Respectful social communication 101: In this day and age of technological advancement, there are multiple ways to communicate. If a person (with or without disability) tells you their preferred mode of social communication, please respect it, that is, if you wish to communicate with the person. Insisting on your own way and disregarding that person’s repeated requests is nothing but utter contempt and disrespect. Simple.
Communication is a complex effort. However, respect can be a really simple thing.
Sadly, there are people who just cannot connect in a straight-forward way, with mutual regard, across respectful space. I’ve come across many such folk along my more than half a century of traversing the hazardous human social-scape.
These people create theatrical elucidations to obfuscate their disregard for the paradigms of others. Some do so more cleverly than others. Many Autistic persons, even though coming across as socially savvy, nevertheless still struggle with neurotypical social constructs, transmissions and exudations, often oblivious of frilly entrapments until much later on. We accept at ‘face value’ what people wish to project, and more often than not, as a result of too many years of negative ‘brainwashing’ (telling the Autistic person that innate Autistic instincts that shrink from certain types of people are wrong, prejudicial, and must therefore be over-ridden), the Autistic becomes ensnared in a social connection with persons whose agendas are not exactly ‘tickety-boo.’
So, the Autie accepts the social connection, despite the uncomfortable grating and chaffing upon inner sanctum. However, as time trudges on, the offensive characters begin to exhibit little clues, which amplify when caught in awkward corners. Clumsy manic pirouettes, coarse flimsy excuses, and endless gaseous exudations gradually huff, puff, whine, wheeze, and groan, melding and blending into a pathetic landscape of tiresome twaddle, sometimes hysterics, even gas lighting and the inevitable blame game.
“I didn’t want to stress you…”
“I didn’t have the opportunity to bring this across to you…”
“You misunderstood me…”
“You see, you got me wrong – that’s why I need to (communicate with you in the manner that you do not like), because I express myself better that way…”
A recent personal encounter illustrates the above to a tee. In fact, the gaseous protestations are direct word-for-word quotes from this Person, when finally called out on their insistent and persistent disregard.
As if often the case, the smallest little straw will deal the final blow to that already overladen camel’s back. I met this Person at a disabilities forum. We both have a disability, we both have service dogs, and we both love the arts. We exchanged contact numbers and viola! a connection was formed. At the beginning, I endured the too many phone calls, and even engaged in animated conversations in an attempt to show reciprocation. I was being my polite well-trained social self, which perhaps sent the ‘wrong’ signals to this Person, i.e. perhaps I gave the Person an erroneous impression that I really enjoyed all this incessant attention? Throughout this grand circus, I tried to tell the Person – over and over and over again, but politely and gracefully – that I really and truly find it excruciating to chat on the phone, and would prefer email, or text. However, my words had not an iota of impact on the Person. The calls continued with vim and vigour. Accompanied by many visits to my home, to my abject horror. In my social upbringing, home visits are rather sacred, usually limited to close friends and family, and never intrusively often. Friends from our ‘outer’ circle only visited during festive occasion, and mostly at our invitation. This Person’s frequent requests to visit me became an awkward juxtaposition, and an embarrassment when I had to make excuses for why the Person could not invade my home as and when they liked. As time wore on, I began to develop a phobia. Each time my phone rang, I would startle and break out in cold sweat, and when I saw the Person’s number on my screen, it would trigger a jumble of emotions that stabbed and jabbed at my consciousness: panic, irritation, despair, and even white-hot fear. These happened sometimes more than once a day, sometimes daily, and other ‘better’ times every two days or more. Not a week would go by without some sonic social intrusion. Bear this in mind – I reiterate – throughout the grand escapade, I took great pains to politely inform this Person of my Autistic dread of telephone calls. I was taught from childhood to describe anything to anyone in a civil, genteel and courteous manner. Is this, too, a social faux pas then? Is there one standard mannerism for some kinds of people, and a different approach required for other kinds of people, and when and how do I tell the difference? A most discombobulating thing indeed. Experience tells me that there should be a different strategy for different people, but both my social upbringing and my native instinct place me in a vulnerable position here. I have been programmed to conform to a certain social standard, and in any case I am not consciously nescient of the ‘who-what-when-how’ stuff. Until pushed into a corner. Then… hear me roar. Yet, again, the Autist loses out in the grand social circus, because social graces (or lack of) are dictated by a strangely fluid neurological-normative system that work against native Autistic social constructs.
