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?