Finding a voice is something that people may struggle with, but when they find it, it can be a life-changing experience. It’s well-known that people on the Autism Spectrum have difficulty expressing themselves and making human contact; I was definitely no exception. I learned how to listen and speak to people with a combination of formal classes, hard lessons, parental coaching, and input from trusted friends and family. There were painful moments when I regretted something I said or didn’t say, but isn’t that what life lessons are all about? When you know better, hopefully you don’t make the same mistake next time. I had a hard time just finding self-esteem because I was bullied as a child, but I had music, books, and movies to give me an escape when I needed it. The problem was, they were all introverted pursuits, so how did I learn to be more open and assertive?
Well, to boost my self-esteem, I needed to get physically healthy first; subsequently, my mental health was able to grow as well. When I joined the Speech and Debate team in college, I was exposed to a whole new method of learning! I realized that this class could really help me as an Aspie by giving me different structures and formats from which to speak from. More than just a tool of competition, this was a real-world skill that I was so glad to have picked up! The formal lessons were crucial for me to learn the art and science of public speaking. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew how to deal with stage fright from singing in a choir and I learned how to perform solos from my heart. However, it’s completely different when dealing with the spoken word.
I was also blessed to take human psychology and communication courses. By learning about the mental and emotional differences in people, I understood how my words could be interpreted in many different ways. I learned that there is no “reality” per se, there is only perception. Learning to fine-tune my speaking skills to keep silent or say something appropriate in a situation was important because it’s common for Aspies who are verbal to lack filters or common sense when they speak. This may come across as rude, egocentric, or inappropriate for the time and place.
Basically, I needed to be aware of people’s conversations and moods. I also had to learn not to take anything negative as a personal attack. Someone may be having a bad day or I may have rubbed them the wrong way unintentionally. Hell, they may even be on the Spectrum and not even know it! Whatever happens, I know I have the skills to understand social cues, but I won’t get it right all the time. That’s something that’s taken me a long time to accept, and there are days when it’s still tough to handle.
The best and only way to stay sharp when it comes to social situations is to practice every day and be conscious of what you want to say. It’s hard enough for neuro-typical people to pay attention to their surroundings, let alone Aspies. The learning process is constant and ever-changing; I’ve had challenges trying to stay focused on it and I still have them today. There are days when I don’t even feel like engaging in conversation and trying to play nice is the last thing on my mind! I’d be lying if I said that I was “cured” in any way of my Asperger’s traits, but my heightened awareness has enabled me to thrive like never before.
Many years ago I couldn’t imagine being where I am now. I’ve found such joy in being able to speak my truth that I stand up not only for myself, but for other Aspies. I know that I’m making a difference for others, and I will continue to pass on what I’ve learned until my time on Earth is done. One of the happiest moments of my life has been learning to accept myself for where I am now, gaining the ability to learn and grow every day, and finding the courage to say what I need to say.
Today’s musical inspiration is by someone that I was so blessed to see in concert: John Mayer with “Say (What You Need to Say)”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSS0wtjrm1U