YouTalk Episode 3: "Listen, Learn".
Of all the ways I've learned, my favourite learning has been undertaken outside of the books written by doctors... outside of texts and neuro or psych journals... even outside of the more recent years spent in university. I say that of course with the luxury of both formal and informal learning in my wake. Still, some of most complex concepts I've learned in my studies of human beings have always revealed themselves to me most clearly when simply sitting with someone and talking to them. Using the power of empathy to step inside their subjective experience of life.
It is with great pleasure that I'm able to capture a few of these conversations on video in 2018 and share them with you. I've been having these conversations with locals for a long time, but never realised until now how important it was to build an access road between my friends and the wider community. I've done all the travel and interviewing so that we can all sit together at home and "chat" with people you may not have met before.
I'd really love to draw your attention in particular to Jon and Alley. I had such a lovely time visiting Jon and Alley to talk to them about their special interests, and I learned so many things about their specialised areas of knowledge.
Some people find that their special interest can be a highly monetisable skill. They work in an industry that allows them to specialise, because they're lucky enough to pass as "neurotypical enough" to put on a suit, hold coffee break conversations, show up on time without visibly stimming. In some ways, the old-fashioned corporate setup is a lot better for autistics with its small carpeted cubicles and 08:59:30am arrival time, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, carrying the same lunchbox with much the same contents as every other day of the week. For many, routine is a drag. For others, routine is a reassuring daily structure to follow. For these people, work works.
In the case of others, that huge store of knowledge on one topic can be obscured behind a physical presentation that the world is still too short-sighted to look beyond, or stimming, speech or self-soothing that alarms the ignorant, creating an anxiety feedback loop. Society is still lagging behind, and doesn't realise yet how truly crucial these people are in every last community in every last corner of the world. We are also still at a place in the industrial realm where workplaces may value the productivity of the focused, hardworking autistic in their office, but still be completely ignorant on the sensory and social challenges of the office environment. Offices in the cities are experimenting with hot desks, open plans, bright colours, essential oils, odd hours and beanbags, which might be fun for others but can be a bewildering situation for autistic employees. We still have a long way to go. Having said that, the way forward is terribly simple. Build environments and policies that work for the people who need them.
Many adults on the spectrum will tell you that when they are researching and talking about their special interest, they feel good. In talking about their special interest - even if they are "talking at" someone about it - it's a way of socialising that rarely involves social "scripts" or "masking" because it's a topic that brings them great joy, and doesn't require them to make smalltalk; a pastime that they often find incredibly tedious and futile... or simply beyond their socio-emotional and sensory scope. All the other person needs to do is be able to quickly identify the kind of conversation they're having - even with a stranger - and understand the different approach required. That's why I decided to do the YouTalk series as a huge component of my body of work with the Diverse Hawkesbury project. There are many, many articles out there in social media and in the news that attempt to educate about how these conversations should go, but when was the last time you actually participated in a conversation like this? How else are we all supposed to learn the true practical craft of inclusion?
The above video features a few conversations that I had with some Hawkesbury locals who were happy to talk to me about their special interests. There are the first ever that I have captured on video to share with the world, but in fact, I've been having conversations like this for a long time, as a supplementary way of focusing on an area of specialisation as a clinician. In a world that often only sees "social deficit" in these conversations, all I see is a wonderful human resource that this same world is so very lucky to have but does not yet understand.
Sit with me and learn about navy history with Jon, the history of railways and locomotives in Australia with Alley, and a bit of family history with Roy. We also enjoy a gorgeous moment at the home of Michael and Harry, with their support worker Michelle, who is just so great with facilitating those all-important mental planning conversations and sharing a laugh.
Something you don't see yet in this video is a conversation with Roy about his visit to Canberra. That will be coming up next in Episode 4 of Diverse Hawkesbury's YouTalk series, as will a little more time with New Haven Farm CEO Jacques Stap.