Intentions vs Words and Actions – An Autistic Perspective

Close-up photo of daisies in a pair of offering hands with text that reads, "Intentions vs words/actions".

I’ve put off writing this one for a long time because it’s something I struggle to explain in words both written and spoken, but something happened today that prompted me to just go for it, so here goes nothing.

Intentions are everything to me. Beyond words, beyond actions, beyond reputations, and everything else when it comes to interacting with another human being, no matter their neurotype.

Experience has taught me that I’m very much in the minority here (which I can totally live with), but I’m still curious as to how everyone here might perceive it.

So, what I mean is, let’s say somebody walks into me on the street and knocks me down. If the person is looking at me with malice or runs off with my purse, I’ll have one reaction, but if they continue running while appearing frantic, and I see they’re running after their child who is about to toddle into the street, I’ll have an entirely different reaction.

It doesn’t mean getting knocked over won’t startle and irritate me either way, but if the intention is to save a child rather than rob me, I’ll get over it pretty quickly.

Now I think that scenario can be applied to almost any actions or words which could have the dual meaning of being purposefully offensive or purely innocent.

I don’t know about other autistic people, but I know that one of my BIGGEST triggers is when someone takes something I’ve said or done, assumes the worst intentions, gets angry about said intentions, and then proceeds to have an angry response to me based on the conclusion they’ve created in their own mind.

Judge, jury, executioner, as it were.

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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:

Now I know sometimes we all fly off the handle whether someone meant to be rude or not. We’re all human.

However, once I fully understand what someone actually meant or was trying to do, in other words, their intentions, the anger, hurt, and defensiveness melt away almost instantly.

It’s like cream on a burn. Instant relief.

That is not that case with almost everyone else I’ve ever gotten into an altercation with.

In the past I’ve said or done something someone found offensive, and not only did I not mean it to be offensive, but I had the exact OPPOSITE intention, only for my words or actions to be met with sudden rage.

Once I realize the mistake in understanding, I try to tell the person what went wrong in the conversation and think that they will have that same melting away of pain and anger and fear as I do, but it only makes it 10,000 times worse.

Then they think I’m making it all about me, minimizing their feelings, denying what I said or did, when none of those things is what I’m doing.

I’m just explaining my intentions, and, not to sound weird or anything, but my intentions are good about 99.9% of the time. I’m not bragging. This is just how I am, and I can’t imagine being any other way.

That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. I definitely stick up for myself and others when I feel it’s warranted, but I’m not cruel for cruelty’s sake. If I live to 100, I’ll never truly grasp that concept.

Anyway, this is what I’m trying to say: Intentions are more important to me than what has been said or done, but it doesn’t seem to work that way with most others.

If I didn’t mean to hurt someone and, in fact, meant the literal exact opposite, when somebody reacts to me by attacking what they think I meant without clarifying, it feels as though I’ve gone to give someone a bouquet of flowers and gotten my hand chopped off for my trouble.

It’s very frightening, confusing, and jarring.

If your autistic loved one appears to “argue” with you or explain themselves when something goes wrong in conversation, more than likely, they are not trying to dismiss your feelings, they are actually trying to make you feel better!

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6 Responses

  1. May 4, 2020

    […] a post on this flipping phrase, but I’m going to do it because a parent made a comment on my intentions post that made me realize that this very popular phrase (which is not usually used as a weapon by most […]

  2. May 20, 2020

    […] usually another reason or a complete misunderstanding behind not only actions, but words and intentions, as […]

  3. July 15, 2020

    […] keeping with the theme of interruptions, intentions, and social interactions between neurotypes, let’s talk about something I think should be […]

  4. July 15, 2020

    […] 2) I truly believed for most of my life that explaining was a way to calm the situation. If I showed a person what I really meant, they would stop being angry, hurt, etc., and everything would balance out again. I mean, that’s how it works for me! […]

  5. October 22, 2020

    […] about how we think and process the world. Learn about our motivations and intentions, learn how incredibly important and valuable words are and how literally we take them. Learn about […]

  6. January 12, 2021

    […] about how many autistic people better understand behavior, reactions, and consequences based on intentions, not […]

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