Apparently, today was Autism Communication Shutdown day – a day of silence on the web to mark the concept of people on the spectrum having communication difficulties . I was unaware of this. Instead, I found a great post by Gavin at Life with Aspergers.
Gavin beautifully expresses an opinion I agree with: that “It’s not working.” People on the spectrum are not silent. Instead they are simply challenged and increasingly overcoming their challenges – often with the use of ever-advancing technology.
Gavin said, “If we really wanted to model how people on the spectrum were treated in everyday conversations, we could all talk online but you’d simply ignore most of what the person on the spectrum says. Just talk over them, offer unsolicited and “rude” advice – and if you feel like it, simply move your conversations away from them.”
When I read this I was immediately reminded of something I once read in Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell describes the cultural impact there is on communication by contrasting Western and Korean conversation styles:
“Western communication has what linguists call a “transmitter orientation” – that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously….But Korea, like many Asian countries, is receiver oriented. It is up to the listerner to make sense of what is being said.”
I had always thought of this idea as being completely illogical. However, when I thought of this passage after reading Gavin’s post, I was struck by how self centered my conversations can be. I think there is something to be said for the listener having some sense of responsibility for listening with the intent to understand the speaker.
Even though I have a son on the spectrum, I find that I have often been guilty of exactly the poor model Gavin describes. Sadly, I have to admit that there have even been days when I have even treated my son this way.
Just think of the change that could be possible if instead of ignoring, interrupting, correcting or simply avoiding conversations with those who I find difficult to understand, I took time to set aside my own comfort and prejudices and just listen. Listen while they ramble on about their passion. Wait while they search for the word. Pause long enough to make it comfortable for an awkward Aspie to “jump in” to a conversation. What if recognizing a person had a delay was a signal for added compassion, added accommodations rather then uncomfortable avoidance? What if, for a while my conversations were less about myself and more about the other person as well?
Read Gavin post and the links he has posted to other un-silenced voices.