Whenever two people live together, there will be communication challenges to overcome. When one or both of the partners are autistic, that can add to the potential for miscommunication. When both partners are sheltering in place together and working from home, the possibility of problems can seem huge. But, there are some steps you can take to keep little communication glitches from getting out of control. The key to remember is AWAKE: Assume the best, Walk away, Allow time, Keep it positive, and Echo each other.
ASSUME THE BEST
If your partner has said or done something that could be hurtful, or it might have been intended innocently, assume that they probably meant it in the non-hurtful way. If your partner is autistic, they may not be aware of how what they said might come across to a NT, a neuro-typical. In the same way, if your partner is NT, they may not be aware of how what they said may come across to an autist. That road goes both ways, and there is nothing lost by assuming the best intention in your loved one.
Walking away from a miscommunication can be the best possible short-term solution. Make sure both partners know that if either of you starts to feel overstimulated or emotionally charged, you will walk away. This should not be seen as an undesirable escape from the loved one, but as a agreed-upon strategy to keep things from getting out of hand. If your partner suddenly walks away during an argument or discussion, don’t take it as a rejection. Remember the plan to walk away is one that you both agreed to when heads were clearer, and let them go without another word. You can walk away, too, and take the time you both need to cool down and collect your thoughts.
Once one or both of you have walked away from a potential communication crisis, don’t be in too much of a hurry to come back to the discussion. Many autistic people (and NTs, too,) need a lot of time to process their feelings, or to plan out what they will say if they need to advocate for themselves. Don’t try to rush this step. Allowing ample time is important to avoid a blow up. You might set a date to talk about it again in a day, or whatever amount of time is needed by the one who needs the most time. Put it on the calendar and then don’t mention the issue again until you’re both calmly back at the talking table.
KEEP IT POSITIVE
When you talk about touchy subjects, keep the discussion as positive as you can. Point out areas where you are in agreement. Tell your partner the things they have said or done that you appreciate. Negativity tends to break down communication. Look for common ground, and build from there.
ECHO EACH OTHER
As you each share your position, take turns echoing your partner’s position to them, to be sure you understand what they said. This is also called Active Listening or Responsive Listening. When each of you can echo back the other’s feelings and needs, you’ve come a long way toward understanding and working out a solution that works for each of you.
You two came together for a reason. Hold on to the things you love about your partner when the world is in crisis. When you are AWAKE to good communication practices, you can weather the COVID storm.