I’m an Aspie. I’m verbal. Many Aspie/autistic people are. Some aren’t. But even if we aren’t verbal, that doesn’t mean we don’t communicate.
And even if we are verbal, we might still communicate in other ways. We think and feel with a high degree of complexity. We instinctively know that understanding brings harmony. So, people want to help others understand them.
But sometimes, verbal language doesn’t cut it.
Over the past few (months? years?) I began to realize that I communicate in multiple ways. It had begun to dawn on me that I had started doing this without even realizing it at the time. During a much-needed break (today was a little harrowing), I began to collect all of those communication methods into a single list (many of us on the spectrum love making lists).
I’ll share with you my list of ways in which I communicate; my goal is three-fold:
1 – To help other Aspie/autistic people reflect upon themselves (if they haven’t already in this area), and perhaps discover something new about themselves.
2 – To help people who are wondering whether or not they’re on the spectrum by giving them another firsthand example of spectrum communication possibilities; maybe someone will read this and say, “oh my gosh, me too!” and maybe they might be motivated to explore the topic further.
3 – To help people who are not on the spectrum (allistic people) understand a loved one on the spectrum (again, by providing one–although it’s just one–real-life example).
Here’s my list:
Verbal communication – only tops the list because it’s the most “obvious” and common form of communication (at least, in the world in general). My blog posts run lengthy and I can be pretty verbose in person, too.
Writing – this comes next, because that’s how most of you know me. This probably won’t surprise you, but I’ve also kept a journal since at least Grade 3, and I also do some creative writing (single-page pieces that may or may not rhyme, may or may not contain complete run-on sentences, without or without capitalization, etc). And, I also write articles and informational/educational handouts for clientele.
Movie references – although spoken verbally, I’ve separated this out because it’s a special form of verbal communication for me. My partner and I, having been together for so long, gone without cable/satellite TV for many years on end during our time together, have delved into our extensive movie collection every night as we unwind from the day. During this time, we’ve seen all of our movies many times, and memorized some of the one-liners or conversation snippets at times. When we want to capture an entire mood with one sentence, we might reference a single line from a movie. The other person will recognize the line, remember which character from which movie said it, and remember the circumstances under which it was said, and an entire, full-spectrum idea, emotion, situation, and thought, can be understood with just that one line. It’s kind of neat.
Flowcharts – since I study human biochemistry and physiology a lot (they’re Special Interests), I tend to think in biochemical pathways. An example of a pathway looks like this:
(Kinda groovy, huh?) For me, a flowchart is almost like a grouping of sentences. On the right-hand side of the picture, you see an “X” at the tail end of an arrow, and a “Methyl-X” at the arrow head. In between the “X” and the “Methyl-X” is the word “Methyltransferase”. In this case, “X” could mean any one of a variety of substances in the body, and the “Methyl-X” could mean its end-product. The “Methyltransferase” is an enzyme that turns the “X” into the “Methyl-X”.
I explain it to my clientele who are English majors like this: the “X” is like the “noun” at the beginning of the sentence, or the “subject”. (For chemistry majors, this would be known as the “substrate”.) The “Methyltransferase” is the “verb” of the sentence. And the “Methyl-X” might be the “direct object” of the sentence. (Chemistry majors know this as the “product”). The reaction that took place changed one thing into another (as described by the arrow that shows one thing pointing at another). It told a “story”, in a way. My brain thinks in this way…probably way too often. 🙂
Music – another excellent and expressive method of communication for me. All I have to do is be driving somewhere with my partner (or anyone else) and when a song comes on the radio whose mood fits or matches mine, all I have to do is turn up the volume on the radio and say, “OK, listen to this. This is how I feel right now. To really and truly understand, you gotta sit back and FEEL it with me. Feel the song. BE the song.” And the person feels the mood of the song, its tempo, its instrumentation and the sounds those instruments make, the intensity of the emotion, and other characteristics. The lyrics sometimes add to the message I’m trying to communicate, too, but they’re optional.
Sometimes, I also communicate through music by playing my own. I’ve been a composer for 30 years (I’m almost 39 now). I can convey a much deeper, more complex mood, with far more dimensions and a message that is far more adequately expressed with my music than I can with simple words.
Painting – I’ve really got to take this up again, because it was a FANTASTIC form of expression for me. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that it helped me survive my junior high and high school years.
Doodling – a minor form of communication for me.
Physical touch – some people on the spectrum can’t stand to be touched. I totally understand that, and I can truly empathize and understand why, at least on a certain level. I can say that I usually like physical touch, but only given by someone whose “vibes” are genuine and “safe” enough for me to allow them into my more personal space. I’m not adamant about maintaining a wide band of personal space, but maybe I should start guarding it a bit more than I have, especially with people I’m not yet sure of. But I do love to be hugged, touched, back-rubbed, etc, by people I know well. I can say without a doubt, though, that it can’t be too fast or too hard. There also must be a layer of clothing in the way; it can’t be skin-to-skin contact. I’m way too sensitive for that, and it feels very uncomfortable.
Facial expression – sometimes my face betrays me, communicating a message I don’t intend. Other times, it betrays me another way, giving away an emotion I was trying to guard more closely.
Just Being with someone – sometimes, simply spending time with another person, sitting in peace and silent contemplation, is plenty of communication. What does it say to just sit there and Be? Well, it says that “hey, I like/love you enough to want to spend time with you and only you.” I could be stimming or partaking in a Special Interest, but I chose that person instead. They’ve got to mean a great deal to me in order to do that. (Now, just because I might be stimming or Special Interest-ing while spending time with someone doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be with them, that I’m not fully engaged with them, that I don’t value their presence, or that their presence stresses me out.) But yeah, it means something pretty significant when I don’t mind letting someone into my space to just sit and hang out, enjoying each others’ presence and company. With the right person, that’s all that’s needed.
Some Tips for Allistic (non-spectrum) people that might help:
- Just because we’re not saying anything, doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to say.
- Just because we’re not saying anything, doesn’t mean we’re shutting anyone out, shutting down, or giving anyone the cold shoulder.
- Just because we’re not saying anything, doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong. It also doesn’t necessarily mean nothing’s wrong/everything’s OK.
- Even if we’re nonverbal, that doesn’t mean we don’t understand or hear.
- Even if we are verbal, that doesn’t mean we can always find the right words; doesn’t mean we don’t get tripped up sometimes trying to express ourselves.
- We might be trying to communicate in other/alternative forms.
- Sometimes, you have to look at what’s not being said, or look under the surface.
- Sometimes, words just aren’t enough, or our brains are moving too fast or in too many directions to slow down enough to form sentences.
- Sometimes, we might be able to meet you on your level and communicate in your preferred form. Other times, you might have to meet us on our level and communicate in ours.