communication

Babysitting a nonspeaking four year old

Question from an anonymous reader:

I regularly babysit a 3 (almost 4) year old who has Autism. He does not speak, and he doesn't yet have a reliable alternative form of communication like signing or AAC, though he probably will soon.

 I have a lot of friends and two cousins who have Autism, but they all speak or sign. I find it difficult sometimes to understand what the kiddo in question is thinking, or wants, and I wondered if you or any of your followers have any first hand tips or advice on how I could better understand him? 

I know everyone is different, and I'm learning to read things like his body language, but I wondered if you/any of your followers who don't speak or spoke later than most remember anything that helped them get across what they meant when they were younger, or things adults did that were especially helpful. He doesn't have the coordination to sign or draw what he wants yet, being so little. I want to help him feel less frustrated and to be as good a babysitter as I can be.

Realsocialskills answered:

For the sake of readability, I’m going to call your cousin Anthony in this post. 

The first thing I’d say is: Listening to Anthony matters whether or not you succeed in understanding him. You may not be able to figure out what he is thinking, he may not yet be able to tell you — but you *can* treat him as a person who has thoughts and feelings worth listening to. That matters in and of itself, and it also makes successful communication much more likely.

Learning to communicate is really hard, even for typically developing kids. (Which is a reason why two year olds have so many tantrums, and why older kids usually grow out of that.) In early childhood education, a lot of what kids learn is that it’s possible to communicate in ways that others can understand — and that words are usually a better option than freaking out. One of the main ways early childhood educators teach kids these skills is by listening to them, and by supporting them in understanding the feelings they’re having. 

Kids with communication disabilities have more trouble learning to communicate in ways that others can understand — and they also often have more trouble learning that communication is even possible. Disabled kids need *more* exposure to adults who want to listen to them, and *more* support in understanding their feelings — but they often get less of both. Their feelings are often ignored, and their communication is often treated as nonexistent. 

All too often, kids with disabilities learn young that no one wants to listen to them. They often try their best to communicate, only to have their attempts interpreted as random meaningless noise or deviant misbehavior. When nobody listens, it becomes really hard to keep trying. One of the best things you can do for Anthony right now is help him not to give up.

It’s important to keep in mind that Anthony is a person with a perspective of his own. Our culture socializes us to see people with disabilities as having needs, but not thoughts or feelings. That implicit bias goes really deep for almost everyone, including AAC experts and long-time disability rights activists. Be careful to treat Anthony as a person with thoughts, feelings, and questions. This is a profoundly countercultural attitude. You can’t assume that it will happen by itself; you have to do it on purpose. (I did a presentation on this for medical providers a while ago which may be of interest.  )

Some specific things you can try:

Say explicitly that you’re trying to understand, eg:

  • “I don’t understand you yet, but I’m listening”.
  • “I’m not sure what you mean, but I do care”.
  • It doesn’t go without saying — and sometimes saying it makes a big difference!
  • Look for actions that might be intended as communication:
  • Does he point at things? Lead you to things? Flap differently under some circumstances?

Make a guess about what you think he might mean, and act on it.

  • It can be worth using words to describe what you’re doing, eg:
  • “I think you want the book because you’re looking at the book. I am getting the book”.
  • “I think the light is bothering you because you’re covering your eyes. I am turning off the light.”
  • He can’t read your mind, so it might not be obvious to him that you’re acting on what you think he’s doing — so tell him!

Name feelings you think he might be having, eg: 

  • “Susan took your truck. You are mad.”
  • “You like the marbles. You are happy.”
  • “Jumping is so fun!”
  • “You don’t like that texture.”
  • (Nb: Telling *adults* what they are feeling in these terms is usually *not* a good idea, but it’s a pretty common method used to help little kids learn about feelings — *if* you know with reasonable certainty what their feelings are.)

Ask questions, and offer choices, eg:

  • “Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt?”
  • “Should we read the princess book or the truck book?”
  • “Should we go to the swings or the sandbox?”
  • Even if he can’t respond, being asked matters — it shows him that you care what he thinks, and that there’s a reason to try to communicate.

It can help to make the options more concrete, eg:

  • He might be more able to tell you which shirt he wants if you’re holding both of them. 
  • Or if you’re holding one in one hand and one in the other.
  • Or if you put them down in front of him.

If he responds to your question in a way that you think might be communication, respond to it as communication: 

  • Eg:  “You pointed to the dragon book, so we’ll read the dragon book”.
  • Or it may make more sense to just start reading it. Sometimes that works better than inserting too many words. 
  • Eg: “Ok, we’ll go to the park”.

You can also try yes-or-no questions:

  • “Do you want to go to the park? Yes or no?”
  • “Do you want to read the dragon book? Yes or no?”
  • “Is the dragon scary? Yes or no?”
  • “Is the king silly? Yes or no?”
  • Again, even if he can’t respond in a way you understand, trying matters.

You also might be able to teach him to point to things:

  • Pointing doesn’t require motor skills on the same level that writing and drawing do.
  • Again, in the two book example, you can ask him to point to the one he wants.
  • You can also show him pointing by doing it yourself, eg:
  • Take two books, and say “I choose the dragon book”, point to it, then read it.
  • Take two books and ask him “Which book do you choose?”
  • (Etc: It can take some time and trial and error to figure out how to teach this in a way that sticks, but it’s often worth trying.)

If he has a way to communicate “yes”, and “no” or choose between options, you can also check your guesses more directly:

  • “I think you said park. Am I right?”
  • “Did you say park, or something else?”
  • “Are you trying to tell me something, or are you playing?”

Remember that words can be communication even when they’re unusual: A lot of autistic people use idiosyncratic language to refer to things, or repeat phrases they heard somewhere else – in a way that they may or may not mean literally. Here’s a method for noticing when repetition is communication , and some thoughts on listening to folks whose speech is unusual.

Give him time to process and respond:

  • The standard teaching advice is: When you ask a question, wait at least seven seconds before you say anything else.
  • This feels a little unnatural — it can feel like a *very* awkward pause, and it can be tempting to jump in and say more stuff to clarify.
  • But if you say more stuff to someone who is thinking and formulating their answer, it tends to just give them *more* stuff to process. 
  • So give him time to respond — and be aware that autistic people often need longer to process and respond.

If you have an iPad you’re willing to let him play with, iPad use can really help some kids with motor skills and learning communicative cause-and-effect.

  • Most kids learn pretty quickly how to scroll through select the app they want, and that skill often transfers.
  • Most kids that age like Endless ABC, a really fun pre-literacy words-and-spelling app. https://www.originatorkids.com/?p=564
  • (That app also builds an association between interacting with a touch screen and making meaningful sounds)
  • You can also try the Toca Boca apps — a lot of kids like those, and some, like Toca Hair Salon, don’t require particularly strong motor skills.
  • Often, the best way is to play with the app together — eg, you show them how to drag the letters around, then offer them a turn.
  • Or help them out when they get stuck, without taking over.
  • Or say things like “which color should we pick? How about purple?” and see how they react.

