Even if Aspie/autistic people are not going on and on endlessly about one particular topic, we might be rather verbose in certain other situations.
#1: Over-Clarification To Avoid Misinterpretation:
We often have an often long and sometimes painful history of being misinterpreted or misunderstood. This can cause pain, stress, and anxiety. It can irrevocably change or even end relationships. To prevent that from happening again, we often try to make ourselves very clear. Sometimes we feel a need to “front-load” what we’re saying with “disclaimers” or other clarification in order to preemptively offset common misconceptions that others have formed in response to us in the past. This is so that we can minimize any indignation, hurt feelings, opposition, offense taken, etc, to what we’re saying.
We also think differently, which may require extra explanation. Our thoughts tend to be complex, and therefore, there may be additional communication required.
In “regular” communication or conversation between/with Allistic (non-autistic/Aspie) people, what is actually being said is a smaller part of the whole message or meaning than it is for Aspie/autistic people. Body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and other factors tend to play larger roles in neurotypical communication. Allistic people usually send and receive hidden/non-verbal messages when they’re talking to each other; this is considered normal.
This ability to send and receive nonverbal cues may vary in people on the spectrum; this ability may be diminished or even altogether absent. This means we may not pick up on all (or any) of those messages at all. Thus, for those of us that are verbal, we rely mostly on the actual words being said…which is another reason why we want and need to be sure we’re understood correctly.
#2: Over-Explanation of Special Interests:
I know that a previous post addressed Aspie “monologues” involving Special Interests; let’s examine a few other aspects of communication about Special Interests.
Sometimes it takes a bit for us to realize that we’ve “lost” someone during an explanation or attempt to teach a non-autistic person. When it comes to our Special Interests, we often eat, sleep, breathe, and live them. We may be experts on these topics.
If we’re teaching or explaining them to someone else (with a lower knowledge level of these subjects), we may naturally begin to discuss the subject at a level that we usually think in. This might mean using technical terms or jargon used in that field that may not be familiar to or understood by others. We may forget that other people lack the same intensity of interest or level of knowledge that we have acquired. We may forget to “translate” the higher-level language into plainer, everyday language for the layperson. We may forget to establish some of the basic elementary concepts before diving into the more advanced material.
It’s not that we’re trying to talk over anyone’s head. It’s not that we’re trying to show off, or make ourselves feel superior or make anyone else feel inferior or less intelligent. Our intentions are genuine and we want to share. For me, this sharing or explaining of information is usually not forced upon the listener, but rather, they actually want to know and have asked me questions.
To avoid confusion by getting too deep and advanced too quickly, we might learn to attempt to start at the very beginning, with the easiest of basics. We may overuse analogies at this time, hoping that the listener solidly grasps at least one. We genuinely want to answer peoples’ questions and share our knowledge with them, and we want them to be able to learn as much as they can, so we figure that if we start at the elementary levels, we can avoid early-conversation confusion. But this extra explanation takes extra time, so we may end up talking for a while.
We’re highly detailed and can tend to be perfectionists, and to us, ALL of the details of our Special Interest may be important to us; deciding which ones are important to the listener “in the grand scheme of things” can be somewhat challenging; we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
Further into such a conversation, we may not realize when the listener is becoming confused or lost. We may not notice that they’ve lost interest, become preoccupied with another thought, stopped understanding, or become confused by something we said. I have learned over time to read facial expression a little better, particularly if I’m starting to lose someone due to boredom or monotony, but I don’t always pick up on looks of confusion, and other body language is pretty much completely lost on me.
#3: Over-Communication When Thinking Out Loud:
If someone asks me a somewhat complex question (examples of “somewhat complex” include having to make a judgment call, solve a dilemma, or decide how we’ll spend our weekend) and is looking for an answer right away, I feel pressure to do something I can’t always do: come up with the right answer without missing a beat. Instinct tells me that it’s not socially acceptable or “normal” to stare into the distance in silence for a couple minutes while I consider the question and weigh all my options inside my head before answering, so my natural inclination is to at least begin talking to fill the gap.
The problem is, what comes out of my mouth first isn’t the whole story. I may give an initial answer, but haven’t completely processed all the details yet. I may say, “sure, let’s go to the park on Saturday”, but I may not have reviewed my to-do list (at least mentally) yet, and I may be forgetting that I need to work on Mr. Jones’ file or attend a live webinar on Saturday. Or I might say, “sure, I can see Mrs. Smith on Monday”, but then I might get to thinking to myself, you know what? Mrs. Smith hasn’t had a checkup in six months, has ignored the voice mail we’ve left for her, and hasn’t been all that compliant…and I was really hoping to reserve at least ONE day this week for consecutive deep-concentration work, which I really do need. So I might have to change my mind. Wanting to please and appear reasonable and agreeable, I might have originally said yes to something, but then I realize that I really should have said no.
Although I still feel compelled to start trying to answer the questions asked of me, I have learned to at least not STOP talking until I’ve reached more of a final decision. Yes, this occurs with the person still standing there. I don’t want to commit myself to an answer I’ll regret later. So that person stands there in front of me, basically listening to me hem and haw, thinking in “real-time”.
Luckily, I’ve identified this phenomenon and I can explain it (there’s that “explain” word again) to the people most likely to witness this, and if I can explain this before one of these situations occurs (there’s one of those preemptive “front-loading” conversations again), they won’t be as likely to be confused or annoyed when it happens.
My hemming and hawing is not a matter of indecision; it’s simply a matter of incomplete thought processing in someone with altered thought processing.
In sum: sometimes, when I don’t have time prepare what I’m going to say, I want to avoid the awkwardness of dead silence, so I start to answer right away. At first, my thoughts can be messy and appear to be “all over the map”, especially early on in my answer/explanation.
Keep listening; those thoughts will eventually begin to streamline, take shape, and become more organized. We Aspie/autistic people think differently than others do, which yes, includes ALL thought-processing, and we’re trying to think in “real-time” in order to avoid the awkwardness of dead silence. Also, all of the aspects we’re having to consider may potentially be important to us, and like I mentioned before, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
Basically, we want to be complete. We want to be accurate. We want to be understood correctly. We try not to come off as offensive. We try not to hurt anyone.
We put care and thought into what we say. We’re highly sensitive to the negative ramifications of being misunderstood. We try to send the right message and avoid sending the wrong one.
We want to help. We want to share. We’re good people and we want others to realize that.
Our emotions, thoughts, and indeed our very lives, are already complex enough; we don’t want to add to the chaos or stress. We’re different enough from other people; we don’t want to widen that gap or intensify that divide. We’re anxiety-prone enough; we don’t want to add to that, either.
We cherish our families, friends, and just about anyone else we interact with and feel safe around; we don’t want them to feel shut out. We don’t want them to feel like we’re closed off to them. We don’t want them to feel ignored or alienated.
We also have to work with different people, usually for the longer-term; we don’t want to jeopardize any of those connections or relationships, either.
Our intentions are pure; our hearts are in the right place. Our motives are innocent. Worry not: you don’t have to guess our “real” agenda or worry about whether or not you’re going to get burned by a hidden one…because it’s simply not there. This is frequently difficult for non-autistic people to wrap their heads around, because they’re so used to having to second-guess each other and wonder if the other person is “for real”.
Aspie/autistic people and allistic people alike should all be able to feel safe and secure with each other, and to trust one another 🙂