I find that people with autism are very comfortable in silence, whether that’s due to being ‘non-verbal’, or simply not seeing the point of (and so not bothering with) social chit-chat for its own sake. This can make us more typical folk confused and anxious as many of us – including myself – have an in-built, strong drive to chatter and fill silences we perceive as awkward. Once I started to take proper notice of this response in myself and then seeing it in others, I began to ask myself whether it really was that ‘awkward’, or was it actually just my own emotional regulation being out of whack? Over time, I have come to find it hugely refreshing to be around people without such drives, as the discomfort I feel (well, used to feel) forces me to be aware of this aspect of myself and my conditioning, and try to let go of these unhelpful responses. I feel I am gradually becoming more able to just ‘be’ with other people – that’s all types of people – without always having to be chit-chatting. It’s a work in progress, as I think most of my family, friends and colleagues would agree! But this is a quality that’s also being developed simultaneously by my yoga practice… Yoga teaches you to come to see and to know yourself, becoming gradually more aware of unconscious, automatic behaviour patterns such as this one I describe here. In yoga we are connecting with our inner, tranquil reserve of silence, stillness and peace.
This is not to throw out the whole idea of social communication with others, but simply to come at these interactions with more awareness, a greater ability to really listen to others and therefore communicate in more meaningful ways. Surely this will benefit everybody all round, autistic or not?