by Keri Schouten
What I love about this model is that it makes it clear that whether we are ND or NT, we all want the same thing, to connect with others and feel an affinity for them. To be accepted by them. And that’s what NT people are doing when they communicate in NT ways, and that’s what ND people are doing when they communicate in ND ways.
While it is sometimes possible for ND folk to learn the skills of NT communication and mask through encounters, it is not always connecting, and many will experience it as draining and even actively disconnecting.
I’d suggest that the best thing we can do for ourselves as autists is to understand these differences, and to consciously choose how we will engage, in a way that is best for us overall in that moment.
The main difference between NT and ND when it comes to communication is that ND are forced to become bilingual, but we are also told it’s the only language that exists.
It’s the latter that creates internalized shame and frustration. We are told if NT communication doesn’t feel connecting for us, and we can’t quite make it work sometimes, then the fault lies with us.
It’s just not true.There is no fault at all, because NT communication is neither better nor worse, just different.
This knowledge frees us to choose to embrace being ND without shame, and to choose to communicate “NT style” (to whatever extent we are fluent in that language) with fuller awareness of the code switch.
For me, the NT communication style used to come with baggage like “I’m not being true to myself”, “this is all fake”, “how can anyone think this is an interesting conversation, they can’t possibly care what I did last summer” and i think it is that feeling of inner disconnect that causes me to rebel against the injustice of it, and snap back into ND mode. Sometimes it’s a pretty defiant snap, which can be rough on acquaintance-type relationships.
But when I’m aware that ND mode is just as valid overall and better/ideal for me, slipping into NT mode for the benefit of someone else no longer feels so much like I’m not being true to myself. This shift happened gradually in the months after my diagnosis, as I gained a greater understanding of the communication differences and realized what I’d been fighting against all along. All of a sudden, masking is easier, because I’m not at war with myself. Not masking is easier too, because I’m not at war with myself.
This graphic represents how I think of it now in my head, and I’ve been finding it really helpful. I hope it is helpful to you all as well.
Here is a blog post on the topic worth reading:https://raelenedundon.com/why-social-skills-training-has-to-go/?fbclid=IwAR2Q0Hkl1YsI0wJVXNp9jIv1NNSFuFD0XqNZJn2SQaN7I_Vf2whxXfvtO30
Some info on recent facial expression research, which supports the “different, not deficient” theory:https://theconversation.com/amp/research-on-facial-expressions-challenges-the-way-we-think-about-autism-134053