’ve gone through, been on your journey – but I have split up with girls before and experienced the grieving process that follows. If I step back from the detail then I may find I do understand far better than I give myself credit for…
8: You’re wrong
There are certain subjects that I know a lot about. We all have areas like that. Our interests, hobbies, studies all give us an expertise somewhere. Even personal matters like your family or even your long term health issues are probably areas you personally can call yourself an expert in. I’ve studied fungi extensively (yes, I’m aware that this is strange) and unless you’re a seasoned mycologist then I will probably dismiss your knowledge on this subject as inferior. The difficulty is that no one wants to be told they’re wrong. If someone approaches me and informs me that all fungi are poisonous, instead of pompously dismissing them for making such an uneducated remark it helps to step back. Does their lack of knowledge affect me at all? No! Perhaps this is a good opportunity to have a chat about a topic that interests me. In turn they are guaranteed to have something of interest to tell me about a topic I know little about. Not saying ‘you’re wrong’ can open up very interesting new conversations.
9: Being direct about pretty much anything
An autistic tendency that doesn’t seem to blend well with the British societies' politeness is being blunt and direct. If there is a problem or difficulty I’d rather just say it than meander aimlessly around the subject.
‘You upset me’ Is confrontational, ‘My washing machine is broken so I’m stressed and don’t know how to get it repaired’ is pessimistic. Instead we have to weave around what we’re saying.
‘Hello, splendid day wouldn’t you agree! I wonder if you could advise me, my washing machine has broken. Have you got any recommendations for good repair centres? Isn’t it jolly good that we live in such a blessed position to not have to wash out clothes in a dirty river!’ or some such gibberish.
10: Talking about myself
Talking about myself comes naturally, I know a lot about myself. I can easily go into a never ending monologue that will put you in a coma given half a chance. I have to remind myself frequently that you really don’t need or want to know every last detail about my evening’s plans.
I was once set a challenge, try having a ‘you’ day. The challenge was simple; to not talk about myself for a whole day, even direct questions about what I’ve been doing should be turned around and directed back to the person asking.
‘How was your lunch?’
Instead of replying with the details of my lunch I could say, ‘Great thanks, what did you have today?’ Following this up with questions about their favourite foods or places to eat.
Sounds easy? It was actually quite challenging but very rewarding and it was a great way to connect more with those around me.
I hope this post has been of interest and shown how the challenge of communication is a two way street – but also a very rewarding one. I would be very interested in hearing your views on this topic. Please feel free to add your comments and share this post if you found it interesting.