Don’t expect AAC to fix everything:

  • Everything in this post still applies once he gets a device or a system.
  • An AAC device is just a tool. It’s one mode of communication, which might be useful for him under some circumstances.
  • Having an AAC device will not make him instantaneously able to communicate using words in the way that typically-developing kids his age do.
  • While some people learn to use an AAC device fluently very quickly, that is rare. 
  • Most people who use AAC because of a childhood speech delay take a long time to learn it.
  • And in any case, giving someone a tool doesn’t cure their disability. 
  • An AAC user with a communication disability still has a communication disability, and disabilities that interfere with speech sometimes also interfere with language. 
  • Even people *without* language disabilities tend to take a while to learn, for all the same reasons that typically-developing kids take a while to learn how to use words to express themselves. Communication takes practice.
  • (And also, all existing AAC technology has significant limitations and difficulties. It’s easier for typically developing kids to learn to speak than it would be to learn to use AAC, and having a speech disability doesn’t magically make AAC use easy.)
  • AAC implementations can also end up treating AAC use as an end in itself and forget that the point is to support communication. 
  • For most AAC users, AAC is one communication mode among many they use, and it’s not always the best one in every situation — eg: pointing to a banana can be a *much* more efficient way to communicate than scrolling through a device and finding the “I” “want” and “banana” buttons.
  • If Anthony gets an AAC system, he will still need you to put effort into listening to him, and he will still need you to take all of his communication seriously.

Remember that disability isn’t bad behavior, and don’t be mean:

  • Don’t ignore his communication in order to force him to talk or use a system.
  • The best way to encourage communication is to listen!
  • He’s not struggling to communicate because he’s lazy; he’s struggling to communicate because he has a disability.
  • He’s doing something really hard, and he’s in a hard situation, and that needs to be respected and supported.
  • You don’t need to introduce artificial difficulty; he is already experiencing more than his share of the real kind.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What is helpful for effective communication with a nonspeaking four year old? You can answer using my contact form.

 Tl;dr If you’re babysitting a kid who has trouble with communication, the most important thing you can do is listen to them. Scroll up for some specific options. 

Image description: Text "Kids with communication disabilities need to know that you care about listening to them", next to a picture of a young child and a picture of some plastic duplo-style building blocks.

Image description: Text "Kids with communication disabilities need to know that you care about listening to them", next to a picture of a young child and a picture of some plastic duplo-style building blocks.

Disabled presenters tend to face really intense ableism. One way this plays out is that audiences laugh at us when we talk about serious things.

This happens particularly frequently when:

  • Nondisabled professionals or our parents are also on the panel, or presenting right before or after us.
  • The audience is primarily parents of disabled children/adults.
  • The audience is primarily professionals who work with people with intellectual disabilities.
  • We talk about a desire to be taken seriously.
  • We discuss our objections to being treated like children.
  • We describe being proud of a personal accomplishment.
  • We describe being treated inappropriately by a professional.
  • We describe how we felt as disabled children.

When audiences do this, it’s not nice laughter. It’s a way of asserting power. That laughter means “I don’t have to take you seriously”.

As a disabled presenter, it’s often possible to insist on respect. It’s easier said than done. It gets easier with practice, but the practice often hurts. Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

It can help to remind yourself that you know what you’re talking about, and the things you’re saying are important:

  • You’re presenting because you know what you’re talking about.
  • People should take your expertise seriously. When you talk about the things you know, they shouldn’t laugh at you.
  • Your accomplishments are not a joke. People should not laugh or be condescending about them.
  • People who treat you like a baby are doing something wrong. Your desire to be treated in an age-appropriate way is not a joke. People shouldn’t laugh at you for talking about it.

When an audience laughs at you, it can help to make it uncomfortable for them:

  • Don’t smile, and don’t laugh yourself.
  • Wait for the audience to stop laughing. 
  • Wait a second before going on to make it feel awkward. 
  • One option: Ask the audience “Why is that funny?” then continue.
  • Another option: Repeat what you said before people started laughing.

Try to avoid nervous laughter and nervous smiles:

  • It’s taboo for disabled people to talk about disability.
  • Talking about taboo topics can be embarrassing.
  • When we’re talking about embarrassing things, it can be natural to smile or laugh nervously.
  • If you seem embarrassed, the audience is more likely to feel like the topic is embarrassing and laugh to get rid of the embarrassment.
  • If you laugh, the audience is more likely to feel like it’s ok for them to laugh.

Making jokes on purpose:

  • Making jokes can be a way to control what people are laughing about.
  • This can be easier than getting them to not laugh in the first place. 
  • In these contexts, it can be better to avoid self-deprecating humor. 
  • It’s usually better to make jokes about ableism.
  • (This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule though, do what works for you.)

For instance, say you’re giving a talk about educational discrimination:

  • This is self-deprecating: 
  • “I was this ridiculous little kid in third grade. I was so enthusiastic, but I couldn’t even read. I’d hold up the books and pretend. My imaginary friend may have stolen the cookies, but she sure didn’t read for me.”
  • This is making fun of ableism:
  • “My teachers kept assigning me worksheets that I couldn’t do. They kept making me read in front of the class, even though I could never do it. They kept telling me to just do it. And they say we’re the ones who lack empathy and theory of mind.”

Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong:

  • Presenters/panelists with disabilities face intense ableism.
  • It’s going to hurt sometimes.
  • The problem isn’t that your skin is too thin; the problem is that people are hurting you.
  • A thick skin is still worth developing.
  • If an audience laughs at you, it’s their fault, not yours. They shouldn’t act like that.
  • It’s messed up that we have to develop skills at deflecting ableism and insisting on respect. 
  • It’s also worth knowing that these skills exist and can be learned.
  • It gets much easier with practice, but no one succeeds all the time.
  • When a talk goes bad, don’t beat yourself up, and don’t blame yourself for the audience’s ableism.
  • You’re ok, they’re ableist, and the things you have to say are still valuable when they’re not valued.

These are some of the methods I’ve used to deal with audience ableism. There are others. What are yours?

Tl;dr Disabled presenters face a lot of intense ableism. In particular, audiences often laugh at us. Scroll up for some methods for insisting on respect.

“Can everybody hear me?”

Presenters often open by asking “Can everybody hear me?” or “Can everyone hear me without the microphone?”

This isn’t a very effective way to find out if everyone can hear you. It feels like asking, but it isn’t really — because it doesn’t usually give people the opportunity to say no.

If you want to know if everyone can hear you, this way of asking works better:

  • First, ask if everyone can hear you. This will get the attention of the people who can.
  • Next, ask everyone “Can the person next to you hear me?”
  • Wait 7 seconds for people to ask each other
  • Next, say, “Raise your hand if you or someone near you needs me to talk louder or use the microphone.”
  • Wait at least 7 seconds before moving on. 
  • (7 seconds feels really long as a presenter. It helps to literally count silently to yourself).

Asking this way solves two problems:

It makes it easier for people to hear the question:

  • If someone can’t hear you well, they may not hear “Can everybody hear me?”
  • This can give you the misleading impression that everyone can hear you.
  • When you ask, “Can everybody hear me?” the people who can, tend to respond “yes” immediately
  • The people who *can’t* hear you well, often don’t hear the question.
  • Or they may not understand what you’ve said until you’ve already moved on.
  • But they probably *can* hear people who are close to them talking to them directly.
  • Asking “can the person next to you hear me?” makes it more likely that people who can’t hear you will understand the question.

