Communication Breakdown: Where’s the Context?

There are times when my ASP says words to me yet leaves me clueless as to what he means. I could understand the words he said, I just couldn’t see how they were strung together or what they had to do with anything relevant. This problem is always worse during an argument, when he will respond to my perfectly logical responses with some off-the-wall tangent that seems meaningless to me. It often feels like he’s intentionally trying to de-rail the conversation, and without fail, he does this every time I logically prove my side of the argument. At best, it seems that learning I’m correct about something sends him into “Aspie Overload” and he ceases to function in any sort of normal way. At worst, he can’t stand being wrong and so refuses to validate me, trying to distract me instead. My reactions to this problem have ranged from fury to just having to laugh. Usually fury though.

Now I know from practicing the Aspie Way that this problem, like all of the others, is stress related. Now when I’m careful to keep things low-to-no stress, we don’t argue and therefore there’s nothing to send him into overload or any reason for him to try to derail me. Now that our environment in general is one of love, trust and compassion, he rarely approaches me out of the blue with random thoughts that are meaningless to me. I’ve come to believe that the Aspie brain works faster when under less pressure. This is the opposite of how I work. The more stress I’m under, the faster my brain seems to fly, trying to find solutions.

So why does a slower brain help ASP make more sense? I believe it’s because of how ASP retrieves information from his brain. I think it stems from the lack of theory of mind that all Aspies have. The Aspie brain, for whatever reason, can’t access the information needed to provide communication tools – mainly a context – that are customized to their audience. In order to find a context that will make sense, he has to “scan” his brain for all the information he has available to produce a context that will make sense to *me*. NT brains seem to do this instantly and automatically. But the Aspie needs a low stress, calm environment so he can take the time to scan the relevant information to provide what will allow his audience to know what he means.

Let me use an example. Imagine a little boy has a special toy duck. He says “duck” to his mother because he wants that toy. But Mom doesn’t know if he means he wants the special toy duck, the rubber bath duck, or if he wants to go to the park and feed the ducks. The NT little boy would quickly learn that Mom calls his special duck his “duck buddy,” and so he will say “duck buddy” when talking to his mom. But if he’s talking to his babysitter, he’d know she doesn’t know the nickname “duck buddy,” and so he would learn to ask for “my special toy duck.” Do you see how the theory of mind plays in here? The boy has to understand his audience and what they need to hear in order to understand him. He has to figure out what context is needed for his particular audience. Now consider the Aspie boy. He has no easy way to retrieve the theory of mind information that would tell him to give Mom the context clue “duck buddy.” He only knows he wants his duck and so he says “duck.” He gives no context because he doesn’t realize mom’s point of view or that mom can think of three different things he may mean by “duck.” Mom has to ask little Aspie, “Do you mean your duck buddy?” Then little Aspie can say “Yes.”

So bring this forward to the adult Aspie. He probably knows enough to know that context is needed. Yet finding the right context for each situation requires really processing and thinking it through. But if he’s under a lot of stress, especially if he’s in an argument, his brain is jumping all over the place, trying to keep up with all the information being thrown at him. He has no calm time to process and find that context. So out comes seemingly random thoughts, words without context. He knows what he means and how it’s connected, but his brain is so jumbled up by stress that he can’t sort it out enough to explain to his audience. Take away that stress and give him plenty of time to process, and then ASP can find the correct context to share. Suddenly he’s making sense and you’re having a productive, albeit slow, conversation. I’ve found I strongly prefer this to all the yelling and fury I used to produce from trying to make sense of thoughts without context. I know ASP likes it better this way too.


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