Communicating ‘Asperger Style’ by dr Kathy Marshack (and why we are sometimes mean to people)

I watched this video today and found it quite refreshing but also, a big surprise. I was aware of dr Marshack and her attempts to support neurotypical people who are in relationship with autistics. As much as I believe neurotypicals may in fact require support with that, I found dr Marshack really negative at the time. I even remember I wrote a post about it, but I think I deleted it later (that was at the beginning of my blogging experience – I don’t delete posts now).

However, this video is really good and different. Dr Marshack says that we, autistics, listen to words while neurotypicals listen to people. I never thought about that this way but it makes sense, especially when I think about handovers in my old workplace – instead of focusing on passing on information people would just chat about the shift and then, later on during I’d find out that a resident is on antibiotics for example. Strangely enough no one found that frustrating but me.

I’d really recommend this video, I think it sheds a new light on how we communicate. Although I’m not sure about trying to predict what it is that someone’s autistic husband is thinking. I think that’s too complex to say from just a few sentences. Of course one could try to guess, but it should be explained it’s just a guess.

Sometimes we don’t want to admit the source of our unpleasant behaviour, which then makes it difficult for researchers to understand us. At times, we may not understand ourselves why we said certain things, that were really mean and we know we’re not normally like that.

I saw a post today on an autism Facebook group, it was by a neurotypical lady who broke up with autistic guy but they’re trying to make it work. She said that he told her some mean things even though they’re talking about getting back together. And some people were like: he can’t be abusive to you, don’t let it happen. Although no one so far said that autistics don’t have empathy (it was mostly group for autistic people though, so possibly that’s why. It would be much more likely to read that at neurotypical group, I bet). But the thing that no one said, but me (I didn’t get response to that so far) is that we are sometimes mean when we feel that people use their emotions to harass us.

I know what I’m talking about. I was there, although ultimately, it was before I realised I’m autistic. All the examples of effective communication that is focused on emotions (when you did X it made me feel like you don’t care about me) don’t work on us at all. Actually, they make us overwhelmed and angry. If people don’t get that we don’t want to be talked to this way (we show some subtle signs first, like for example withdrawal) and they continue, we lash out. We do that, because we want it to stop. We understand people enough to realise that if we’re nasty, they leave us alone. And that’s what we want in that moment: to be left alone. This is usually only being done as a last resort, when nothing else is working. Because normally, believe me, we are polite people.

We may find it difficult to predict that the person who we did that too may be too hurt to want to come back, and also, as we overwhelmed, we may not really care about it at the time. And then time passes and this understanding comes to us and we may want to apologise. And then, what we may hear will be: yes, I accept apology but you need to understand that when you do that it makes me feel like this and that. And then this person will continue coming back to this communication, in hope that one day we will understand. But the thing is, we do understand, at least up to a point. We don’t like people being nasty to us either.

We just can’t stand people telling us how we made them feel. Seriously, telling us that our behaviour makes you feel a certain way is not going to help us to change. What will? I don’t know. Possibly there’s nothing that can be done? Maybe dr Marshack will come up with something? Or somebody else? We will see.

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