Social skill: Noticing a consent problem





I’m not entirely sure how to describe this, but I know it’s a thing, and I know a *little* about how to deal with it:

Some people have been systemically taught that they are absolutely never allowed to say no…

danialexis said:

I often find myself trapped between two impossible options with this one.

On the one hand, I’m not only autistic but was raised to believe that asserting myself was a cardinal sin, and that the only morally acceptable behavior was self-abnegation - to, basically, have no opinions or preferences that could conflict with anyone else’s and therefore make the other person uncomfortable.  So when I’m asked something like “Do you want sandwiches for dinner?”, I interpret that as the speaker saying “I want sandwiches for dinner,” and all my life programming about “proper” behavior tells me to want what they want.

This drives my husband batty.  So he’s been responding to it not only by not asking me a question that suggests an answer, but by asking the most open-ended question he can think of.  Like “What should we have for dinner?”  Since this is the opposite of the question-that-suggests-its-answer, it should solve the problem, right?

Except it doesn’t.  Because not only does *this* question give me the “I have to make a choice for other people” anxiety that randomproxy describes, it's too open-ended to answer.  To know what we should have for dinner, I need to know things like what ingredients we have, who will be eating, about what time dinner needs to be served to accommodate all of those people, whether the necessary cookware is clean (which in my house is a crapshoot), etc.  It is an unanswerable question, and I will literally go without eating at all rather than try to unravel it.  I need concrete options.

Often, what works best for me is to be asked a question with multiple concrete options.  "Do you want sandwiches for dinner or something else?“ is better than both "Do you want sandwiches for dinner?” or “What should we have for dinner?”, but “Do you want sandwiches, chicken, or to go out?” is better still.

Also, in some cases, the underlying premise should not be assumed, but openly questioned.  I let my husband assume the answer to “Do you want dinner at all?” is “yes,” because I have executive function problems related to eating and if we don’t proceed as if I want to eat, I won’t eat.  

But questions like “Do you want to watch TV or play a board game?” assume that I want to interact with other human beings in some capacity.  That should be asked, not assumed.  When the underlying assumption is presented as an option (“Do you want to hang out with us or be alone for a while?”), it helps me realize that I do have a choice, that my choice matters, and that it will be respected no matter which I choose.  Phrasing is crucial here - “do you want to hang out with us or be alone for a while?” presumes that both are equally acceptable choices; “do you want to hang out with us or not?” presumes that only the first is valid.