I finished talking about three of the Keys in Social Communication; Nonverbal, Big Picture and Theory of Mind, but today I want to talk a little about the heart of it.
Have you ever tried to figure out what someone is thinking? We spend a majority of our time in relationships trying to ‘read’ people by their nonverbal communication and social responses. Somehow, when someone says ‘fine’, but their body language isn’t in agreement with that word, we pick up on it and either ignore it, or (as a good friend should) reach out to them with compassion.
Even though a majority of people in the world have the ‘social thinking’ skill intact, there are some who do not… as a matter of fact, the number of people who have trouble working out the puzzle of nonverbal communication seems to be growing (or we’re more aware of the characteristics).
As I’m learning more about ASD, and in particular Asperger’s syndrome, I realize that the kids who have these diagnoses don’t necessarily have a defective way of thinking, just a different way. Whereas most Neurotypicals (NTs – non-Autistic thinkers) make social connections and process information with both logic and emotions intertwined, Aspies have an amazing ability to separate the two. So, they are either thinking with the logic ‘on’ or the emotions ‘on’. This means that sometimes they may not appear to have an emotional response to a situation because they are processing it logically – therefore people feel like they are indifferent, unemotional, even unapproachable or rude. Which usually isn’t the case.
This way of thinking works out great for certain situations and jobs. Professions which require unbiased, practical, and even deep critical thinking (void of emotional influence) are ones in which they may excel (research, mathematics, computers) – as opposed to emotionally driven, charismatic, socially-prioritized jobs (sales, human relations professions).
There are other things that add to the preconceived notion that Aspies and Auties are selfish, unemotional… even uncaring individuals. Many times they don’t show the ‘appropriate’ facial expressions or present with ‘expected’ nonverbal cues in situations – but again, this stems from a ‘logic’ way of thinking compounded with the fact that they are not processing the nonverbals appropriately. Those nonverbal cues are often confusing – so not only are they trying to decipher the words spoken to them, but all the hidden clues in nonverbal communication too (which comes ‘almost’ naturally to NTs). It makes sense to me, that they just have to pick ONE to pay attention to – and words are the practical and obvious choice.
Does this mean that they don’t ‘feel’ emotions? That’s the most ridiculous notion – of course they do. In fact, most Auties and Aspies have felt more hurt and rejection than NTs can imagine. Besides growing up feeling ‘lost’ in the social world, they beat themselves up because they don’t seem to ‘get’ the rules and follow what everyone else does. They are often bullied in school and may not develop close friendships because of their directness, sometimes slower processing speeds, social awkwardness, and ‘apparent’ lack of empathy.
Some of the best things we can do as NTs is to educate ourselves on Asperger’s syndrome and Autism. It opens our minds to thinking outside of our usual way, and realize the human heart is the same no matter how the mind processes information. Hurt, loneliness, compassion, love, understanding, and friendship are all universal feelings of the heart whether they are ‘interpreted’ the same way or not.
We have so much we can learn from each other, if we open our hearts and minds to those possibilities.
So, for Auties, Aspies, and NTs alike, what can we do? Reach beyond the barriers of ‘expectations’ with the welcoming bond of love. Love means seeking to understand, thinking the ‘best’ of the person even if (and especially if) the response doesn’t make sense, trying to find a mutual place of understanding, being honest with emotions (even direct) and forgiving quickly.
It all comes down to this simple truth: The bridge between two ways of processing the world is in the heart: love.
A Spectrum From The Heart
Pepper Basham, MS, CCC-SLP
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