It makes it easier for people to respond to the question:

  • Saying “Can everybody hear me?” or “Can everyone hear me without the microphone?” *feels* like asking, but often it really isn’t. 
  • The problem is that asking that way doesn’t give people an obvious socially acceptable way to respond.
  • So in order for people to say “I can’t hear you” or “I need you to use the microphone”, they have to interrupt you.
  • Which feels like a conflict, and most people don’t want to go into a presentation and immediately have a conflict with the presenter.
  • It also makes them have to identify themselves as having an inconvenient impairment in front of the whole group.
  • That’s uncomfortable on a number of levels, and may be actively frightening. 
  • Not everyone is going to be willing or able to interrupt you or take risks. 
  • Even when people are willing, it’s still anxiety provoking in a way that’s likely to make your presentation less comfortable and effective
  • Giving people a clear way to respond gets you better information, and helps you to build a better rapport with your audience 
  • (And doing it in the specific way I suggest makes it possible for people to let you know they can’t hear you without having to interrupt you, identify themselves to you, or identify themselves to the whole group.)

Tl;dr If you’re giving a presentation, asking “Can everyone hear me?” probably won’t result in people who can’t hear you telling you so. Scroll up for more detailed information about a more effective approach and why it works better.

Appreciation can create hope

Right now, a lot of people are feeling hopeless — and are feeling that maybe nothing they do matters. This kind of despair is dangerous. 

If there are things you appreciate about someone, now is a good time to tell them about it. If someone does things that you appreciate, now is a good time to tell them what those things are and what they mean to you.

When it’s hard for people to remember that their actions matter, hearing from people they matter to can make all the difference.

People who you appreciate may be having a very hard time believing that their actions make any difference right now. (Actually, this is always the case, but especially in times like these). Telling people what they mean to you can help them find ways to keep going.

Even when people seem popular and confident, it’s worthwhile to let them know  that they and their actions matter to you is worthwhile. Being visible and projecting confidence can be exhausting. Hearing that what you do matters to others can make all the difference. It’s less exhausting when you’re reminded that it’s worth it, and that what you do means something to someone.

Don’t assume that it goes without saying. If you don’t tell people about what you appreciate, they often don’t know. People can’t read your mind, and they may well not know. Even if they do, the reminder is often helpful. 

(A caveat here: This doesn’t suspend the usual rules of boundaries. If someone’s blocked you or otherwise indicated that they don’t want contact, leave them alone. Don’t make sexual comments or comment on people’s bodies unless you’re in a relationship in which you have ongoing consent to do that. Etc. And if you’re not sure about boundaries and want help, send an ask.)

tl;dr A lot of people are fighting through a fog of despair right now. If you tell people what you appreciate about them and/or their actions, it can clear up a lot of fog and help them to find hope again. Being reminded that you matter and your actions mean something to someone can make all the difference.

ASL is a language

andreashettle:

disabilityinkidlit:

realsocialskills:

American Sign Language and other signed languages are languages. It’s important to respect them as languages.

ASL is not English. It is a completely different language. Similarly, signed languages aren’t all the same. British Sign Language is completely different from ASL.

Signs are not universal, any more than spoken words are universal. The meaning of a sign isn’t always obvious just by watching; many signs are completely arbitrary.

Sign is not pantomime, and it’s not ad hoc gesture. It’s also not like symbolic gestures that are sometimes made up to accompany kids songs either. It’s a language, with all the complexities of language. The difference is important, and it needs to be respected. 

In order to know what signs mean, you have to learn them. (Just like in order to know what spoken words mean, you have to learn them.)

ASL is not just gestures, any more than spoken languages are just sounds. ASL has grammar, vocabulary, and culture. It’s important to respect this and not erase it.  

disabilityinkidlit said:

ASL has vernacular just as spoken languages do; here’s a Washington Post article on how ASL used by African-American communities differs from that of whites.

There exist an incredible amount of sign languages, all over the world. Here’s a list on Wikipedia.

andreashettle: said:

Another thing to bear in mind:

A person fluent in both ASL and English (or Spanish and Venezuelan sign language or whatever) is bilingual, just like a person fluent in Spanish and English or whatever.

This SHOULD be an obvious thing once you grasp that signed languages are real LANGUAGES. But for some reason a lot of people seem to have trouble making the connection on their own and just don’t count signed languages when counting the langages that a person knows.

I once knew a deaf woman who knew 12 languages, including 7 signed languages and 5 written languages. (She does not speak or read lips in any of them, she communicates either by signing or by reading and writing)

Thoughts on symbol support and picture support

People with certain kinds of disabilities often need more than words in order to be able to communicate. One thing that can be helpful is the use of symbols or pictures.

Using symbols can expand and support someone’s expressive vocabulary. (For instance, picture symbols on a communication device can enable someone to use words they couldn’t use by typing or speaking).

Symbols can also expand and support someone’s receptive vocabulary. For instance, symbols can be used to illustrate materials, or to explain something to someone. They can also be used in things like powerpoint presentations in various ways.

Symbol support can do a lot of other things that make communication more possible for people with a wide range of disabilities. It’s not just about literacy; literacy-related things are just the easiest to explain.

Something I’ve been realizing matters is that everyone who uses symbols to communicate is a symbol support user. Even people who normally communicate in words; even people who only use symbols to communicate when they are talking to people with disabilities or listening to people with disabilities.

It’s important to remember that communication in symbols is happening on both sides of the interaction.

If someone is communicating with you by showing you symbols, then you are using symbols for receptive communication.

If you are using symbols to explain something to someone, then you are using symbols for expressive communication.

It’s important to keep this in mind.

If you’re using symbols, the symbols are part of the communication. Even if every symbol is attached to one word and only one word. The symbols don’t just tell people what the words are. They also have content, and it’s important to pay attention to what you’re saying with the symbols. They might not mean the same thing to the person you’re talking to that they mean to you. Particularly if they understand picture-concepts more readily than they understand word-concepts.

For example:

Sometimes people might select symbols on communication devices based on what the symbols mean rather than what the words they’re associated with them mean:

  • If someone is putting together phrases that don’t make obvious sense to you, they might mean something by it
  • It might *not* be stimming, random exploration, or that kind of thing
  • It might be intentional communication based on what the pictures mean to them
  • I think it is important to take that possibility seriously (even for someone who also speaks, or also uses words)
  • And *especially* important to take seriously if they’re indicating with body language that they want you to look at the screen)
  • (This is also true if someone is using PECS symbols in a way that doesn’t appear to make literal sense. It might be because the pictures mean something different to them than they mean to you)

Similarly:

  • If you’re using symbols to explain something to someone who needs symbols, the symbols matter
  • It’s not always enough to just pick words, then pick symbols that go with those words one-by-one
  • The content of the symbols can matter beyond literal word-by-word meaning
  • The way the symbols combine can also matter. (ie: the fact that a sentence makes sense in words and each symbol corresponds well with a word does *not* necessarily mean that the symbol-sentance makes sense)
  • The symbols also might not mean the same thing to the person you’re communicating with that they mean to you
  • If someone finds symbols easier to understand than words, they may derive more meaning from the symbols and your tone of voice and body language than they do from the words themselves
  • It’s important to pay attention to what you’re communicating with the symbols you choose as well as the words that you choose

Some considerations for symbol use:

