The professor and the other students in the class stared at me, appalled. In true Aspie style, I had directly expressed my complete and total disagreement with the lecturer’s statement.
Fortunately, that professor was open-minded and willing to listen to counter-statements, but in many classes that outburst would have netted me a failing mark for the semester. People in general, and especially those in positions of authority like professors and managers, supervisors and bosses often do not like to hear dissenting opinions.
As Aspies, while we need not ever remain silent when we have an opinion which we wish to express, it is important that we express it in a manner which is most likely to be effective.
Consider this: If your response is considered confrontational, it is likely that the listener will simply shut down and shut you out. Would it not be more advantageous to encourage the listener to engage in dialogue with you?
So what is the most effective way of NOT agreeing with someone’s statement, and at the same time putting forward your own questions about their position?
A friend of mine, when he was in university learned to say, “It seems to me…” This allowed him to advance his own opinion without either directly agreeing or disagreeing. The beauty of this opening is that it allows for the advancing of a personal point of view along with evidence that backs up that point of view, in a non-threatening fashion.
“It became a sort of a trademark of mine,” he said. “And it helped me navigate my way through some pretty touchy conversations.”
I have also heard of a very successful person who, when questioning practices in the workplace, would use lead-ins such as “I wonder…” and “I’ve noticed…”
This is a far less abrasive approach than exclaiming “No!”, or saying something like “Why do you do it that way?” or “Shouldn’t you …?” Both of which are considered excessively confrontational by non-Aspies. (Go figure!)
When you convey your position in a non-threatening fashion it allows the listener to ask to have it clarified, to assimilate it, consider it, and perhaps ultimately, even to change their position.
My daughter phoned. Her oldest son had been diagnosed ADD, ADHD, had been on Ritalin, and barely eight years old, had been the subject of repeated bullying and school yard ostracism. “It’s Asperger’s Syndrome, Mom, and you and I have all the symptoms!”
That was seventeen years ago, but I vividly recall the conversation.
As we discussed the list of traits of people with Asperger’s, relief flooded through me. At last I knew what it was that was “wrong” with me!
Anger came later, as I processed the information and with it, an understanding of my nature and how the very people who were close to me had taken advantage over the years.
And then grief. Oh yes, I grieved the loss of the possibility of ever being ‘normal’. I grieved for the child I had been, for the loneliness and isolation of all those years of trying to join our societal mainstream and just not getting it.
And I felt rage, too. A deep anger at being shoved aside, at being made an onlooker, a non-participant, when I so poignantly wanted to belong.
And pride. Pride in my ability to accept, even as a teenager, that the best I could be was ME, with all my faults and failings, my oddities, my strengths and weaknesses. Yes, Asperger’s made me an easier target for my abuser, but the different way of thinking helped me to end that abuse as well.
And so I felt joy. The joy and satisfaction of finally belonging somewhere. Of finally finding that there were others, many others, like me. Of understanding the close bond between my daughter and I. Of finally feeling that I was, in my own newly recognized niche, a part of a larger entity. I was not alone in my weirdness. in my unusual way of perceiving situations, patterns and people.
As an Aspie, I was fine, just as I was.
I still struggle some days. As one of my friends says, “Margaret will always default to the Aspie truth.” It’s his way of recognizing our straight forward approach to life.
He also says, “I know your intentions are always good. That’s a no-brainer.” So no matter how wrong something turns out, he understands that it was not my intention to create havoc. This is the most reassuring response to my Asperger’s that I have ever had, and I bask in the glow of it.
Acceptance. That’s what we all need. To not only be accepted, but to be celebrated for who we are.
As I note in my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, it is easy to forget the most important thing: You are perfect, just as you are.