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Kay W

Kay W
Texas, United States
June 22
Teacher, tinker, geek, mother, wife


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JUNE 11, 2012 7:34PM

Shared Meaning

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"It takes more work to communicate with someone whose native language isn't the same as yours. And autism goes deeper than language and culture; autistic people are "foreigners" in any society. You're going to have to give up your assumptions about shared meanings." -- Jim Sinclair, "Don't Mourn For Us" 

I'm rereading "Don't Mourn For Us," in tandem with "On Being a Cripple," for a comparison paper my comp 1 students will be writing tomorrow, and the quote above really hit me, especially given a situation my son and I navigated yesterday.

Sinclair's words, I think, are helpful. Shared meanings. So much of our communication with each other is under the assumption that things and words mean the same things to each of us, but they don't. And this is not a disconnect between just autistic people and the people who interact with them, but a reality that all people share.

Shared meanings. When it works, it's lovely, like when I said FUBAR in class, and my military students said in unison "fucked up beyond all repair." When it doesn't, like when I said, "I have a plan," and alluded to Cylons, only to draw blank stares, clearly shows what happens when meanings aren't shared: communication, at its deeper levels, doesn't happen--shared meanings don't occur. Closeness is not felt.

Language is loaded. We forget that at our own peril. If we wish to build shared meanings, then we must learn to speak the same languages, which takes work.

Rick and I decided about 18 months ago to get rid of satellite. We have the channels that the antenna picks up, Netflix, Hulu and the internet. Instead of keeping up on the latest shows, we've gone back and watched older shows with the kids so that we will have an overlapping subtext. Star Trek (all of them), Star Wars, Space Balls, all the shows that Rick and I share a deep love for and the dialogue that sprinkles our conversations: we wanted to bring our children in on that shared experience. Shared meaning.

It also means entering their realm, as well. I can talk Sponge Bob, Phineas and Ferb, and other current cartoons with them and know where a piece of dialogue offered repetitively comes from. Shared meaning.

When words suddenly jar and wound us, thrown at us carelessly or casually by one of our children on the spectrum, stopping to consider whether there's truly shared meaning underlying those words is a must. In truth, most of our discord in our relationships in general would be reduced if we stopped to consider that issue of shared meaning. If we aren't on the same page, then we need to stop and work to understand what the other person meant before we assume our meaning was his or hers.

Maybe it won't lead to something as idyllic as world peace or anything, but it will save bruised feelings and broken relationships. It will work towards building shared meaning and never feeling like one is alone in the relationship.

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Very true kwombles. When shared meaning is lacking I think the right thing to do is to communicate and try to understand both sides instead of shuning someone for lack of understanding. Understanding and being understood are difficult to achieve many times.
FusanA, they really are--patience and compassion can go a long way to making communication more successful
Your post reminds me of what Finish professor of communication, Osmo Wiio, talks about in his amusing set of "communication laws." One of his laws states: "If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage."

Another of his communication laws that seems to go hand-in-hand with this one is: "There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message."

Remembering these "laws" (and how I DON'T want to be an example of them in my dealings with others!) has enabled me to make progress in becoming a better communicator with my autistic brother, Bobby. I drop my assumptions, try to put myself in his shoes, strive to understand "his" meaning (rather than getting stuck in my own) and suspend my immediate emotional reactions as I search for clarity. Things have gotten better on the communication front with Bobby since I've initiated this technique. It's not easy, but I have found it worth the effort.

Thanks again for another thoughtful post.
Elizabeth, I almost included Wiio--I've quoted him before--he had it right!

It can be a very humbling experience to stop, wait and try to see it from the other person's vantage point before leaping to a reaction. And hard to do. It's so important, though, if we want to build up relationships instead of roadblocks.