It’s a significant part of AS and NLD is that people miss the critical nonverbal cues that make up as much as 70% – 90% of social communication, so they can fail to know when to join, how to follow the “give and take” of a group conversation, and how to read the response to their own behavior. One way to get guidance is to self advocate – to explain the challenge and ask for feedback. This has its pro’s and con’s, and there are pointers that are good to know.
First, the pro’s. If you have AS or NLD, you don’t “get it” when you’re missing something, so being told to be more self-aware and “catch yourself” isn’t helpful unless someone verbalizes what it is you’re supposed to catch. Having someone let you know social norms you might be missing can be very helpful. If you are worried that something is not right but aren’t sure, you can ask for feedback. Each social group has its flow and rules, and deciphering them often needs actual verbal explanation. The good news is that within a group there is consistency, so as you learn the unspoken rules, you can be more self aware of observing them.
Now the con’s: You have to be both very solid in your sense of self worth and non-defensive to take feedback, because it’s usually criticism. If someone says you go on too long, or you aren’t giving other people a chance to talk, that can feel embarrassing and even shameful. It’s not hard to to fall into negative thinking like, “People think I’m annoying” and “People don’t like me. ” It’s important to both believe and tell yourself that you’re an OK person, you know you have a challenge picking this up, and that it’s a good thing that people want to share this instead of excluding you. This is challenging if you, like most of people, have a negative emotional response to being criticized.
The tendency of most people who feel embarrassed is to become defensive, and usually argue because of anger or withdraw because of hurt. Both of these defeat the purpose of getting feedback, which is to be able to participate more successfully.
You need to trust the person giving you feedback, that this person doesn’t have some ax to grind or problems being taken out on you. The best way to figure this out is to look at your history with this person. Has your past experience been positive and mutually beneficial? Is criticism balanced with a recognition of what positives you bring? This makes it more likely that the feedback is accurate. That still doesn’t mean it’s easy, but at least you can tell yourself that this is someone who wants you to do well.
If you get feedback in a situation and the feedback feels unfair or overly critical, talk it over with someone outside the situation you know and trust. There are times when people do have other agendas and it’s their problem, not yours. You need to get a reality check from someone reliable.
You need to determine that a situation is worth the effort, and that you are willing to stay part of a group even having faced criticism. This is a choice that is critical to think through, so you know why you’re doing this. If this is a friendly group, and something specific needs to be worked out, or if this is a work team and it’s important to stay together, it’s worth a try. If this is your family, and some people are critical, you may be stuck. You can have strategies for dealing with critical folks and focusing on the positive relationships. If this group is optional, overly critical and this criticism is ongoing despite a legitimate effort on your part to listen and be receptive, you might do better to look elsewhere. There is a tendency on the parts of many with AS and NLD to assume the worst based on a single incident; be sure that there’s a real ongoing problem and not just a blip on the radar of feeling OK.
Here are some rules that apply across most situations that are important to learn and remember. Remembering in the moment is the hard part.
1. Don’t interrupt. People want to be allowed to say what they have to say, and if you disagree, already heard it or want to jump in with a response, it’s vital to still let them finish.
2. People generally don’t want anyone to go on and on, and there’s a tendency for people with AS and NLD to think in details and go on for longer than listeners can take. Basically, it’s important to train yourself to make one point at a time in a few sentences. Unless you’re with family and old friends and you know they want every detail, err on the side of brevity. This means you have to try to identify the main points you want to make instead of the story you want to tell.
3. After you’ve made your focused point, check with your listeners to see if they have questions. You can ask if you should continue if you aren’t sure.
4. It helps immeasurably if there’s someone you know and trust who’s part of the group. This person can sit next to you and send a signal if you’re falling into a social trap. You need to be OK with being told this, and trust that this person isn’t just muzzling you.
5. If you aren’t sure that something just was perceived as a problem, if it hurt feelings, was insensitive or was some other social gaffe, it’s OK to ask, “I’m sorry, was that OK?” This acknowledges that regardless of how well intended you were, the other person has a different point of view and might not like what you said.
6. You don’t want to argue that they shouldn’t have taken it badly. What matters is how the person took it and not what you intended. Since you probably intended well, you can honestly say that you’re sorry it came across negatively and it’s not how you meant it.
All of this takes a significant amount of emotional homework to be able to tolerate feeling different or wrong, and to be able the to see missing something as a challenge that doesn’t define you to yourself or to the other person. There is a lot more good to a person than “getting it” all the time. You can be smart, helpful, a useful member of a team and still have challenges.
This is why meditating, knowing your triggers and using self talk are critical skills to have. Any kind of meditation gives you additional stress resilience and the ability to self calm in the moment. Self talk is like being your own support team – reminding yourself that you’ll take in what helps and that you are worthwhile.
Photo by Jamiesrabbits