Watching a show about a family dealing with a five year old who has just be diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.
They have a tough session with a speech and language pathologist who calls out the family’s communication issues; the interruptions, the diverting with humour, the self-focus, the blaming and on and on.
Her point is that the autistic kid has trouble with communication in the first place and all this battle of words going on makes communication even harder for him to enter. He knows he is in a minefield so he retreats into his headphones.
It is a communication style that squeezes out meaning and nuance, she tells them. The family has to get better at communicating if they want to help him learn to communicate effectively past his different thinking.
I’m watching this and crying. Why couldn’t anybody ever have helped the world learn to listen to me? Why do I struggle so hard to be heard, but still feel so un-mirrored?
The most important thing I ever did is learn how to listen. Listening is the basis of all my communication skills, because by listening I learned techniques to express myself clearly and precisely.
People learn to heal in their own time and their own way, even you. Anyone who has read much of my work has heard that truth before. But at the moment I am thinking a deeper truth may be that people learn to hear in their own time and their own way, even you.
Until we are ready and able to hear the truths around us, we are unable to integrate them. Until we can hear we can not heal.
We have to hear ourselves to start to understand where we are blocking communication, where we hold barriers that project pain, defence and wishful assertions over the powerful truths which exist all around us.
When we really listen to other voices, really work to understanding the meaning and nuance, our own twists and truths come to the top. We find styles and syntax which help us express our truth, find where our own noise is hampering the connection we crave.
In my father’s last year we worked a great deal with a speech and language pathologist who was treating him for dysphagia, a swallowing disorder that it turned out to be a misdiagnosis. (His reactive cardiomyopathy was missed, not that much could have been done about it.)
Seeing this TV show, I realize why she worked so effectively with us. She watched us communicate and understood that I was really listening and translating very closely and effectively.
Actually listening closely is a rare, powerful and almost scary trait in this world. I learned to do it because I really, really needed someone to listen to me and I found out very early it wasn’t going to be my family or my teachers.
How I would have loved someone to come in and help them communicate more effectively, learning to listen, to be open and engaged with what others were working to share, to approach sharing with compassion, empathy and grace.
I didn’t get that, of course. And the older I got, the more I was unable to get people to listen and understand me.
As a good communicator, my job was seen as listening to others and then finding strategies to communicate through their limits. I had to create messages that would get though to them and manipulate them properly, getting them to do what we wanted them to do.
So much of what I did end up doing, though, was mirroring other people, playing their own communication back to them so they could start to hear their own twists for themselves. This, though, was often not appreciated.
The death and rebirth cycle of the heroes journey is the destruction of the way we saw the world before, the smashing of our old identity props, and the construction of new ways to understand the world which give us more context, more understanding and more power.
That the essential message of myth is that myth matters should hardly be surprising. Our old worldview is shattered and we become new, full of new stories about a new normal that allows us to approach what is in a new way. Transforming our stories is transforming our choices is transforming our lives, and the seed of all that transformation is opening to listening in a new way, understanding in a new context.
I know that I am who I am because of my struggles with communication. My lifemyth, that I am too hip for the room, is about the failure of communication, and that failure started early for me.
In a documentary shown on PBS Independent Lens, “Autism In Love” I laughed sweetly when I saw a couple, both with autism embrace after a marriage proposal. They were so incredibly awkward and so incredibly sweet at the same time, having worked so hard for the past eight years to learn to communicate with each other, knowing that communicating is caring.
In their coming together, I saw my parents, never graceful, but always caring. I watched my parents walk hand in hand to the elevator before my mother’s knee replacement and in their gawky stroll, I knew there was love.
That kind of unspoken communication was probably what kept me connected with them, but their massive failure at other kinds of communication left me pounded down and abused, trapped in my own inner life. There wasn’t anyone who could understand the price a child of Aspergers parents paid for their parents own limits and unprocessed frustration with the world.
No matter how I have tried to move beyond my formation, my family, I have found desperately few resources, desperately little understanding and desperately sparse lack of resources to help me build the trust and confidence we are supposed to learn as babies.
When I see the language lady call out a family, a neurotypical family who have the power to do better, so that they can enter the world of a child who needs help, I tear up. She wants to help the kid be a kid, to do the work he needs to do, gain the healing and growth he can only own by learning to listen.
The only way he can learn to listen, she knows, is to be listened to. He needs the modelling and the mirroring that can strengthen his skills, can give him the foundation for life.
It has been so long that I have struggled to be heard. Sure, that struggle has taught me how to listen, how to grow and how to heal, but it hasn’t given me the comfort and foundation I still need.
People learn to hear in their own way and their own time. That learning to hear is the basis of learning to heal, not just heal our own life, but also our own relationships, which is the start of helping to heal the world.
And when I see some trying to help a scapegoated kid be heard by their family, well, I still cry.