Part 45: All Mouth

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you’re all well. This week’s blog is going to a shorter than normal (stop cheering, you at the back). The reason for this brevity is I’m struggling to type, due to the horrendous pain in my right shoulder, which has partially immobilised my arm. At my day job, I’ve been working my computer with one hand all day, one-finger typing! This has highlighted my strange-handedness. Traditionally, I’ve always described myself as left-handed, because I longhand write with my left hand. But it’s not that simple. I’m not one-handed, but I’m not ambidextrous either. I’m split-handed. There are some things I can only do comfortably with my left hand (stop sniggering), and some things I can only do comfortably with my right. I can only effectively use a keypad and mouse with my right hand. I have my cutlery the right-handed way. When I tried to learn guitar, I could only hold the instrument the right-handed way. When I played football, I could only really shoot with my left foot, but I could pass, take corners and so on with my right, no problem. Bizarre. What the current problem with my right arm has done is give me the worst of all worlds at a computer, because I’m having to use the mouse and keypad with my left hand. My physiotherapist has referred me for some painkilling injections, but I’m not clear on how long I’ve got to wait for that. I’ll let you know how I get on. I did contemplate using voice notes to dictate the blog, but I can’t really write like that; I feel somewhat ridiculous dictating to a machine, and I need to see my fingertips making words spring into existence. Still, talking about talking, as it were, gives me a great segue into the subject matter of today’s blog, in which I will be talking about, erm, talking.

A few days ago, I was a witness to a conversation between two non-autistic people. This particular conversation stuck in my mind because of how loud it was, but the same points I’m going to make about it could be made about many dozens of neurotypical conversations I hear through an average week. The two people talking were acquaintances who clearly hadn’t seen each other for a while, and had bumped into each other in an unexpected location. I watched, bemused, as these two people talked over each other, asking questions and not listening to the answers, but rattling on in what can only be accurately described as a cacophonous babble. They parted after a few minutes, both beaming delightedly, and they seemed to be very satisfied with how the conversation had gone. But objectively, I can guarantee you that if I had quizzed either one of them, they would not have been able to recall half of what the other had said. They just babbled all over each other, talking without listening. I have to assume that the satisfaction they both evidently experienced was based more on the fact they’d had an (alleged) conversation, rather than anything gleaned from the content of the conversation. This is, for me, an example of conversational hell. But it set me thinking about something…

Most of the interactions I have with autistic people occur online, in text and memes. Regular followers of this blog will know I get a lot of satisfaction from these exchanges. I only know two autistic people in real life that I speak to with any regularity, and the conversations I have with both of these people all have one peculiar thing in common: We pretty much never interrupt each other. Not only do we show respect by letting each other speak, we listen to each other, too. This leads to some rewarding conversations. But here’s the thing: A common stereotype of autistic people is that we don’t understand turn-taking in conversation! Is my experience at odds with the rest of the autistic community, I wondered. When thoughts like this come to me, there’s only one place to go. Reddit! And what better mode of communication than a meme?

Quite often when I post a meme like this, I expect a negative reaction. However…

Okay, a quick break in the flow of the blog. My shoulder is in agony, just from having to maintain a posture to one-finger type with my left hand! I’m going to be winding this up pretty quickly. I was going to talk through the general mood of the Reddit comments on my meme, because they make some great points. Instead, I’m going to give you a link to the thread.

I guess one observation I want to make is this: The notion that autistic people don’t understand turn-taking in conversation appears to have originated from non-autistic people. Yet, it can be readily observed in any neurotypical conversation how often these people interrupt and talk over each other. And although I only have anecdotal evidence of a vanishingly small sample, I’m going to stick my neck out and say many autistic people have very civilised, turn-based conversations with each other. The issue could well be an all-too-familiar disconnect between autistic people and neurotypicals in conversation. Many autistic people, including me, say they dislike small talk. I wonder how much of this dislike springs from bad conversational experiences with neurotypicals. As always, if we fail to navigate the vague, ever-shifting pseudo-rules of neurotypical interaction, we will, as the minority, be seen to be the ones in the wrong.

Feel free to get in touch with me to agree or disagree. If you can get a word in.

Until next time, hopefully in less pain, take care.

Darren.

Why Do I Write This Blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.

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