I already post about how I don’t support the use of direct questions – you can find this post under Communication category. I don’t think I post about speaking directly to us when making a statement or request but that would be very short one: I don’t support that either. We repeat in our own conversations what we hear from others so this approach will only make us more blunt and I believe that’s not what people want to achieve.
What is the solution if we don’t easily get hints though? I don’t really know but with all the money being put towards autism research I’m sure the research community would be able to come up with something if only they get some hints about where to look for answers.
Oh btw I did post about hints for autistics in here:
Is my mum hinting me? Detailed explanation
In this post, however, I am going to focus on discussing another method that is frequently being advised regarding how to support us and it’s about making everything predictable. Let’s make it clear from the start: it doesn’t work. You may at times think that it does because it helped you prevent your autistic husband’s/friend’s/child’s meltdown but how does it make you feel? Are you not stressed by constantly trying to control everything?
The massive problem here is that we, autistics, pick up on other people moods, so if you’re stressed we know it. We are unlikely to know what caused it and what to do about it but we know when something is wrong. We are also unlikely to be able to name our own feelings in response but we may feel like we’re so tiny, like we want to disappear or like if there is a blow of cold air in the room that comes from you to us. Neither of those are description of emotions but that’s how we may feel when someone is angry with us.
So, if trying to control everything to make things predictable for us is making you angry, it will never work. Even if it’s not making you angry you’re disabling us. The world cannot be controlled so what is going to happen when you’re not around?
I will admit here I don’t have much of that issue myself, I consider myself quite flexible, at least for an autistic person, that is. But The Boyfriend used to be quite funny sometimes with the way he approached food. He could eat any food as long as it’s something he expected. If he didn’t expect something… OMG, God help me! He would just not eat anything at all, then he would not drink anything because he couldn’t drink if he couldn’t eat and then he would effectively ruin our evening. Telling him that he makes me feel bad didn’t change anything. His issues were more important.
So I did what is being advised everywhere: I would always talk to him beforehand what I’m going to serve for every meal when he comes to visit. It did kind of work but was making me fed up a bit. And one day THAT happened: I told him I’m going to serve curry and it’s one of his favourite dishes. I am quite a good cook but I bought new packet of Garam Masala and something must have been wrong with it as the sauce turned out bitter!
When The Boyfriend turned up I told him what happened and suggested he could try some of that curry, maybe it won’t be that bad for him but the answer was no. I asked him if he wants take away – no. Going to a pub – no. One of the packet curried vegs with the rice I had cooked – no.
And the worst was when I suggested Chinese next door but then checked online and it turned out they were closed that day and what did he say? He suddenly wanted Chinese! But not from a restaurant further away because he didn’t want to do any more driving and not getting a delivery because it takes too long! He basically behaved like if he expected I would go there and open the place for him!
I finally managed to have a supportive conversation with him and explained that he’s just about to ruin our evening and if that’s really what he wants after driving for 45 minutes and finally we agreed I’d make him some toasted sandwiches and he can stay. But as I had no cheese I had to go to the local shop, all by myself, as he said his foot was hurting.
While standing in the queue I told myself: the technique I chose is not working. I can’t control everything, it’s not possible, I needed to come up with something else.
Next time he was about to come I told him I’m going to serve a surprise. What is it going to be, he asked. A surprise I answered. But what exactly? I can’t tell you as it wouldn’t be a surprise… After exchanging another twenty emails like that he finally stopped asking.
I don’t remember what I served on that day but he loves mushrooms so I served some with the meal, as a way of rewarding him. He was in rather good mood. Since that time I serve surprise every time he comes. And he eats it. Yes, it’s too salty, he may agree, but that’s not a problem. I’m shocked with the result.
I’m not quite sure what it is exactly, as I said I don’t really have this problem, but my guess is that by thinking about a surprise he gets mentally prepared for everything while at the same time he knows that he’s going to have something to eat. So talking about surprise for dinner is better than not talking about food at all and then just serving it (I did try that for a bit too and it didn’t end well) as then he’s worried he’s going to have no dinner at all!
It’s really surprising for me how well the surprise approach work. And I’m thinking, if planning everything didn’t work for an autistic adult how can we expect it will work for a child who’s understanding of the world around him is much more limited?
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