Tag Archives: connection

We don’t need no conversation

A reader recently sent me a really great idea for a blog post regarding forming connections without conversation. I have so many thoughts about this that I’m not sure how to join together into a single blog post, but I’m going to do my best.

Much of this comes from the fact that allistic people really do seem to rely so heavily on conversation as a means to connect to people. It’s often simply a default assumption that we will all find conversation as easy as they do and that highly interactive social connection is simply the best way to socialize and spend time with other people.

So first of all, let’s talk about conversation. It isn’t nearly as simple as just knowing words, knowing how to speak, or being able to make sentences. Oh no, it really isn’t. I mean, I know lots of people seem to think that conversation just naturally follows being able to speak, and we put all sorts of effort into teaching children how to talk and just assume they’ll figure out conversing on their own. So let’s just look a bit at that, shall we?

Conversation involves lots (and lots and lots) of real-time processing. Processing the words people say, trying to figure out if anything may have been behind the words and if so, what that was, processing tone and facial expression and posture and body language and everything else that goes with conversations. While conversing I honestly find it rather unpleasant that we are expected to do all of that, just given how hard it can be for me to process visual information and auditory information at the same time. Even purely text-based conversations, when done in real-time, can be challenging with all the rapid processing that is necessary. Now, I personally do enjoy conversing, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that there needs to be more general knowledge out there about just how tricky conversations can be.

While I find conversations sometimes tricky and can only do them within certain limitations, other people find them nearly or entirely impossible. However, difficulty in conversation does not mean that we have no need for human connection. I sometimes see people claim that autistic people do not need or desire human connection, or that said desire is what separates autism from Aspergers and honestly, I increasingly find that a load of twaddle. The more I read books from the perspective of autistic people, the more I read blogs like A Diary of a Mom, the more I believe that yes, autistic people totally want connection too. I know I certainly do. However, we find it difficult. Allistic people want us to interact they way they interact, to look the way they look, to be the way they are, and that’s a very difficult and unreasonable thing to ask of us. So many people just don’t see the need to find a shared language to allow for connection, and when they think in terms of assisting us, it’s just ways to try to make us like them rather than trying to meet in the middle. This is bothersome to me, in so many ways.

BUT, this post is supposed to be about connecting to others without needing to rely on conversation. As a brief note staying within the realm of conversation for a bit – even just allowing for more time to process (potentially LOTS of time to process for some of us) in silence is huge. Don’t try to fill up space with words, don’t bombard us with more and more words if we aren’t answering right away. Don’t try to force us to do everything as rapidly as you do. Allow for time to process what you said, time to think about our response, time to translate that into words that we hope will make sense to you, and time to get those words out our mouths. That might take a while. It might not feel like a conversation anymore. That’s ok – it’s communicating and connecting. Importantly, it’s connecting with who we are rather than who you want us to be, and that is incredibly important.

Imagine if I tried to force my way of conversing onto everyone who talked to me. You may not look at me when you speak to me. You must outright say what you would otherwise rely on body language to convey. You must wait for a very long period of time before you answer a question or reply to me. No one would take that well! Yet the inverse is demanded from us All. The. Time.

Anyway. I really must get back to the topic at hand here. One of my favorite ways to connect to people is something I’ve talked about before – Parallel Play. Allistic people often demand, or at least prefer, conversation happen with it, but that is actually not at all necessary. There is also the related associative play – where we are doing similar things and interacting in some way, such as sharing materials. I find that allistic people seem to rank interactions as better or worse depending on how much it forces us to closely interact with the people we are with. Cooperative play is seen as “better” than associative play, which is better than parallel play, which is better than solitary play. Only maybe these are simply different, rather than better or worse. Maybe they are all entirely valid, and maybe a parallel play connection is actually just as real as a cooperative play connection. (hint: I don’t actually mean “maybe” in the previous sentence. They really are just as real and valid as each other)

Possum, the individual who originally proposed this topic, also posted a comment to my Parallel Play post describing just such a non-conversational connection she experienced once. With her permission, I am sharing it here:

One of the high points of my life socially was casually dropping by an acquaintance’s porch one summer longer ago than I’m going to admit to. She was in the middle of some woodworking project. As a woman with NVLD as well as Aspergers (both undiagnosed at the time), I couldn’t help a lot. We just “be”ed there together in companionable silence, me handing her the tools she needed. I considered that moment in time magic and was never able to replicate it, but the way you just articulated it and normalized it gives me what I need to create more of that in my life (in conjunction with an awesome therapist).

