I have been doing a fair bit of reading about autism and connecting with a great bunch of people on Twitter. For anyone wanting to meet more autistic folk and strike up a dialogue or get your questions answered I would strongly recommend searching via hashtags such as #autism #actuallyautistic #sheCantBeAutistic and so on to join the conversation.
This dialogue has sparked a lot of questions in my own mind. An issue that comes up time and again from various perspectives is that of missed communication opportunities, missed cues and misunderstandings between autistic people and others. (As a side note, this relates mainly to verbal spoken communication, and I appreciate that this is therefore only relevant to a certain section of the autistic community.)
It occurred to me that some typical aspects of autistic-style communication include bluntness, honesty, finding smalltalk unhelpful, and a need to include the correct details to enhance accuracy and understanding. It could be argued that strengths of this style are that it is direct, transparent, and fact-rich.
With the exception of a common tendency to talk at length rather than to be concise, this seems like a clear and valid communication path, which echoes positive values traditionally championed in areas such as science and journalism. It is in line with the values we are generally taught as children (social norms), which say that the right thing to do is to speak up, and to speak the truth.
Is “normal” communication dysfunctional?
And yet in practice there are other things going on in neurotypical conversation that are more complex, nuanced and (often contradicting supposed social norms) acceptable from a social point of view. Things such as: saying something in a roundabout way that omits the core point; saying one thing and meaning another; and having facial cues or body language that hints there is something different actually being expressed than the message in the words spoken. From a viewpoint of inclusion and of clear, unambiguous communication, all of these behaviours could be argued as counterproductive and confusing.
From my personal perspective this style of communication can often be summed up as “lying.” This is extremely frustrating, because having been taught the norms (rules of social engagement) as a child and attempted to follow them, the outcome is not that I win at life and at communication, but that people and situations can seem unnecessarily complicated, and, to be honest, sometimes unfair.
And so I tweeted: