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Thursday, April 30, 2015


"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say" ~ Bryant H. McGill

We're reaching the end of another April, with lots of public discussion about autism. One message that has been coming out loud and clear in recent years is that many people on the autism spectrum are not feeling respected, or "heard" in this discussion ... that has to change.

Most of the people talking about autism are well-intentioned - we want to help people or a particular person on the spectrum to be successful, to have an easier life, to have a good future. The intentions are not the problem, but where we go from there can be (we all know what the road to H-E-double hockey sticks is paved with). Too many times, we (as therapists, educators and parents) charge ahead with ideas and programs and interventions that WE think are best, that WE think should happen, that WE think others should comply with. We don't ask, we tell.

Social mis-step in the high school hallway - drawn by Adam

The picture above was drawn by Adam in high school. It was part of untangling a larger social problem he was having in the school hallways as he would take the shortest route from point A to point B, accidentally walking between people who were having conversations. The interesting part of this picture (to me) is the facial expressions - Adam aware that he had once again violated some unwritten unspoken social rule, causing other people to be upset with him, but no idea exactly what had gone wrong or how he could fix it (a common experience for people on the autism spectrum - neurotypical humans are ridiculously intolerant of social mis-steps).

A few questions for you: Why is Adam wrong? He has no bad intent, he's just trying to get to his next class. Why is the chattering social majority in the right? Shouldn't they actually be getting to class too?

True solutions to the mis-match between widely held social customs and one individual's unusual approach come through communication. Not communication as in telling the individual how wrong they are to do things the way they do, but communication that starts with listening to the individual to find out what things looked like from their perspective, what their thought process and intent was, what was okay, what was upsetting. Followed by discussion to fill in useful information that may not have been received by the individual. And only after that whole process of information exchange, and clarification of the situation, figuring out a solution that takes into account all sides, all perspectives, with the person on the autism spectrum as an active and powerful participant.

Communication is power, but only if other people listen to and respect that communication. We need to start listening better:

click the link below if the video doesn't automatically play: