Communication is a two-way street and when it comes to autism, it’s often one-way traffic. When I say that people usually assume they know what I mean. They think I mean that autistic people are disordered and can’t communicate as well as non-autistic people.
That’s not what I mean.
Communication is one-way traffic insofar as it is assumed that there is a “right” way to communicate, and a “wrong” way. By definition that would make my autisic communication wrong, and everyone else’s right.
What does that mean for me? Well, it means learning unnatural communication methods, and being criticised for not finding them natural.
Small talk, eye contact, physical contact such as hugging or touching an arm, telling “social lies” because other people attach meaning to facts that are not intrinsic to the fact; these are ways of communicating. There is no rule that says these are the right ways.
Avoiding eye contact, moving your body whilst speaking, avoiding physical contact, stating relevant “social truths”, are ways of communicating. There is no rule to say that these are the wrong ways.
You would think that those with no social processing condition would be the ones willing and able to adjust their communication methods, but that is rarely the case. The pressure is always upon the autistic person to conform, and where does this lead? Stress, anxiety, fear of getting it wrong, one more weight on an overtaxed processing system.
How do I communicate my love? In myriad ways. I love giving presents. I’m not so good at receiving, but I love giving them. Each gift is a problem-solving exercise into how well I know the person and what would make them smile.
I am the family member who finds it hard to hug you, but will remember a throw away comment about a book you loved, or a print that hung on your grandfather’s wall, or some snippet of a moment that I want to give back to you, and I will hunt it down. That’s one way I show love.
I give gifts through my creativity. I find it grounding and soothing to create things. I spend time making something for someone that connects us. I think about what they like or need and then spend my time creating with them in mind. Love gives me purpose.
I give patience and acceptance. I assume the best in people and try to find kind motivations for all actions. This is how I show love.
I am the person who is avoiding eye contact so that I can listen to you. Really listen. I am the person who will apply my empathy rigorously and tell you honestly that your feelings are real and valid and that it’s ok to feel. Because it’s true.
It is ok to feel anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness. We all have these feelings. You cannot control your feelings, but you can control your actions. Feel how you feel, and do good, that’s my motto.
My love is deep as the oceans and wide as the horizon. I am not less loving because I may communicate it differently.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make communication a two-way street? I will show you love in a way that suits me, but doesn’t hurt you, and you can show me love in a way that suits you, but doesn’t hurt me.
You cannot count my love in hugs, or glances, or obligatory birthday cards; but it is as real and as solid as anyone’s.