We’re honoring Autism Acceptance by publishing April Accommodations—meaning adjustments that other people can do for the autistic people in their lives. (For the flipside, as in things that make life harder for autistics, please see our Autism Checklist of Doom.)
Today we are talking with Lummine, who wants people to stop talking to them like they’re a child.
What is a small switch in behavior other people can make, to ease your life as an autistic person?
I would really appreciate it if people would listen to me carefully before they start treating me like a child. I don’t know what impression I give that makes them not take me seriously, but if they listened carefully they would discover that I am a capable and interesting person, with enough agency, preparation, and knowledge to contribute a lot to my relationship with them.
In linguistics studies, the intention to initiate, maintain, interrupt and end communication is known as the phatic function of language. As explained by the literary critic Roman Jakobson, we learn and develop this function during childhood as a way of relating and strengthening bonds with others. It mainly serves to establish a contact between sender and receiver and leaves the quality or substance of the transmitted information in the background. By prioritizing contact and the channel of communication, it is normal that its most common form is the so-called “small talk,” which is a headache for several autistic people since it is used by allistic (non-autistic) people mainly to avoid awkward silences, and to create a type of fragile familiarity with the people around them.
It is so easy to get carried away by the comfort of just talking for the sake of talking without giving importance to the spoken information, that allistic people sometimes forget how to really listen. Although the phatic function indeed allows the quick and comfortable formation of situationships, it is also true that many of what constitutes these acquaintances are prejudices channeled by the easy harmony between shared opinions and biases.
Listening to the things I’m actually saying (or the things autistic people communicate for that matter) before their neurotypical communication “skills” kick in would allow them to bypass their prejudices and biases, and see beyond that infantilized image they immediately generate about me and besides me.
How will this accommodation make your life easier?
My life would be so much easier with this accommodation because it would make people notice me as a potential romantic partner or a friend, a solid candidate for a job, or a whole adult with a series of interests and skills.
What is one thing that brings you joy?
I enjoy being around my friends but just one of them at a time and on different dates and settings doing activities that suit better with their personalities like drinking coffee and talking about books with one, playing card games with another and sharing our special interests with my best friend who’s also autistic.