Quirk Monster #6: Nothing implied here
The day I got married, while I was getting ready in my hotel room, I caught a glimpse of a white ribboned car hood out the front of the building. “The car is here!” I said excitedly. The hairdresser friend working behind me to fix the mess the salon had made of my updo snapped “I’m working as fast I can!” at me as if I were somehow trying to rush them when really I was just thinking out loud and feeling incredibly relieved. It was an innocent and happy observation — nothing more — and I had no idea how to explain it to them in that moment.
When I was at university, I once overheard my classmates talking about our lecturer and how no one had scored higher than a Credit on the last assignment they gave. Wanting to set the record straight, I explained that wasn’t true because I’d been awarded a Distinction. My simple and well meaning statement of fact was then met with eye rolls, groans and barely concealed muttered name calling. Me stating a fact was taken as bragging and there was nothing I could say to make them think otherwise.
I can recall countless moments across all areas of my life where I have misunderstood information and have genuinely not known that my understanding was wrong. I have learned that non-autistic people sometimes don’t believe me and that their first impulse is to instead think that I failed to mention my lack of understanding — or worse, was hiding it for some reason that only entered my mind after I was accused of it. Especially in airports (more on that in a future Quirk Monster post). I’m not evil, I’m just as susceptible to errors and unconscious incompetence as the next person!
Being misunderstood in this way is a daily occurrence for me and it’s not fun. It’s exhausting, frustrating, stressful and times, heartbreaking because it can destroy relationships and leave people with a completely wrong impression of who I am with little to no chance for me to repair the damage.
Non-autistic people often seem to think there’s some hidden meaning behind the things I say. That I’m implying things or sending subtle hints about what I do and don’t like. Instead of taking the things I say at face value, they usually try to address something that just isn’t there.
Here’s the thing. I struggle to read between the lines in conversation and that concept cuts both ways because I don’t naturally communicate between the lines either.
With me, a question is exactly what is being asked. An observation is just an observation, a fact is just a fact and sometimes all I’m doing is thinking out loud. There’s no hidden agenda here and I don’t play games. I’m not trying to trick you and I’m not trying to make you feel bad. My communication style is direct, precise, authentic and transparent. I mean exactly what I say. I’m not perfect — sometimes I’ll use a word that isn’t quite right, but I’ll usually pick myself up on it immediately and explain because I’m very conscientious.
I feel that this element of autistic communication is something that non-autistic people could learn a lot from.
Take people at face value and ask open ended questions to dig deeper into what they mean if you’re not sure. Don’t be so quick to assume the worst and consider the possibility that it has nothing to do with you at all. Also, try to see it as an opportunity to reflect upon your own communication style. I’ve known a lot of non-autistic people who struggle to communicate directly and find it hard to say exactly what they mean. I think we all need to try to be a little bit more open and transparent in how we communicate with each other. I know I do — like I said, I’m not perfect.
This short article is a lived experience example shared from my life to help you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be autistic. I am just one autistic person in a really big world. No two of us are exactly alike. I can only speak for myself and to my own experiences. If you want to know what other autistic people think — and you should — look them up, talk to them and read their work too. We all have our own voices and this is only mine. This article is part of a mini content series I publish to LinkedIn when I can. You can view the other articles in this series via my LinkedIn profile.