When I was at secondary school, one of the many things I struggled with was people not knowing how to correct me. And given how many times I needed correcting, this was a common issue. Some people got frustrated with me seemingly every time I misunderstood something, or did things differently. Others wouldn’t dream of telling me what to do, and would just smile and nod and tell me well done for breathing. Well, not literally. But for something small like that.
Most teachers leaned towards the latter. As nitpicky as this may sound, I found it embarrassing when they would thoroughly critique other childrens’ work, then tell me – in front of said children – that the rules didn’t apply to me. It was as if having Asperger’s meant there was no point in trying to teach me the same stuff as everyone else.
But some people – mainly kids – were a different story. If I was struggling to make small talk, they would give me weird looks. If I didn’t understand instructions in class, they would get impatient. There were several times when I was trying hard to make friends, and people would tell me I was weird or boring. Thankfully, there were a few who were patient with me, so it could have been worse. But there were many times when I was left not knowing where I was going wrong.
A complaint I’ve heard before about dating an autistic person is not knowing when and how to correct frustrating behaviour. Or how to work through a misunderstanding. I think this can be an issue in romantic and non-romantic relationships. And it is tricky. I know I can be oversensitive to criticism when delivered bluntly or unexpectedly. But I also know it’s important to be able to take it. It’s true – someone with a learning difference will need you to be patient with them in certain areas. And sometimes they will need correcting. So how – as a neurotypical person – do you deliver it?
- Be aware that if they said something that sounded insensitive, unhelpful, or otherwise inappropriate, they probably didn’t mean it in that way, and may find it upsetting if you get cross with them seemingly out of the blue. There have been times when I’ve struggled with a task, someone’s tried to help me, I’ve explained the entire scenario so I could pinpoint what I wasn’t understanding, and caused annoyance by accidentally sounding condescending.
- Explain to them not only what they need to do differently, but why. Don’t bombard them with too much emotion or information. Just a concise explanation – and an offer of help if necessary.
- Learn to distinguish between things they do differently that are of little to no consequence and things that do need correcting. I take a similar approach to other people’s grammatical errors, particularly if they are dyslexic or speak English as a second language. Mixed up or mispronounced words I leave well alone unless asked otherwise. Words or sentences that change the meaning of what they are reading or talking about, I will discreetly point out in a quiet moment. As a person with Asperger’s, I really appreciate people taking a similar approach in social situations.
Hope this post was helpful. Any constructive criticism? Fire away!