Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Need To Communicate

Polite conversation has no place in autism. It is necessity that causes an autist to speak. I “need” is the operating word. Thoughts are precious, private things; sharing them used to scare me. When you have no control over the outside world, thoughts evolve to a higher significance. They are all you have to define your personhood. I used to think if I shared my thoughts I would lose a part of myself. Not until meeting Bill Stillman did I realize two people could independently share a like opinion.

Students often ask me about my frustration at not speaking. One recent question: What is the one thing you want everyone to know about not being able to communicate what you are feeling? In asking the question it never occurred to the student that I may not need to express myself as they do, most especially with respect to feelings. The question is reflective of their sense of what is important, not my sense of what is important. To communicate takes so much effort for me both physically and emotionally that to share my thoughts and feelings, they are not so important.

I do not have the same connectedness to my emotions that you do. My observation tells me that people most often communicate because of how they are feeling at the time. But, what if your emotions were not tied to your experience? Imagine having senses so delayed that what you feel has no relation to what you are doing presently. What if the intensity/energy of emotion blinded you to its content? What is happy or sad then? My emotions are both delayed and extreme. To experience as I do would you still be so keen to feel it?

So much of what we learn is based upon the emotional feedback we receive. My immediate emotional feedback is useless. When I was little I would often display inappropriate behaviors which were based on responses to things long past in time. Over time I have learned to register feedback via my other senses. Feedback has become about observation of others. I have learned there are people I can trust to respond appropriately in the moment. I used to tell my mom “I can do it as you”. This is what I meant. It is easier this way, but then your action is not wholly your own. Doing things as me takes so much more effort. Feeling in the moment it is not innate to me. To process everything at the same time puts a huge strain on my system. Emotion is the quickest route to overload for me. To practice processing everything at once causes commotion, even anger around me, because it puts me in to a state of overload which others only see as “bad” behavior. I have learned to limit my moments of self and feeling to important things like hugs. Most things I gauge by others. You have to pick your others carefully though or else you end up with a past history like Donna Williams. You must exercise personhood in safe surroundings. Better I choose to limit my experience than to always experience limitedly. It is the contradiction that is autism, to experience so much and so little.

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