Conversation


There was a discussion about the fact that some teachers are unable to detect the problems some autie kids have with ordinary conversation. I wrote:

One thing I've noticed about me (officially diagnosed on the spectrum): Conversation doesn't "work" for me the way it works for most of the people around me. (This may be more true for females than males, I'm not sure.) At work, for example, people constantly have conversations with each other, and those conversations somehow (mysteriously) grow into -- or form the basis for -- relationships. People "get to know" each other, and the conversations build on one another from day to day through the weeks, months, and years.

For me, a conversation does "work" like that. Either it is about something of interest to me, in which case it may add to my knowledge about the topic, or it is "about nothing," mere social lubricant. In the latter case, I can participate to some extent, mostly using learned "scripts." But in neither case does the conversation naturally lead anywhere. It doesn't connect me, doesn't form the basis of any "next step" or stronger sense of relatedness.

I may look like I'm conversing naturally with you. But you're likely to become bemused over time as you notice that every conversation with me is like the first one. People who become my friends (and I do have good friends) generally have to be either very persistent or very, very patient, because getting beyond the beginning takes a long, long time with me. Generally, forming a real friendship, for me, requires doing something together (for some sustained time), not relying on conversation to make the connection.

In sum: there may be difficulties in managing a conversation (things like learning how to take turns talking, how to respond to social overtures, how to sense when someone is ready to end the interaction), but there also may be less obvious differences for those on the spectrum in the role conversation is expected (by the non-autistic) to play in various kinds of relationships.

In another thread, there was discussion of what might motivate autistic people to try to follow some of the social conventions when relating to others. I wrote:

For me, it's basically: I want to be at home in the world where I live. That means I want people in that world, when they see me, to react at least with neutrality, at best with an unconscious expectation that my being there will not be a problem for them (and might even be one of the more pleasant few seconds of their day).

I want to be able to approach someone who works in the local grocery store, ask a question, and know the other person will be responding not only out of their training in customer relations but also out of their own (unconsciously accumulated) experience of me as someone who speaks politely and doesn't cause problems.

At work it's even more important for people to have at least a neutral attitude toward me, and it's even more helpful if they associate me with at least pleasant interactions. You can catch more flies (and get more cooperation out of people working in a hierarchy) with honey than with vinegar.

Of course, in my case there's also an underlying belief system that says: Each person deserves my respect (I may disagree with their opinions, and I may actively attempt to oppose behavior I consider unjust or bad, but each person is to be respected), and I cannot expect good treatment from anyone I treat badly. Both do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and do not do unto others that which you would not have others do unto you.

And finally, there's the fact that I am entirely capable of appreciating, valuing, and liking people even if I don't have the time/energy/interest required to construct a "normal" NT relationship with them. I am always glad when I can behave in ways that give some indication of my appreciation, even if it has to be performed as NT scripts in order for the other person to understand it.

If I were living in a culture where everyone spoke a language I did not know, I'd at least try to learn how to say Please and Thank you.



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