Communication Gaps


I posted to an online group of adult autistics:

Just in case it might be interesting to somebody, I am going to paste in below part of a letter I wrote recently to my friend Nancy, attempting to explain to her why I had been so "short" with her the last few times she'd tried to talk to me. It came after a period of 2-3 weeks when she had been too busy elsewhere to make time for me.

letter excerpt begins:
I'm sorry I've been snarky lately. There's a dynamic involved over which I have limited control. When I have less than a minimum amount of interpersonal contact, I "lose the knack" and find it very hard to participate in "normal" relations again. It's as if a door has closed, a very heavy door that I can open only slowly and with great effort.

Ordinarily, you are the only person (internet excepted) with whom I have interpersonal contact on a regular basis. The people I talk to at work get mostly "scripts" from me, unless they are talking to me about a specific work project. When the talk is that focused, I usually have no trouble with it (unless I am very tired).

Talking un-scripted is different. It takes more energy, for one thing, and I can do it satisfactorily only with the few people I know well enough. With those few people, there is a pre-existing basis for conversation, a grounding that keeps me from having to re-create myself for every conversation. There are a few people (e.g., X) with whom I can enjoy conversing even though I don't see them regularly. I need time to prepare for such interactions, though, and they are exhausting. The time I visited X when I went back east to visit my aunt and uncle was a total disaster. Because the trip itself (the logistics) was so consuming, I had not prepared myself at all for talking with X. The result was that I "had nothing to say." The door had closed. I knew she was disturbed by the way I was behaving (or rather, by what I wasn't doing: talking, interacting, being the Janey she thought she knew), but I couldn't do a damn thing about it. Having dinner with Y requires mental preparation (getting myself ready to talk), and I'm always exhausted after two hours. Talking with Z is easier because she can fill any amount of time on her own and requires very little of me.

When you and I are talking to one another on a very regular basis, I seem able to operate as if the conversation is on-going. There is not so much break that my "talking machine" shuts down. When there are longer gaps, however, I "lose track." I feel (and it is a very strong feeling, stronger than my ability to rationalize it away) that I have to go back to where we left off and start from there. Because so much has happened (not necessarily things that I need to talk about, but the minute details of every day are there in my memory, and I have to work at identifying and prying out the limited number that are worth talking about), I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of initiating a conversation.

There are times (when the gap is long, or when I'm feeling irritated) when it's not just talking that is the problem. My whole mind (or rather, the whole section of my mind that deals with/relates to the outside world) has become focused elsewhere than on my relationship with you. At those times, it is hard to differentiate you (except in strictly nominative, intellectual terms) from a stranger who is intruding into my life. (And as you know, I am very selfish about giving up my time.)
---------end of letter excerpt

A member of the online group suggested that it might be easier for me if I asked Nancy to allow me to perseverate (talk uninterrupted on a topic of interest to me) for a while before embarking on "normal" conversation.

I responded:

Actually, for me it works better the other way around. If she is willing to talk for the first half hour without getting anything from me but grunts and maybe a yes or no, then I gradually find my voice machine loosening up (or warming up) enough that I can start to engage in the conversation more fully.

I think Nancy did understand much of what I was trying to convey. She may not understand what it feels like or exactly why it happens, but she accepts my description as being what is real for me and is willing to help me work around it. As I think I may have mentined before, she is finding the book Women from Another Planet very helpful in increasing her comprehension of AS.



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