All things considered, I actually suspect this was a form of cooperative play (yes, I am using the word “play” here very broadly), just given the cooperative nature of what they were doing. Yet it was done in “companionable silence” (what a fantastic phrase that is!); it was interaction and connection done without needing to fill the space between each other with words and sounds that, for some of us, can actually just create more distance. See, when I talk about “filling space with words,” that’s actually what it feels like for me. Like words take up space and if you put a whole lot of them out there in a short period of time, they push on me, and they can actually push me away from you because there are just so many. Instead of connecting us, they’re just this cloud of bugs, separating us.

Autistic people need meaningful connection as well. It’s just that we can’t always do it on allistic terms, and all too often I see autistic people speak of simply giving up due to the extreme difficulty of connecting in a world that is all too hostile to autism. So, allistic people, please respect silent connection, and please allow us that as well. We work so hard to interact with you on your terms; maybe you could interact with us on our terms as well. Let’s find ways to create connections based on companionable silences; on long, thoughtful pauses; on closeness that does not need constant verbal validation.

That would be awesome.


Filed under issue, opinion

“Find the Others”

I do not want to have to start carrying a shield around wherever I go just so people leave me alone.

So I tend to like Ze Frank’s videos, but once in a while I seem to disagree with them. Find the Others would be one of those (note: words are apparently not by him. they are by Timothy Leary).

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close”

This is true. And the point in the video is that it isn’t true for anyone, which I also more or less agree with. People are different from each other, nor am I inclined to angst about homogeneity amongst the masses. People are the same in some ways, different in others, we’re all individuals, it’s cool.

“it seems the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider”

Hm… ok, this is also true. I’ve been doing less and less trying to fit in the past few years, and while I do still feel like an outsider (to the point that it has religious significance), I find I worry about it less and less as well.

“watching the ‘normal people’ as they go about their automatic existences.”

Wait, what? I think I’ve just been insulted. Am I really supposed to view other people that way? Do other people view those around them that way? I admit, I don’t really spend a lot of time (any time) thinking about the personal existence of Random Guy I pass on the street, but I don’t go thinking his existence is automatic. I mean, that seems incredibly unlikely. People aren’t robots (and even if they were, maybe they’d be like Data).

“For every time you say club passwords like: ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Weather’s awful today,eh’, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like: ‘Tell me something that makes you cry’ or ‘What do you think deja vu is for?’

Wow, no. As I’ve written about before, I am increasingly of the opinion that the things we do are rarely, if ever, meaningless. Even if we don’t consciously know their meaning, the fact that we keep doing them says something, and I don’t think that something has anything to do with Just Being Normal or Just Playing Along.

Ritual still has a place in our society, even if we’re less direct about it. Those “club passwords” are social rituals, helping to create connection between strangers. Personally, I don’t tend to yearn to say those types of forbidden things to complete strangers, and if I’m saying “have a nice day” to someone I know, it’s probably a ritual farewell and asking a “deep” question would be inappropriate at that time. Yes, I do yearn to have those types of conversations with people I’m close to, and with my friends when I say “how are you doing?” I actually mean it and want a real answer. But if I’m playing a ritual with a person I really don’t have much of a connection with, then I am also understanding that leaping to those other questions might have to wait. I mean, I’m not super thrilled with the idea of telling anyone what makes me cry, much less someone I don’t have a good connection with.

“Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator.”

Are you kidding? No I don’t! Nor do I want some random stranger to talk to me when I’m in an elevator and have no way to escape. Plus, I do not owe some random stranger my time or attention just because we’re in an elevator together and they happen to want it. There are times and places where it’s ok to approach strangers, and elevators are not among them.

“But what if that girl in the elevator, and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work, are thinking the same thing?”

Since I’m not thinking it, I’m not going to go assuming they’re thinking it. Aren’t we all supposed to be individuals here? Are we getting homogeneous again?

“Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger?”

Ok, this one seems to be true enough. I certainly don’t know what I might learn, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go approaching strangers everywhere. Anxiety, shyness, and social awkwardness aside, this just doesn’t seem to be a good idea. Once in a while, yes, I get amazing conversations with strangers, and I like that they happen. I still don’t want Random Guy In The Elevator to ask me what makes me cry. Because creepy.

“Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. No one comes into your life by mere coincidence.”

What puzzle?

Ok, maybe not “mere” coincidence, but unless you believe in a deity (or something) directing all of our lives as though we are pieces on a game board (I do not), coincidence plays a role.

“Find the others…”

Sounds nifty! Finding connection is amazing and fabulous and I highly recommend it. But I am not going to go about it in the ways described above.

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Filed under rant