  • Consistency between symbols matters. Symbols combine in ways that make more sense when there’s an underlying logic to the symbol system.
  • Symbols should not be childish or cutesy, even for young children.
  • Because nobody, not even young children, wants to be forced to communicate in cute ways.
  • And some really important topics (eg: abuse, boundaries, sexuality) are decidedly un-cute. People with disabilities need and deserve respectful communication about things that aren’t cute or shiny-happy.
  • Symbols should be comprehensible at a variety of sizes. (Eg: overly complex symbols don’t work well for small buttons on a communication device).
  • Symbols should be respectful, especially when they are symbols of people doing or thinking or being things (eg: protestors should look powerful rather than cute; adults should look like adults; symbols for “choice” should either be abstract or be age-neutral)
  • Symbols should be accurate. (eg: the symbol for anger should not be a smiling person; the symbol for diabetes should not be the same as the symbol for “no sugar”; wheelchair users should have the kind of wheelchairs that individuals own than hospital wheelchairs; the symbol for intellectual disability should not be the same as the symbol for the special olympics)
  • In all of these ways and other ways I’m not sure how to explain yet, I think that SymbolStix is the best existing symbol set.

tl;dr Symbols can be really helpful for supporting communication and comprehension. If you’re using symbols to help someone else communicate or understand, it’s important to keep in mind that the symbols and the words both matter. Pay attention to what you’re communicating in symbols and what they’re communicating in symbols. Sometimes there are things going on beyond the literal meanings of the words that someone decided to associate with the symbols.

Teasing friends

pobody:

realsocialskills:

Submitting anonymously:

I’m autistic, and I’ve learned to tease my friends as a social skill. I think it’s ok to tease your friends a little bit, but sometimes I think I go just a little bit too far.

My friends don’t say anything, though. The teasing has become sort of mechanical and ingrained at this point, but I want to learn how to not tease my friends so much.

Do you know how I can cut back on teasing my friends?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing is to make sure that your friends know you care how they feel. And to make sure that you’re paying attention to how they feel.

It’s ok to tease your friends so long as you’re both enjoying it. Making fun of one another in good-natured ways is part of a lot of friendships. What’s bad is to make fun of someone in a way that actually hurts them. If it hurts them, then it’s not friendly anymore, even if you didn’t mean to hurt them.

One rule of thumb is: don’t tease your friends about things they’re actually for-real painfully insecure about. That just ends up hurting.

It’s also important to pay attention to their reaction. If your friends are enjoying the teasing, they’ll likely respond back. If they’re not, they’ll likely not respond, or look upset. If they’re not actively looking like they’re into it, it’s a sign that you’ve probably crossed a line and hurt them. If that happens, back off and maybe apologize.

That goes double if your friends tell you it hurts them. A lot of people who either like hurting others or don’t care how people feel use fake-friendly teasing as a cover for being mean. When someone expresses hurt, they say things like “I was just kidding, don’t be so sensitive.” Don’t do that. If your friends are hurt by something you said about them, take that seriously and apologize. Everyone makes mistakes that hurt other people sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big deal.

It also might help to ask your friends what they think. Eg, by asking one of your friends something like “I think I’ve been going too far when I joke around. Do you think I’m upsetting people?”

Anyone else want to weigh in? How have you found ways to be kinder in your interactions with friends?

pobody said:

Another important thing to keep in mind is everybody’s mood at the time you want to tease them. People are generally more open to teasing when they’re happy and relaxed. If someone is stressed out or having a bad day there’s a bigger risk they won’t take it well. Sometimes you can lighten the mood by cracking a joke, but it can be hard to gauge whether it’s going to go over well. Something you think is innocuous can always be taken the wrong way, but especially if the person is already on edge.

Going hand-in-hand with this is tone. People sometimes think they’re saying something nicely but for whatever reason it either comes out or is received as nasty. The same remark can sound fun and jokey or rude and snarky depending on very small changes in voice, facial expression, and body language. Keep in mind too, even if you say something ostebsibly harmless in a nice-joking way, if the person is in a bad mood they can still take offense.

Sometimes when people are really hurt by your comments they’ll go quiet and act hurt, but sometimes they will lash out and mean-tease you back or even start a full-on argument. If you notice the joking has taken a harsh turn, try to think if you touched a nerve that might have set them off. If you did, and you apologize, it might inspire them to apologize back (it might not. Some people are too proud to apologize. This can lead to bigger problems.) This isnt to say if someone is mean to you that it’s your fault, but in some cases both parties do need to review their actions.

Tell people you care what they are saying

Anonymous said:

Another speech-impediment related question: Usually my ability to understand speech is perfect, but it deteriorates rapidly if a person has an accent or talks lowly, so I spend a lot of time smiling and nodding politely.

I feel bad about this with everybody, but especially if a person has a speech impediment or disability accent.

But to understand I’d have to ask people to repeat themselves three or four times for every sentence. Do you have any advice?


realsocialskills says:

Basically what I think about this is:

  • It’s ok not to understand people. That is not your fault.
  • Listening is important. It’s (usually) not ok to ignore people.
  • It’s not usually ok to pretend you understand someone when you don’t (unless you need to protect yourself)

Being honest about what’s going on makes communication much easier:

  • People don’t like being ignored
  • If you smile and nod, people can usually tell that you’re not really listening
  • They can’t tell why, because they can’t read your mind
  • As far as they can tell, you’re ignoring them because you don’t care what they’re saying

It can help to be be explicit about what the problem is, and what you think might solve it.

Eg:

  • “I’m sorry — I care about what you’re saying, but I’m having trouble understanding. It’s hard for me to understand low pitched voices - would it be possible to speak at a higher pitch?”

Or:

  • “I’m having trouble understanding your voice, but I’d like to listen. Would it be better to write things down, or should I ask you to repeat, or something else?”

Also, if there’s a particular accent you’re encountering a lot, it’s likely worth spending some time working on your ability to understand it. If it’s a particular foreign accent, one way to do that is to watch videos or shows in which people speak in that accent, and turn the captions on.

And just, generally speaking, this gets easier with practice. Once you get more experience listening to people with the accent you’re having trouble with now, you’ll probably understand more readily and not have to ask for as much repetition.

Using the memory you have

Anonymous said to :

I have memory issues. Things like names, dates or times, directions, and other important details often escape me. Lately, I’ve been using “external memory” in the form of a notebook or my phone.

However, people tend to get impatient or bored at best when you’re constantly consulting a notebook in order to tell them what you need.

At worst, they talk over me, try to tell me what they think I want, or walk away.

How do I get people to understand?

Or should I just work on fixing my memory instead?

realsocialskills said:

A few things:

Don’t wait for better memory:

  • Improving memory is possible for some people; not everyone
  • Whether or not it’s possible for you, you need to communicate now
  • Communication shouldn’t wait for cognitive changes
  • It’s important to make strategies that work with the cognitive abilities you have now

Meanwhile, you might be able to make some of your external memory faster. Here are a few possible ways of doing that:

Write things on your hand or a wrist band:

  • Looking at your hand only takes a second
  • This might work well for remembering what food you want to order, or what you want to buy
  • Or in general terms what you wanted to talk about
  • There are also disposable paper wristbands you can buy to put notes on
  • That works similarly, without having to write stuff on your hand

Put some information on your phone’s lock screen, eg:

  • Write something in your notes app
  • Take a screenshot
  • Make that screenshot your lock screen wallpaper
  • This means the information is available immediately once you get out your phone

Cheat sheets:

  • If there are things you consistently need to know but can’t remember, making pages with that information and putting them in particular places might help
  • Eg, for remembering what a store has
  • Or remembering what questions you’re likely to be asked
  • Or lists of people who are likely to be in particular places

