Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.View all posts
When it comes to understanding means of communication, I think autistics like myself are more likely to be empathic towards others. We are more likely to be empathetic because our means of communicating are not always respected. So we put forth an effort to understand others who have similar or different communication difficulties and needs.
As a child, I can recall an incident that occurred when I was in 2nd grade. It was lunchtime, and like many schools, we shared eating space with other grades. On this day, a new student who was an upperclassman sat with us. He introduced himself…well tried to, but a stutter made it difficult for him to finish that sentence. Almost immediately, kids I sat with and those from another table started to laugh at him. He tried again, struggled and again was met with laughter. I sat there contemplatively, trying to understand what was so funny. Where was the joke, the part where I get it, but it never came. I did, however, end up having the opportunity to speak with the kid after the lunch bell rang. He introduced himself again, struggled with his stutter, but I simply waited for him to finish his introduction. No laughter occurred and I watched as relief spread across his face.
I can say at least initially, I didn’t understand why other kids made fun of others. It’s not that I didn’t note that everyone was a unique individual, I just didn’t have the desire to rush towards a snap judgment and have a reaction based on someone being different than myself. I always and still want to know, understand and allow others to express themselves in a manner they’d like. That means giving a chance to those that may have a verbal impediment or other impairments.
Speaking about myself, I always felt a wide range of emotions, I just had a relatively stoic look as a child in situations that made me uncomfortable. I think I had that expression due to taking in all of the information around me and being a tad overwhelmed by it. The reception to my look was relatively mixed. Some people saw it as a calm and others saw it as a disinterest. A lot of people saw it as the latter and I remember being in a quite a few situations where I was accused of being uncaring because I didn’t talk in certain situations or didn’t want to shake hands with a stranger. They didn’t understand that I had my own limits and ways that I communicated. Their assumption was: I’ll engage with you, how I want to and if you don’t respond in a manner that I (they) deem appropriate, then it’s taken as a slight.
The funny thing was when I did have a chance to express myself in the manner what was best for me, previous assumptions melted away. Assumptions that I was uncaring and indifferent no longer factored into the other person’s judgment, I watched them slowly change, but sometimes I would ask myself: Why did it take all of this, why not suspend those judgments from the start? I still find myself asking this question even now. I wonder about snap decisions. I wonder about pre-judgements and I wonder as to why different perspectives, expressions, and means of communication are looked at with contempt rather than greeted with patience and understanding.