For one: the Autistic way is to say it as it is. Straight to the point. Literally mostly. However, this is frowned upon by normativity as ‘rude’, and/or just completely not understood at all. The normative world finds it hard to understand literal communication? Why? A mystery to me. The puzzle piece should belong to the NTs, not Autistics.
So… back to my story… The circus prevailed… for a time, anyway.
I bought things for the Person. I sewed the Person’s dog a soft bed, because I saw the dog had no proper comfy bed. I brought dog food. I felt sad for the poor dog, being chained and confined to one small area even when in the Person’s home, due to prejudice from Person’s family members. I hosted the Person in my home (way too many times). I dodged the Person’s phone calls and only returned them after summoning up a lot of derring-do, because I felt compelled to do so (I mean, if a person calls you continuously more than half a dozen times, what do you do, for goodness’ sake?) Sometimes, I return via text, which prompts even more phone calls from said Person. Anxiety fraught!!!!
Cracks begin to form. Person asks me to buy something online for them. I do so, and even deliver personally the goods. But no payment issues forth at point of delivery. Instead, a roundabout rollercoaster begins – why is Person unable to simply make a bank transfer? Too difficult, due to particular disability, Person declares. Person insists on yet another visit to my home. Is it easier for Person to make a half hour journey by taxi to my home, and again spend time and money on half hour taxi journey back to own home? These visits usually last more than 3 / 4 hours, because person does not know when to excuse themselves and go home after a considerate duration. Each visit ends in my utter exhaustion, and having to tell the Person in some way or other, as tactfully as I am able to do, that it is time Person goes home. One a few occasions, I even had to pay the taxi fare, just so Person will leave. Each time, I spend not a little money ordering in noshments too, though I mind not the money as much as I mind the social and sensory intrusion – I honestly have better and far more interesting things to engage in than brain-numbing, painful tête-à-tête sessions anyway. In the end, the curtain closes on this supposedly simple $50 transaction with me going to person’s place of abode (no, I did not visit Person’s home, we met at the bottom of apartment block) to collect the piddly amount of $50. And yes, I had to spend $40 on transportation just to do this. Why bother? A matter of principle, and principle is high on my list of what’s important in life. I made a statement to the cosmos, even if nobody was really saying any attention.
That incident set me thinking, but it was not the final straw to our non-friendship.
Then came the manic emergency phone calls. Was it because I told said person that I will only resort to voice calls in cases of urgent emergencies? I don’t know. In the middle of Saturday dinner with family at Thai restaurant, ring ring ring ring ring ring… Dog vomiting, tears and panic. I don’t like listening to whining, but I do go all out to help in an emergency. Pulling out all the plugs, I alerted my sister, who generously activated her contacts and got the person VIP priority with one of the country’s top veterinarians. Many phone calls to and fro (with vet and vet assistants), clear instructions were given to person on how to monitor dog and to ring me to report on updates. Top vet on standby and will personally attend on Sunday morning. All good, yes? Er, nope. No news for hours. I am concerned. I ring person. Twice. Person does not answer. I persist, now it is my turn to ring (sounds really hilarious, but no, I was not laughing). Finally, person answers. Person has taken dog to some neighbourhood vet. OK, that is fine, but why the grand drama in the first place? Why make me pull out all my connections if my help is not really wanted? Was it just for the attention then? I am angry and confused. Socially, this is NOT how I am brought up to behave. If I ask desperately for someone’s help, and the someone goes to great length to help me, it is despicable of me to just slink away and do my own thing, not even bothering to inform the someone who has galvanised a literal army on standby for my needs. Sigh. Deep breath. Patience. Why should I even have to have patience, I wonder?
Almost at the end of my tether with this person, I inform the person of my displeasure. Person finally agrees to do the right thing and pay a visit to the vet that got pulled out of Sunday rest to standby, albeit delayed. Simple case of gastro-enteritis. Just $200 – a huge favour and discount. Dog all good again very soon.
