How to Tell an Autistic Person You Were Offended By Something We Said or Did (And Have Us Actually Understand You)!
Because we have different neurological wiring, NTs and ASD peeps can experience the exact same event but have different “stories” to tell about it.
Now, that’s everyone. No two people experience an event identically because we’re all different.
However, with an NT person and an autistic person, these differences can be so vast, that if a confrontation about said event occurs, the NT might think they being blatantly lied to while the autistic will think they are being gaslit.
Here’s the thing, both and neither are true. You’re both speaking the truth, but in different neurological languages.
This holds deeply true for the experience of being offended by something an autistic person said or did.
The autistic person may blurt out what they see as a fact, but the NT person gets hurt.
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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.
Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).
Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:
For example, 20 years ago, I remember telling my very pregnant friend who tried on a black and white dress that she looked like a killer whale (yeah, I know–epic cringe), and she got offended.
For me, I was making a simple color and shape connection. For her, I was calling her fat.
I think we just laughed it off, but I was hardly ever so lucky in most of these types of interactions.
For me, I would say or do something deemed inappropriate with an entirely different intention in mind, and suddenly, someone would be yelling, screaming, crying, giving me dirty looks, or even hitting me.
I did not learn anything other than to be afraid. I saw people as scary and unpredictable. Never did I make the connection to something I said or did with their sudden hostile behavior.– Jaime A. Heidel – The Articulate Autistic
Why? Because as soon as I get frightened, my mind goes completely blank, and I don’t even REMEMBER what I just said or did!
So, the next time you are offended by something an autistic person said or did, follow this formula if you want us to understand and improve our communication with you:
1) Take a deep breath. Remember, more likely than not, we did not just purposely try to upset you.
2) Make sure you have our full and undivided attention, and tell us, in a calm and even tone, that you have something important to tell us.
3) Make sure we are alone together or off to the side, so we are not distracted or feeling sensory overwhelm.
4) Tell us what we did or said that offended you.
5) Tell us WHY it offended you and, where applicable, why it is inappropriate to do or say.*
*An answer to the question “Why” is absolutely critical to our understanding.
6) Tell us what we could have done or said instead and why that is preferable.
7) Reassure us that we are OK and that our relationship with you is still OK.
For some, this might seem like a “dumbing down” or like you’re talking to a child, but when it comes to stuff like this, it is the only formula that has ever worked for me, and I think it’s very helpful for younger and/or less socially experienced autistics.
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