Autistic Communication Strategy For Improving Connection

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If you are autistic, you may struggle with the “back and forth” of conversations.  Maybe people have told you that you are rude because you don’t reply to texts or you walk away in the middle of a conversation – but you don’t know when that’s okay and when it’s not.

You may really struggle to remember to reach out and connect with others, especially if you don’t see someone very often. In a long-distance relationship or if you travel and don’t see your partner while you’re traveling, it may not occur to you to text or call, or even reply to a text.  You may not realize that your partner expects a response or you just don’t see the point in responding. This may upset them and you don’t understand why.

Jodi Carlton, MEd: The Tennis Volley Technique – Autistic Communication Tip

COMMUNICATION CAN BE LIKE A TENNIS VOLLEY

In any kind of relationship, there is communication that back and forth between partners. In tennis, you hit the ball back and forth to each other. When someone hits the ball to you, the expectation is that it’s going to be hit back – just like when a text is sent to you or when someone speaks to you.

If you watch the ball go by but don’t hit it back, you may think, “Well, I saw the ball, I know it went by.” In a conversation, you may think, “I saw the text, I got the voice mail. I got the message. I read it. I know what it said.” The problem with this is that YOU know you got the message, but your partner doesn’t know what you know. Your partner can’t read your mind.

Send and return.

Back and forth.

Your partner may be interested in discovering what you think or feel about whatever it is they have communicated. Again…YOU know what you think, but your partner doesn’t know what is in your mind. Sometimes you may NOT know what you think, but even that is helpful for your partner to hear from you.

Being in a relationship with someone involves a willingness to make an effort to respond to communication. If you aren’t sure if a response is expected, you can always ask your partner “Do you want me to reply to this?” Sometimes neurotypical partners don’t realize that you aren’t aware of when a response is expected. Ask them to be clear and direct if they are seeking a reply.

Some conversations are meant to convey information versus discovering your thoughts or feelings. “I’ll be home at 8 pm.” A partner will generally expect an acknowledgment that you have received this information (remember your partner doesn’t know you’ve heard them or read their text). So a simple reply, “Got it,” or even a thumbs up is sufficient.

Other examples are:

  • Hope you have a good day!
    • Hit the “ball” back with: “Thanks!” or “You, too!”
  • I love you.
    • I love you, too
    • Thank you for loving me.
    • I appreciate that a lot.
    • Ditto. (I had an autistic partner once who didn’t feel as comfortable using words, so he invented a gesture to make with his fingers, kind of like a little private sign language that implied “ditto,” or “me too.”)

Generally, the conversation is over when information has been shared AND acknowledged. Spoken and responded. The ball is hit to you and you have hit it back.

About ME

Although my professional training and experience have provided tremendous insight, my own neurodiverse relationships have been my personal training ground for understanding and embracing neurodiversity. In over two decades, I  have helped thousands of individuals, couples, families, students, and colleagues in over 13 countries as a THERAPIST, PROFESSOR, COACH, and GLOBAL EDUCATOR

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