Then Person wants to go on holiday and asks me to babysit dog. I agree. But later, I find out that said dog has a persistent and serious skin problem. Person does not want to seek proper veterinarian advice, but instead goes round the bushes visiting naturopaths, who Person say have diagnosed the problem as yeast infection. Person even has the gall to accuse the top vet of negligence – “did not manage to pick up on the yeast infection” were person’s exact words. Flabbergasted, I pointed out that a) dog was treated as emergency case and diagnosed with gastro, and b) person did not highlight the skin issue to the vet, and c) person only paid a paltry $200 – what more does person expect from a top vet, whose regular fees are in the thousands, including meticulous tests etc?
Now, who in the world so cleverly diagnosed dog with yeast infection? Naturopath! I insist that Person take dog to qualified vet for treatment, and I want to see a note from vet that says dog’s condition is not contagious. Reasonable request or no? I have three dogs at home and an elderly mother who suffers from skin allergies. My first priority is towards their wellbeing. I am not a charity organisation. And even if I were, there must be proper rules and regulations to respect. Person goes round and round the bushes yet again. Top vet not available. OK, so why not make appointment with any other in the practice? No reply. What about any other qualified vet? No reply.
In the meantime, I’ve had enough of the incessant anxiety inducing voice calls. I finally inform the Person that I DO NOT LIKE VOICE CALLS SO PLEASE DO NOT KEEP RINGING ME, PLEASE JUST TEXT ME INSTEAD! I even took great pains to explain (truth) that all my close friends know this and they respect this, even my boss at work does too. In so doing, I am actually implying that I am willing to consider this Person as a close friend. But… Blank Wall. Person insists they communicate better via voice calls. Um. What about me? I pose the blunt question to Person: What if I were deaf and just simply unable to do voice calls? No answer to this. Person sidesteps.
Finally, after person persistently refuses to give a clear answer about the dog’s medical condition (oh, maybe not yeast, maybe just an allergic reaction – erm, but allergic reaction lasting for months? – oh maybe this or that), and still no note from any qualified vet at all, despite repeated requests, I give up. The final straw is this blatant disregard and utter contempt for my modality and for the wellbeing of my family members.
I draw the line hard and fast: I tell person that since person is unwilling to do both despite my repeated pleas, person is now persona non grata. In other words, GO AWAY.
Harsh? Maybe. But enough is enough.
Then person continues to bleat innocence, pushing blame onto me with gauche ‘subtlety’ on social media:
“I didn’t want to stress you…”
“I didn’t have the opportunity to bring this across to you…”
My reply? You have had many, many opportunities. I have asked repeatedly to no avail.
One other thing that bothered me a lot, and still does, like a piece of jarring music without a proper candential resolution: I cannot understand the mentality of people who would still want to go on holiday when their dog is unwell. I would never leave Lucy to go on a holiday if I knew she was not in tip top health. Not even a skin condition. Lucy’s wellbeing is paramount to me. And, especially since the dog is also a service dog, not just a pet. (But, even if a pet, no way would I do this. I would cancel even an expensive holiday, let alone a weekend cheap one to a neighbouring country.)
At last, Person has stopped bothering me.
But why does it have to come to this? My story is but one in a sea of tragi-comedic social narratives, especially from the Autistic world. Blame is almost always shifted to the so-called ‘socially impaired’ Autistic person. There is no logic in it, but it seems as if most neurotypical social folk do not operate social interactions along the lines of reason and logic anyway. So, who are the ones with the deficit?
Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive. – Walter Scott, Marmion.
若要人不知，除非己莫為. – old Chinese proverb.
If you don’t want people to know about your shit, then don’t leave it everywhere. – Bunnyhopscotch.
Shit does have this propensity to raise a stink, doesn’t it? No wonder Autistic people fear interacting with the neuronormative world. However, I must declare that the above kinds of horrors do make me very appreciative of the wonderful non-autistic people in my life who take care to consider and respect my (strange to them) Autistic preferences for communication, we agree to meet on common ground and all is good. I salute them and thank them from the bottom of my wheelbarrow!