Listening to folks whose speech is unusual

This happens a lot, especially for autistic folks with a particular cognitive configuration:

  • An autistic person says something in the most straightforward way they can think of
  • But it’s far from the way most people say it
  • And it doesn’t occur to other people that they’re being direct
  • It’s seen as either the autistic person not understanding something, being presumptuous, or being hilarious

For instance:

  • Alice and Nancy walk into a cafeteria, which is overflowing with different food options
  • Alice (wanting a particular kind of food and not knowing how to find it): Where’s the food?
  • Nancy: Umm, everywhere?

In this example, Nancy thought Alice was just being annoying or funny and didn’t understand what she was trying to communicate. This would have been better:

  • Alice: Where’s the food?
  • Nancy: Which food do you mean?
  • Alice: Food!
  • Nancy: Are you looking for something in particular?
  • Alice: Food!
  • Nancy: Your favorite food?
  • Alice: My favorite food! Chocolate pie! Burger?
  • Nancy: They have both of those things. We will see them when we go through the line.

Or: 

  • Nathan is discussing politics with his son, Arthur
  • Nathan: What does the president do?
  • Arthur: Important stuff. Not like you do.
  • Nathan: You don’t think what I do is important?!
  • (Nathan, telling the story later, uses it as an example of how kids have no filter)
  • What Arthur actually meant was along the lines of “The president is a public figure with a lot of power, and everyone pays a lot of attention to what he says; that’s really different from how other people’s jobs work”.

This would have been better:

  • Arthur: Important stuff. Not like you do.
  • Nathan: What kind of important stuff?
  • Arthur: My fellow Americans…
  • Nathan: Important like speeches?
  • Arthur: Yes. Speeches on TV.
  • Nathan: I don’t make speeches on TV.
  • Arthur: You go to the office. 
  • etc etc

tl; dr: When autistic people communicate things, we often sound strange. Don’t assume that we’re joking or being dismissive or cute just because the way we phrase things is very different from what would feel natural to you. Listen to what we’re actually saying.