Language is Meant to Connect
Humans are not alone in our use of language to communicate. Although our use of spoken language is very advanced, other animals use all kinds of sounds, and body movements, to interact and express thoughts, intentions, and even emotions. A main purpose of language among all species is to create some type of connection or to convey a message. Language is like a bridge between two or more individuals.
When the Bridge is Out
One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s (High Functioning Autism) is the unusual use of language – this means that many Aspies use words in a different way than most. In our household, we call this “aspie-isms.” Sometimes, Abby’s new words are quite clever and we’ve adopted them as part of our family language. However, her language differences are more than just using words in an unusual way.
Abby often struggles with finding a way to relate what she’s thinking. Often this is because of her difficulty understanding any point of view but her own. She’s not being selfish or self-centered. She just can’t understand a conversation from someone else’s perspective. This can cause a major breakdown in communication, because she often leaves out very important details about what she’s trying to communicate. We are left guessing and end up asking her questions to clarify. Often, this frustrates her because she doesn’t understand why we don’t already know these things because, well, SHE knows!
A conversation we had this weekend went something like this:
I was in my office working on an Aspie Spot Facebook post, and I’d also just printed out a few draft chapters of our book, “Bye Bye Bully,” for an editor to review. Abby walked in and was looking over my shoulder at my Facebook post, and also glanced down at the pages coming out of the printer.
Abby: Mom, I don’t like the way you wrote about us writing the book in the book. Me (not sure what she’s referencing): What do you mean? Abby: I just don’t like how you wrote about us writing in the book! Me (still no clue): Do you mean how I’m mentioning the book we’re writing on Facebook? Abby (getting frustrated): No!! Just never mind, Mom. Me (still absolutely clueless): I’m really not sure what you mean. Where am I writing what you’re referencing? Abby (totally exasperated): In our book, Mom! Me: Where, in the book? Abby (giving up): Never mind! It’s nothing, really. Me: No, it’s not! I want to understand what you mean – just help me. Give me a few more details. Abby (frustrated and trying to leave the room): REALLY! It’s no big deal. Forget about it! Me: Wait, Abby, please! How you feel and what you think is important to me. Please don’t leave. Please help me understand what you meant. Abby (shooting daggers with her eyes): It’s really nothing! Me (finally remembering to get specific): Where exactly did you see this written? Where in the book? Did you see it just now when you walked in? Abby: On one of those pages on the printer! Me (grabbing the printer pages): OH!! Let’s find the page together!
We found the page, and we were able to talk through some discomfort she was feeling about how I had disclosed some emotions we’d experienced as we were writing some of the memories of her own bullying experience.
On this particular occasion, I had the time and the patience to see this conversation through until I finally understood what she was trying to tell me. Even though she tried to walk away, she, too, managed to stay with me until we were both on the same page. There are many times throughout the week that we are in a rush, or maybe just not in a good mood – these times are lost opportunities that we often never get back. They are moments that Abby is left feeling misunderstood and frustrated, and I am left feeling confused and frustrated, as well.
Strategies for Bridging Communication Gaps
When I’m driving somewhere and there is a traffic delay, my GPS will tell me about my alternate routes. I still need to get to my destination, and it may take longer, but there are other routes I can use. This is true for communicating with Aspies when the conversation is failing. There are several strategies that are useful when you find yourself in this situation:
- Both of you need to try and stay calm – no matter how frustrated you may feel, take a deep breath and remember that anger and irritability will only worsen the problem.
- Focus on “W/H” questions/answers: What, when, where, who, why, and how. If you can answer these, you’ll probably have success!
- Non-aspies, ask specific, close-ended questions that can be answered with “yes/no,” etc. – somewhat like a game of 20 questions. Open-ended questions may lead to vague answers.
- Take a small break, if necessary to reduce agitation. But, come back to it when everyone has cooled off, preferably within an hour.
No matter what strategies you use, always try hard not to judge the other person. Both Aspies, and non-Aspies are capable of feeling like their own way of communicating is superior to the other. This will do nothing but breed resentment and anger. Always respect one another!