Pinpointing our feelings is difficult enough for many autistics. It can be twice as hard to share those feelings with others. Strong emotions can catalyze shutdowns or meltdowns. Fear can lead us to silence ourselves. Or we might struggle to find the right words for our emotions. And many spectrumites may have a slew of negative experiences during which we voiced our feelings “incorrectly” and were misunderstood.
Personally, when I try to speak my truth to another person, I’ve often received poor feedback. “You’re so cold,” they’ve said. “Since you’ve told me XYZ, it’s now my turn to air out all my issues with you.” These reactions can be scary and cause us to bottle everything up. Yet, if we’ve taken the time to unearth our emotions, it is healthy to share them. This way, we can set boundaries and advocate for our needs. Here are a few pointers to communicate how we feel:
1) Set an objective before speaking. Autistic people can be very goal-oriented. If we locate our intention behind sharing our feelings, this may increase our motivation to communicate fully. Also, we can fall back to the goal when words fail us. Possible goals include: Repairing a relationship, educating about ableism, setting a new boundary, or learning why someone has chosen to hurt us.
2) Make an outline. While writing out and reciting a full speech may be too much for the listener, it is totally okay to make an outline of your feelings and goals to refer to during the conversation. This can guide us and ground us.
3) Ask for no interruptions. Sometimes it can take a while to get to the full point. We may run off on tangents or get lost in details. For this reason, it is important to ask for the listener’s uninterrupted attention. However, be mindful of the length of time spent speaking. 5 to 8 minutes might be a good maximum for speaking at one time, if only to ensure that we don’t lose the listener in a lengthy soliloquy.
4) Stick to one subject at a time. While it can be tempting to air out an onslaught of issues at one time, this tactic rarely leads to resolution. Prioritize what you want, and shelve the rest for another day.