Friday, November 1, 2019

On misunderstandings again

Leeanne Marshall writes On misunderstandings again on oneautisticperson

Autistics Speaking Day 2019: On misunderstandings again

Well, it is the 1st November so Autistics Speaking Day has come around again meaning it is time to write my yearly blog post. In 2017 my post was about a lack of understanding on my part about several situations that had occurred throughout my life (Link is: for anyone who is interested). This year, I want to highlight a few situations where non-autistic people have had misunderstandings about the abilities or preferences of myself/other autistic people based on information they think is relevant ….. but is not.

I am a qualified teacher. I also do a significant amount of public speaking. When I was on teaching practicums, my supervisors from the university would often tell me that the staff at my school placements were worried about me. The staff at the schools observed that I was quiet in the staffroom at lunch and recess (and just quiet in general around the staff). To the staff, this was apparently a sign that I would struggle to speak loudly and clearly to students in the classroom.

I was and still am somewhat puzzled by this. In the staffroom I have no idea what staff will discuss, I find it difficult to come up with something to say in response to what they have said and I have difficulty knowing when is a good time to say my response. In contrast, when I speak in front of a group of people – whether it be to a class or other setting – I have prepared my talk in advance, I know what I will be saying and I know when I have to say it. For me, these two situations are very different and are not connected.

The idea that a person must be willing and able to engage in group conversations as a prerequisite for being able to present in front of a group is an assumption being made by some people in the teaching profession. Perhaps this assumption is correct for certain people but it is certainly not true for everyone.

Concerning preferences, some autistic students prefer receiving information in written or visual format rather than verbal format. This preference will often be recorded in student profiles – as it should be. The problem is that some teachers see this listed preference and make an assumption that the student also prefers giving information in a written or visual format. This assumption might be correct but I have worked with several autistic students that prefer receiving information in written format but prefer giving information verbally. A person’s preferences for receiving and giving information may be different or the same.

What is my point for this post?

Well the point is certainly not that autistic people always prefer communicating verbally and are fine with public speaking! That is certainly not true. Several autistic people do find public speaking difficult and prefer to communicate via written format in all circumstances. Communication/social interaction strengths and weaknesses are different for each autistic person after all.

My point is that teachers, parents and other people working with autistic individuals need to critically think about the judgments they are making about the abilities and preferences of a particular autistic person. Are these judgments correct or have these judgments been made based on information that may not actually be relevant (and therefore are actually based on assumptions)? If the latter, how can the judgment be tested to see if it is true or false? I suggest asking the autistic person (and their family if appropriate) but what other ways could be used? The answer to that will depend on what judgments have been made.

I hope this has given readers something to think about.

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