I'm a speech-language pathologist whose primary focus & passion is helping adults and young adults with autism prepare for the social demands of the workplace through both individual and group therapy sessions. This is a blog of my experiences working with adults with autism and using different therapy resources.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Facing My Own Discomfort in Communicating

My upbringing as a "Girl Raised in the South" (G.R.I.T.S. as we jokingly prefer to be called) has made me adept at revealing my opinions through a lengthy series of words, each word softening any abrasiveness in my message.

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"My neighbor, I love her to death, has got to mow her grass!"

Take a moment to think of the above example through the lens of a literal thinker.

Love someone to death...can that really happen...if so, what the heck does it have to do with mowing a yard???

Let's not "beat around the bush" (huh?), entering the profession of speech pathology and working with adult individuals with autism made me quickly realize that my style of communication was in need of some major adjustments.

When I first began working with this population, my lessons and directions were frequently lost in a fluff of words. I would spout out directions, saying "whenever you're ready, please get started." This is where my confusion would set in - why weren't my clients beginning the activity? I learned that in the world of literal thinkers, "whenever you're ready" really does imply "whenever you're ready." To my dismay, quite often my clients were not ready!

Experiences like the one above made it easy for me to understand the importance of being direct in my communication. Actually doing so was an entirely different beast (huh?).

I began trying to make adjustments in my communication style, but doing so did not come easily.

Though "my heart was in the right place" (of course, it was! otherwise, you would have some major health issues...), I found it hard to make the switch. It was more than just breaking lifelong habits - I realized the discomfort that comes from saying exactly what is on my mind.

With much effort, I have become more direct in my communication. As I have grown in experience as a speech therapist, I have realized that direct communication is not only beneficial in clinical intervention, but also it is a key component in advocating for my clients.

In essence, in order to help give my clients with autism a voice in staff meetings, I have to adopt their direct style of communication.

I teach my clients with autism about "perspective-taking", the art of filtering thoughts before outrightly saying them and choosing words carefully in order to accurately reflect the impression one wants to make. Interestingly, my clients teach me how to worry less about filtering my thoughts and about how my own words will be perceived by others.