Optimizing your notebook:

  • Eg: If there is information you need frequently, it might be worth putting it on dedicated pages with color-coded tabs
  • It also might be worth using something like a three-ring binder so that you can put information you need soonest at the front
  • Or even *on* the front, if you get a three-ring binder that has a space to put in a cover sheet on the front

Communication boards or apps:

  • Using communication boards or a picture-based AAC app might help too
  • Communication aids aren’t just for generating speech, they can also be for cognitive prompting reminding you what it’s possible to say
  • Making pages for particular situations might help you to communicate faster
  • You’d still have to open the page, but it might result in less hunting around for information once you get there
  • Having a page with a few options might make it easier to remember and process things
  • Associating images with things you’re trying to remember might make them easier to remember
  • If you keep the symbols in a consistent place and touch them some while you communicate, muscle memory might also help you to remember things
  • (Even practicing with boards in private without using an app to communicate directly might make it possible to use muscle memory to prompt yourself)
  • Proloquo2Go might work well for this
  • (Or maybe even something like Custom Boards, although that uses more childish symbols and that could be a problem)

It also might help to be more open about your memory difficulties:

  • Sometimes being open about how bad your memory is can help
  • If you don’t tell people what you’re doing, they might not be able to tell the difference between using external memory and ignoring them
  • (Especially if you’re looking at a phone; they might think you are facebooking or something)
  • They also might be trying to help, and might not realize that it’s being anti-helpful
  • If you tell people what’s going on and what would help you, *some* people will do the right thing
  • (Not all. But enough that it’s often worth it)
  • That also can allow you to ask people things that you don’t remember

Eg:

  • “I’m sorry, my memory is bad — could you remind me who you are?”
  • “Give me a second — I need to check my notebook.”
  • “I don’t remember when that’s happening — I need to check my calendar on my phone.”
  • “I actually get really confused when people try to tell me what they think I want — I’ll be able to find it faster if I check my phone”.

Also, if you’re approaching people and they’re walking away, it might help to change the order in which you do things to make it go faster from their perspective, eg:

  • Get out your notebook
  • Turn it to the right page
  • Put your finger on the piece of information you need to remember
  • Then go up to them and ask for help

tl;dr If you have memory issues and rely on external memory aids, there may be things you can do to use them more quickly.

Remembering that disabled people have perspectives

xmaymaychan33x said, in response to the post about noticing when repetition is communication:

Yes good. But also, sometimes when people with autism begin repeating phrases, it can just be a calming thing for them. They may like the way the words sound or they may like hearing your answer, and that makes them feel good and you should never ever judge someone for doing something that makes them happy.

(Also a little side note that I picked up from my special education class: it’s not very nice to refer to persons with disabilities as person, and better to say “person with _” because the first way emphasizes the disability while the second emphasizes that you are speaking about a person. An actual person who is no less valid than anyone else.)

realsocialskills said:

I’m autistic. I wrote that post a couple of years ago. I’d just realized that I’d been routinely disregarding another autistic person’s attempts to communicate with me. As soon as I noticed that I was ignoring her, I started listening. And I was kind of kicking myself for not figuring it out sooner, because I’ve been on both sides of that kind of conversation.

There is a strong cultural assumption that anything repetitive an autistic person does is either meaningless or sensory-seeking. I thought I was above making that kind of mistake. I wasn’t. I’m not. I don’t think anyone is. I think we all need to be reminded to take the possibility of communication seriously, every time.

I think that it’s connected to ways in which disabled people are often not included in conversations about disability. The assumption behind that is that we have nothing to say worth hearing, and that other people should speak for us.

Whenever that post gets popular again, special educators and special education students correct me and say that I shouldn’t call “them” autistic, I should call “them” people with autism. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that I might be autistic myself, and that what I’m saying might be an autistic perspective on autism.

I think that disability is an important enough part of who I am to be worthy of an adjective. I don’t need to distance myself from autism to know that I’m a person. Here’s a post from a physically disabled disability expert who also feels that way.

Preferring “autistic” to “person with autism” is a really, really common preference among autistic adults. Partly, this is because person first language is associated with horrible organizations like Autism Speaks. Here’s a post about some of the history and politics of autism language preferences.

There is a long history of disability rights advocacy on the part of disabled adults. Special educators should know about these things. They largely don’t. It should be taught in special education training programs and degrees. It largely isn’t. Special educators who understand the importance of adult disability perspectives largely have to seek them out on their own. One good book to start with is Too Late To Die Young by Harriet McBryde Johnson.

From an autism-specific perspective, The History of ANI, Help, I seem to be getting more autistic, Navigating College and Inertia: From Theory to Praxis are good things to read. And the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, AutCom, and Autism Women’s Network are good organizations to know about.

It’s important to seek out perspectives of adults similar to your students. It’s also important to listen to your students themselves.

Getting back more directly to your reply to my post:

It’s definitely the case that autistic people repeat stuff for a number of reasons. Some autistic people sometimes repeat things for calming, or for sensory pleasure, or for aesthetic reasons. Those are all real things, and they’re all worthwhile things that need to be respected.

The problem is that people routinely interpret autistic communication as sensory seeking or similar. Then they completely ignore what the autistic person is actually saying. This is often taken to extreme lengths. There are a lot of autistic people in the world who are assumed to have no communication, and who are never listened to about anything, ever.

Far too many people who should know better, including professionals, treat autistics as though they have nothing to say worth hearing, and ignore all of their attempt to communicate. Sometimes this is expressed in negative, stigmatizing terms. For instance, a behaviorist might create a behavior program to stop someone from repeating the echolalic phrases they use to communicate. Sometimes it’s expressed in positive, embracing terms. For instance, a Floortime-DIR practitioner might interpret their repetitive communication as an unmet sensory need and put them on a swing in a sensory gym. The stigmatizing approach is more obviously brutal, but the net effect is the same.

Having your communication ignored in a room full of toys by people who think they’re respecting you is still being silenced. And it’s very, very important to keep that in mind. Because it does the same damage regardless of your intent. None of us are above making that mistake, and people who are ignored get hurt even if you didn’t understand that you were ignoring them.

I think that it’s always important to consider the questions:

  • “Are they trying to tell me something?”, and:
  • “Do they know I’m listening?”
  • “How can I verify that I understand what is being communicated?”

It’s also important to consider what would support their communication more effectively:

And above all, it’s important to remember that the person you’re interacting with is thinking, and that their thoughts matter. Whether or not you can tell what they’re thinking, their thoughts exist and you can’t speak for them. Their perspective will not always match yours, or their therapist’s, or their parents’, or what you were told in education classes.

Reading the work of adult autistics and other disabled adults who have a variety of perspectives might make it easier to keep this in mind. It might also help you to make better guesses.

It’s also important to remember that listening to us is not a substitute for listening to your students. They have a perspective of their own, and no one can speak for them. It is absolutely vital to find effective ways of listening to them.

tl;dr A lot of autistic communication gets disregarded as stimming. A lot of autistic people whose communication is atypical get ignored all the time, about everything. It’s important to remember that autistic people have perspectives, and to find ways to listen to them.

Safety vs making people feel safe

There are all kinds of affective things and cognitive tricks you can learn that make it more likely that people will trust you and feel safe.

It is possible to get really, really good at that without actually learning how to be trustworthy. You can be really, really good at making people feel safe, and still be a danger to people who trust you.

