Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Successful Meetings with Autistic Experts

I'm going to generalise.  Always ask what works.  But, generalising...

Autistic people won't meet you unless we can:

a) Guess what the sensory environment is going to be like for us, e.g. photos, advance visit
b) Know when the start and finish times of a meeting are, with some accuracy
c) Know where the emergency escape exit/quiet space is, and how to get there fast
d) Know whether there are social hazards in that meeting that we need to plan for.

None of this is 'control'.  It's about balancing the input and output of a brain that takes in too much information from the world around us.  And needs to cool down from time to time.  Literally.  That's it.  If I'm meeting autistic people, I'm pretty safe from brain overheating, as we don't often put one another in difficulties.  When meeting non-autistic people, my goodness it can be random and scary for my brain design.

Great places to meet me:  Outside, walking alongside me.  Or sitting on a park bench somewhere quietly public.   Or inside, in a quiet room with quiet natural lighting, away from intense smells, noises etc .  Letting me pick which seat allows me to hear and see best.

Really really bad places to meet me:   Internal rooms with fluorescent lighting.   Noisy cafes and busy public places.  Want to see what that's like?  Got two minutes and sound on your device?  https://vimeo.com/52193530  Put the sound right up.  Brace yourself.  Is the child just misbehaving?  Nor do I.

Best example?  Christian charity.  Wanted to know where to meet me.  What worked.  What start time.  What finish time.  What refreshments would I like.  What did I want on the agenda.  Friendly, cheerful, spoke to me directly.  Happens a lot.

Big warning signs of trouble ahead: 
Getting their secretary to talk to me, weeks later than my request, because they are too important..or too uncertain about encountering me.  That tells me how scared I'm going to be, meeting them.  If I'm scared, I won't meet them at all.

Making me do all the travelling.   As a disabled person (multiple disabilities including arthritis, faceblindness, recovery from cancer treatment) this is exhausting and demoralising.  It tells me how seriously they take their part in 'going half way'.  I'll travel to places I know and people I know and trust.  A stranger in a strange place?  Wow, no.

Being vague about timings.  This tells me that they don't understand how hot autistic brains get, and how much planning we have to put into getting the wiring cool at the start...and cooled down after each meeting.

Being vague about social content, e.g. introducing someone who is going to be confrontational, touchy-feely, negative about autism.  It gets mighty scary, mighty fast.

Insisting on it being in their territory, unless there's a really good reason.  And then, not providing details on address, photos of location and the room I'll be in.  I can't begin to imagine the sensory load on me.  I can't then guarantee that my brain stays in operating temperature range.  If it doesn't, it will shut down.  Literally.  Physically.  Then I cannot communicate and am stuck in a place with someone clueless.  Dangerous, painful, exhausting, scary.

It's so easy to get it right.  Ask us what helps, and do what you say.  Make the information accurate.  Respect it if we say, "blimey, brain hot - got to go".  Or words to that effect.  Don't misinterpret over-hot brain stuff for 'anger'.  Keep it respectful and cheerful.  Once we know you can be trusted, it's so wonderful.

You will then have fantastic, timely, honest, excellent information, and a new friend.