Crowded, hot and noisy marquees aren't my favourite place and I was feeling very overwhelmed just being here, crammed into this humid dome with 10000 others. I'd been invited by a friend and I'd decided to come to this weekend festival just to try something new, have a new experience. If it was terrible I could just go home! I tried to make an assessment about where to sit and decided that right at the front would be best as then I couldn't see the mass of other bodies! Perhaps at the back by the door would have been more logical but I went for it anyway. At the front I discovered a quiet area next to the sign language interpreter and settled myself down for the start of the celebration.
I've not given sign language much thought before, 'how would they interpret the music?' I wondered. While the crowd behind stood and sung with their voices, in front I watched as the song transformed into bold movement and expression as the sign language interpreter lead his followers into a depth of meaning in the song seemingly missed by the thousands who stood limply behind us.
It was truly beautiful to watch. The energy and passion spread and by the end of the weekend we were all dancing. For the first time in years I was using more than just my words to express my feelings, I was using my whole self, it was liberating.
That weekend taught me an important lesson about communication. Communication involves far more than just words.
It is easy to pinpoint the main causes of communication difficulties the deaf community face, but how does this relate to me, an aspie?
As an aspie my brain takes in information in a slightly different way to most and growing up this gave me a slightly different communication style. Add into this the relentless negative responses when you get it wrong, it's no wonder communication can be hard!
When communicating our aim is to share information with others, feelings, desires, thoughts, information..... As humans we do this in full Technicolor, using our words, tones, voices, ears, body language, eyes, facial expressions, it all pains a picture to give the full meaning intended. Most people learn how to juggle all of this subconsciously, but my aspie brain is more into creating neat stacks of information and goes for the quickest and most direct route. This produces an often cold and robotic response that often misses the point.
Just think about the word 'yes' - depending on the tone and volume it's said, the inflection and the speaker's body language and context of the word it could mean pretty much anything!
Yes shouted angrily could mean I'm busy go away!
Yes? could be asking what do you want?
Yes! sarcastically could even mean no!
Without any clues however the word 'yes' is only going to mean 'yes' - confusion is not surprising! I end up frustrated wondering why 'yes' can't just mean 'yes'!?
In many ways it is like comparing different languages. We may both be speaking English, but the meaning is getting distorted leading to confusion all around. It often feels as though I am in the wrong for not being understood but actually this isn't the case and it really shouldn't be a blame game here. I simply have a different way of communicating - a different language!
Changing my thinking around to this has really helped me tackle my own communication struggles. Instead of telling myself that I 'Can't' communicate, I see it as an opportunity to learn.
It can often feel like everyone else should meet me in the middle here but in reality it is a lot easier to learn how to communicate in as many ways as I can rather than expecting literally everyone to do it my way. It takes time and practice but is surprisingly rewarding. Simply typing questions like 'How to start conversations' into Google brings you so much information, so have a look for yourself and see what you can find.
There are of course times you really do need to have someone communicate on your level and this is fine too. I find it has helped me to be able to script and practice ways of asking for this. Lecturing someone on how something 'SHOULD be done because I have AUTISM' doesn't seem to go down well, but toning it down and perhaps saying, 'please could you write that down for me' or 'I'm sorry I have difficulty using the phone, I will make the arrangements with you via email' are ways of getting the point across without being too confrontational.
It really is a huge topic and I just wanted to write this post as an introduction this week. I will be continuing this topic in the future to cover far more detail. I'd love to hear from you about your experience and any particular aspects of communication you would like to be covered more in upcoming posts.
I started this post with a story about sign language and thought I would try and find a nice video to end this week's post with. I came across this video, A version of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours recorded by Artists Against Bullying and signed in ASL by the Ontario Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.