Sometimes it’s not a good idea to focusing on trying to make people feel safe.

Often, it’s much better to focus on learning how to be trustworthy. Two major components of being trustworthy are paying close attention to practical safety; and listening to the people whose safety might be impacted.

For example:

If you want to know what’s dangerous, it’s important to seek out the perspectives of people you’re trying to create safety for. This isn’t something you can do completely on your own.

Part of this is seeking out writing about danger and safety by members of the affected group, or advocacy organizations run by members of the affected group. Another part of this is listening to the individual people who you are actually interacting with about their needs.

It’s important to communicate effectively about the things you are doing that might make trusting you a good idea.

It’s important to talk about safety improvements to make sure people know about them. (Eg: if you fixed a dangerous ramp, people need to know that it has been fixed). It’s also important to communicate your willingness to listen to people about their needs and fix things that are endangering them. It has to be true, and you have to do things to communicate that it’s true. It does not go without saying; willingness to listen and address safety issues in practical terms is actually fairly uncommon.

If you focus on practical safety through proactive research and listening to affected members of your community, you can get very far in building safe and welcoming community even if people do not feel safe.

Some people who do not feel safe still care very much about being there, and are willing to take risks in order to participate. It’s important to honor and accept that.

Some people aren’t ever going to feel safe. (And some of them will be right.) It’s important to accept them as they are, and not make feeling safe a prerequisite for participating.

tl;dr “Making people feel safe” is often the wrong approach. Focusing on being safe often matters a lot more. Some people don’t believe that they are safe, and are willing to take risks in order to participate. They should be allowed to have that perception. They should not be pressured into feeling safe as a prerequisite for participation.


When you're talking a lot and worried about how much space you are taking up

Anonymous asked:

Do you have any advice for how to facilitate participation when you’re a student who does tend to talk a lot?

I have social anxiety but when it doesn’t affect me as badly I tend to talk a lot. I’ve tried waiting for others to speak but they often don’t even if I wait 30+ seconds… And then I feel an intense urge to fill the space.

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

It might be ok if you’re talking more than some other students. Very few classes have everyone talking an exactly equal amount.

Different students have different preferences about how much they like to talk in class. It’s ok that some students prefer to talk more and some students prefer to talk less. It’s not always a problem. It becomes a problem if some students are taking up space in a way that prevents others from participating.

I’m not sure how to tell whether you are taking up space in a problematic way. One way might be to ask your teacher after class or in office hours if they think it’s becoming a problem. (If they do think it’s a problem, they’ll probably be glad you asked and that you care.)

Another way might be to watch whether you’re interrupting people. And if you are interrupting people, whether or not they’re shut down by your interruptions. If you’re interrupting people and that’s resulting in them not getting to make their points, that’s a problem. (Interrupting isn’t always a problem – in some cultures it’s normal and expected for people to respectfully interrupt one another and be respectfully interrupted in turn. If the class you’re in doesn’t have that culture, it’s important to be careful about interrupting.)

Here’s one strategy that might work for coping with silences without interjecting to fill them (this can also work for overcoming urges to interrupt people).

Typing or writing out what you’re having an urge to say:

  • If you type or write the reply you have an urge to make, it can calm the urge without you having to say anything
  • While you’re doing this, someone else may start talking
  • Then, if you still want to say the thing, you can take a turn and say it
  • If you don’t want to say a specific thing but are just feeling uncomfortable, typing/writing about how uncomfortable you are might work to fill the space until someone else starts talking (This works for me sometimes; it seriously backfires for other people. Your milage may vary; trust your own judgment about whether it will be helpful or harmful to you).
  • This can work even in a seminar class when not everyone is taking notes
  • (It may be more socially accepted in that context to use an iPad than a laptop, because you’re significantly less likely to be perceived as goofing off on Facebook with an iPad)

tl;dr Talking more than some other students in a class isn’t always a problem in itself. It’s a problem if the way or the amount you talk prevents others from participating. Typing out stuff you’re thinking of saying before you say it can make it easier to refrain from interrupting people and from rushing to fill silences.

Stress makes everything harder

Autistic people are autistic all the time. Sometimes some difficulties fade into the background, then come back out again when someone is particularly stressed out. This is true across the board for sensory issues, communication issues, movement, and all kinds of other things. (This is also true for people with any other kind of disability).

The intermittent nature of some apparent difficulties can sometimes lead to them being misinterpreted as psychosomatic. They’re not. Everyone, autistic or not, has more trouble doing things that are hard for them when they’re experiencing significant stress. Some things are particularly hard for autistic people, and those things also get harder with stress.

This is how it actually works:

  • Doing the thing always takes a lot of effort
  • Putting in all that effort has become second nature
  • When you’re not exceptionally stressed, you might not notice the effort it takes consciously
  • When you *are* really stressed, you don’t have energy to do the thing in the ways you normally can
  • So you end up having more trouble than usual, and probably looking a lot more conspicuously disabled than usual

For instance, with motor issues:

  • For those of us with motor difficulties, moving smoothly and accurately takes more effort than it does for most people
  • This can become second nature, to the point that we don’t consciously notice how difficult it is
  • But it’s still there
  • And when you’re really stressed or overwhelmed, you may not have the energy to make yourself move accurately
  • So things you can normally do (eg: handwriting, not walking into walls, picking up objects, pouring water) might become awkward or impossible
  • That doesn’t mean you’re faking or somehow doing it on purpose
  • It just means that things are harder when you’re stressed

Or with sensory issues:

  • Living with sensory sensitivities means that a lot of things hurt
  • For the sake of doing things anyway, a lot of us build up a high pain tolerance
  • To the point that we may no longer consciously process things as pain even though they hurt
  • Ignoring pain takes a lot of energy
  • When we’re really stressed, we may not have the energy to ignore pain
  • And things we normally tolerate can be experienced as overloading or intolerably painful
  • That doesn’t mean we’re faking the pain to avoid something stressful, or that we’re somehow bringing it on ourselves.
  • It just means that everything is harder under stress, including tolerating pain

Or with communication:

  • Communication can be hard for a lot of us in varying ways
  • For some of us, being able to speak requires juggling a lot of things that are automatic for most people
  • Or being able to use words at all, including typing
  • For some of us, that’s true of understanding people when they talk to us
  • Or of knowing what words are at all
  • If someone can’t talk, understand or use words under stress, it doesn’t mean that they’re somehow faking it to avoid a difficult situation
  • It means that communication is hard, and stress makes everything harder

tl;dr Stress makes everything harder. For people with disabilities, that includes disability-related things, including things that we don’t normally seem to have trouble with. Sometimes we’re wrongly assumed to be doing on purpose or faking to avoid a difficult situation; it should actually be seen as an involuntary, normal, and expected physiological response to stress.

autistic teachers?

Anonymous said to :

Do you perhaps know of any resources for autistic teachers who work in inclusive schools? We rely on scripts a lot so when a child has different needs regarding communication I for example simply freeze and can’t come up with anything.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know of any resources specifically for autistic teachers.

One thing I do know is that it’s important to respectfully acknowledge when you don’t understand something your student is telling you. It’s important to respect their communication enough to be honest about when you do and don’t understand.

Specifically, it can help a lot to say something like “I care what you’re saying, and I don’t understand yet.” or “I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I do care what you are saying.“

That affirms a few important things:

  • You know that they are trying to communicate something to you
  • You know that you aren’t understanding it
  • You respect them enough to think that it matters what they are saying
  • You care what they’re saying, and you want to keep listening
  • You know that you are responsible for figuring out how to listen
  • You’re trying, and you’re going to keep trying

This is important as a way to show respect. It’s also a way to tell people that there’s a point in communicating – that you’re not ignoring them and if they can figure out how to tell you what they mean in a way you can understand, you will listen.

A lot of people give up on communication because they’ve become convinced that no one will ever care about what they’re saying anyway. That’s a problem you’re probably in a position to mitigate, at least a little.

There are also a few things worth knowing about:

tl;dr If you’re responsible for teaching someone, it’s important to be honest about when you do and don’t understand their communication.

Anyone else want to weigh in? Autistic teachers who teach kids with disabilities - what have the communication barriers been? What’s working in overcoming them?

"it's easy" can make scary tasks scarier

When people are struggling or afraid to try something, well-meaning people often try to help them by telling them that the thing is easy. This often backfires.

For instance:

  • Kid: I don’t know how to write a paper! This paper has to be 5 pages long, and we have to do research! It’s so hard!
  • Parent: Don’t worry. 5 pages isn’t that much. This isn’t such a hard assignment. 

In this interaction, the parent is trying to help, but the message the kid is likely hearing is “This shouldn’t be hard. You’re failing at an easy thing.”

If something is hard or scary, it’s better to acknowledge that, and focus on reassuring them that it is possible. (And, if necessary and appropriate, help them to find ways of seeing it as possible.)

For instance:

  • Kid: I don’t know how to write a paper! This paper has to be 5 pages long, and we have to do research! It’s so hard!
  • Parent: It’s hard, and that’s ok. You can do hard things.
  • Parent: What are you writing about?
  • Kid: Self-driving cars. But I can’t find anything. 

And so on.

This isn’t unique to interactions between parents and children. It can also happen between friends, and in other types of relationships.

tl;dr If something’s hard for someone, telling them that it’s easy probably won’t help. Reassuring them that they can do hard things often does help, especially if you can support them in figuring out how to do the thing.



Thoughts on asking better panel questions

At panel discussions, there is usually a chance for members of the audience to ask questions. If you want to get good answers to your question, it helps to ask the question a certain way. These are not absolute rules, but these general principles often help:

Ask one question:

  • If the panelists are interesting, you will probably have a pile of questions you want to ask them
  • It can be tempting to try to ask all the questions together in one long paragraph
  • That never works, because the panelists don’t actually have time to answer all ten of your complicated questions
  • And if your question gets overly long and complicated, they quit paying attention and just talk about what they want to talk about
  • If you want them to answer a question, you have to pick one.

Make sure your question is actually a question:

  • The point of asking questions is to get the panelists to share their perspective on something you care about
  • The question you ask should be possible to answer, and you should be interested in what the panelists think of it
  • Otherwise it’s not really a question
  • Sometimes people who think they’re asking a question are actually presenting a long monologue about their views on something
  • That really annoys everyone.
  • The people in the audience came to hear the panelists, not you. If you monologue instead of asking a question, it will annoy them.
  • (There’s almost always at least one person who does this.)
  • (There are some exceptions to this: if you’re sufficiently popular in that group that people are likely to be just as interested in what you say, *and* the panelists hold you in high regard and won’t mind, sometimes it’s ok. That’s rare.)

Questions to panelists should be specific, and easy for the panelists to understand. They should also be at least somewhat open-ended, so that the panelists will be able to give substantive and nuances answers. A few possible scripts for forming good questions (there are many others):

Asking how something works, or how something will happen, eg:

  • “How will the new version of your app support VoiceOver?“
  • “How do you decide what to put in the parameters for casting calls?”
  • “How do you respond when the alarm goes off in the spaceship?“

This can also be a short statement, then a question, eg:

  • “A lot of comedians tell offensive jokes. When you’re working on a routine, how do you figure when a joke you’re considering is crossing a line?”

Asking them to expand on something interesting they referenced by starting with “Can you say more about…”, eg:

  • “Can you say more about the time you quit a job at the Very Highly Regarded Charity for ethical reasons?“
  • “Can you say more about your methods for attracting butterflies without also attracting wasps?”

“What do you think about..?” or “Here’s a statement. What do you think about that?“

  • This can be good, but it can also be hard to make it specific.
  • Example of an overly vague question: “What do you think about pie?”
  • A better question: “What do you think of replacing cakes with pie on ceremonial occasions?“
  • Another example of a question that would be overly vague in most contexts: “What do you think about progress?”
  • A question that’s more likely to be answerable: “What do you think about the role of People in Our Field in making the world better?”
  • another example: “Some people say that if we wait long enough, things will get better on their own. What do you think about that?“
  • “What do you think about Other Person’s Theory? Does that seem true in your work?”

“Do you think that…"

  • This can be a good way to ask stuff
  • The problem is that it’s prone to cause a question to be overly closed
  • Eg: “Do you think that you will enjoy your next job?” is very unlikely to get a good answer
  • This might get a good answer: “Do you think that other women are still facing obstacles in your field?“
  • Offering alternatives can sometimes make the question seem more open, eg:
  • “Do you think that standardized testing is a good approach to improving special education outcomes, or do you favor a different approach?”

Asking about a rumor:

  • Make it clear which rumor you’re talking about, then ask about it (Asking “So, are the rumors true?” will not generally get an interesting answer).
  • “Is there any truth to that?” will often get a better answer than “Is that true?”
  • Example: “I heard that you’re working on a book of poetry about cats from a laser pointer’s perspective. Is there any truth to that?“

Questions that start simple and also ask for an explanation. There’s sometimes another way to phrase these too:

  • Adding “why or why not?”
  • eg: “Did you enjoy being a voice actor on the Simpsons? Why or why not?“
  • you could also ask that question this way: “What were some things you liked and disliked about being a voice actor on The Simpsons?”
  • another example: “Do you think that there is life on other planets? Why or why not?“

There are also questions that are challenges. These are harder to pull off. They still should be real questions, that it is actually possible to answer in a substantive way.

  • For instance “Isn’t it true that you’re an ableist and only care about yourself?” isn’t a good question because there’s no good way to answer it.
  • Asking that way makes you look like a jerk, even if you’re completely right in your assessment
  • It’s much more effective to challenge them on something specific, and to ask a question that it is possible to answer
  • (This can sometimes force them to consider the issue, or to reveal publicly that they’re getting it wrong.)
  • Example of a better question: “Why doesn’t the board of your Disability Organization About Disability have any openly disabled members?”
  • Or, you can push harder and say something like: “There are no openly disabled members on your board. What are you doing to address this problem?“
  • How far it’s useful to push depends a lot on context.
  • (The rule of only asking one clear question at a time is particularly important with challenges. If you ask a complicated or ambiguous challenge question, it makes it easy for them to evade it.)

If possible, keep your question short:

  • Most people don’t like to pay attention to long complicated questions
  • If your question is short and easy to understand quickly, you’re likely to get a better answer
  • Short questions are easier to understand
  • They’re also harder to evade
  • If your question is 1-3 sentences long, you will probably get a better answer than if it is substantially longer.

Think about your question before you start talking:

  • You will probably have to wait your turn to ask
  • While you’re waiting to be called on, it’s worth planning what you want to say and how you want to say it
  • If you wait and don’t figure out what you’re going to say until you start talking, it will probably be more verbose and less clear
  • If you can, it’s worth planning
  • (For some people, writing the question down first helps) 

None of these things are absolute rules, but all of them are potentially helpful. If you can’t communicate this way, you still have the right to ask questions. These are suggestions, not rules.

tl;dr If you’re at a panel discussion and want the panelists to give interesting answers to your question, there are things that make that more likely. Scroll up for some general principles and some scripts.


when others struggle to find words

Anonymous said to :

When other people forget the word they’re trying to say I often just say the word for them. Normally they seem happy to have gotten the word they couldn’t remember but I notice that I seem to be the only one I notice doing this (note: I’m autistic). I was just wondering, is this rude? Is it something I need to stop doing?

realsocialskills said:

Saying the word you think someone forgot is a form of interrupting. It’s usually rude, but not always. (That’s true of interrupting in general. The formal rule is “don’t interrupt people”, but there are a zillion exceptions, including many situations in which it’s rude not to interrupt.)

It’s basically rude to suggest words unless they wanted you to do it. People’s preferences on this vary a lot. For instance:

Some people need time and space to find words when they’re looking for words. Suggesting the word for them can actually make it harder for them to figure out what they wanted to say, especially if you get the word wrong.

Some people get stuck and like other people to help unstick them by suggesting words.

These are just two examples; there are a lot of other reasons people can prefer different approaches. 

It’s not always obvious. The best way to find out about someone’s preferences is to ask, preferably when they’re not actively struggling for words, eg: “I’ve noticed that you sometimes have trouble finding words. Would you like me to suggest words when you get stuck, or would you rather wait for you to finish your sentence?“

It’s probably better to err on the side of not suggesting words, because people who are bothered by it are really bothered by it. But for people who find it helpful, it can be a good thing to do. If you can’t tell, it’s good to ask. 

A further thing: pretty much nobody likes to be told what they are saying; if you’re suggesting a word, it should be a question, not an answer (you are not a mindreader and sometimes you’re going to get the word wrong).

Eg, if you say it like this, it will probably aggravate the person you’re trying to help:

  • Them: You know? The thing? The sit thing? With the surface?
  • You: You’re talking about a chair.

If you say it like this, it’s more likely to be helpful:

  • Them: You know? The thing? The sit thing? With the surface?
  • You: A chair?

tl;dr Most people who are struggling to find words don’t like to be interrupted with a suggested word. Some people find it helpful. It’s usually best to err on the side of not suggesting words. When in doubt, ask.

Anyone else want to weigh in? When you have trouble finding words, how do you like people around you to react?

but vs. and

I’ve been taught this trick for giving feedback by a couple of people recently, and I’ve been finding it really helpful:

Using “and” instead of “but” can make it much easier to give useable feedback. It also sometimes works in conflict situations:

Eg:

  • “I really liked your message, but I thought it was too long to follow.“
  • “I really liked your message, and I thought it would have been easier to follow if it was shorter”.

or:

  • “I’m sorry that I yelled, but what I was saying was important. Your dog has to stay out of my yard. He’s been digging up my flowers.”
  • “I’m sorry that I yelled, and what I was saying was important. Your dog has to stay out of my yard. He’s been digging up my flowers”.

If you say but, it’s often heard as “I know I’m supposed to say something nice, but I don’t really want to.” If you say and, it’s more often heard as “I believe both of these things.“

It’s worth considering erring on the side of saying and rather than but when you sincerely believe both things. It often makes a big difference, both in how you think about what you’re saying, and in how it’s perceived by other people.

7 second rule

If you’re leading a group discussion or teaching a class, it’s important to pause for questions periodically. Part of pausing for questions is giving people time to react before moving on. People can’t respond instantaneously; they need time to react. If you don’t give them time to react, it can give you an inaccurate impression of their level of interest or engagement.


Eg:

  • Leader: Does anyone have any questions?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: Ok, moving on. 

When this happens, it’s not usually because no students had questions. It’s usually because the teacher didn’t give them enough time to process before moving on. It doesn’t actually take a huge amount of time, but there has to be some. A good amount of time to wait is seven seconds. If you wait seven seconds before moving on, someone will usually say something.


Seven seconds can feel like a really long time when you are teaching. It can feel like an awkward empty space that, as the teacher, you’re supposed to be filling. That can lead to interactions like this:

  • Leader: I just said a controversial thing. What do you think of the thing?
  • Group: …
  • Leader (immediately):… none of you have opinions about this?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: (immediately):… Really? No one?

When this happens, it’s usually not that no one had anything to say. It’s usually that the leader or teacher kept interrupting them while they were trying to get words together and respond. It’s easy to inadvertently do this, because it feels like you’re supposed to be doing something to get your students to respond. But, often, the best thing you can do to get them to respond is to wait and give them space to do it in.


It helps to remember that as the teacher or leader, you shouldn’t actually be taking up all of the space. You should also be offering your students some space and listening to them, and allowing them to ask you questions so they can understand. It’s ok if that space isn’t immediately filled; no one can react instantaneously. 


If you wait seven seconds every time you pause for questions/responses, it gives people time to process, and some people will become capable of participating who weren’t before.

conflicting access needs

Anonymous said to :

I communicate best by writing (email, text, etc) and have a hard time with methods of communication that are voice-heavy (Skype calls, phone calls) because I have auditory-processing problems. Several long distance friends do better with auditory communication and worse with writing. But they speak really fast/garbled/quietly, so I can’t understand them sometimes. I end up avoiding them because it’s too frustrating for me to ask them to repeat every sentence, but I don’t want to. Please help?


realsocialskills said:


A couple of options:


Ask them what they think

  • Is their need to use voice methods of communication on the same level as yours?
  • Would they be able to use text for you sometimes?

Use typing for repeating:

  • It might be less frustrating to use Skype than the phone if you make good use of the typing feature
  • Would it work to use text to ask them to repeat things, and have them repeat it in text rather than voice?
  • That might make communication easier for both of you

Use something higher quality

  • If sound quality is making them hard to understand, it might be a problem you can solve
  • Different video chat services do things differently
  • It might make sense to try several and see if some are more comprehensible than others
  • If you can upgrade your internet, it might be worth doing
  • Getting better headphones might also help
  • It also might help if they get a better microphone instead of relying on their computer’s internal speakers
  • If you have access to a landline, sometimes the audio quality is better than on a cell phone

Use an interpreter.

  • You might be able to use something like Sprint Ip Relay to make TTY calls over the internet. 
  • There’s also a thing called ClearCaptions that’s a captioned phone service that live captions calls. You have to be willing to swear that you’re Deaf, hear of hearing, or otherwise phone disabled. (I think that having auditory processing problems that cause you to avoid using the phone ought to count, but I don’t know if they think that, and I don’t know how much they investigate.)
  • There are probably other options along these lines that I don’t know about. If anyone knows of good options, please comment or send an ask.

Use emailed videos

  • Maybe they could email you videos instead of emailing you emails?
  • Then you could watch them more slowly and repeat stuff
  • Like video email more than video chat
  • And then you could maybe respond in the way that’s easiest for you, which might be text

tl;dr Keeping in touch with friends can be hard when you have competing access needs for forms of communication over long distances. There are some options. Scroll up for details.


Anyone else want to weigh in? What have you found works for long distance communication between people who find speaking easier and people who find speech difficult to understand?