|Thinking about how the character feels.|
When I read a novel I don't question the character's feelings. I don't read the description and think "that's not right at all, you didn't feel that way, you're just trying to get attention" or any such thing.
Instead, I put how I imagine I would feel on hold while I wear the feelings of the character. When the novel is well written I almost always think things like "that's not how I would have felt, how interesting and eye opening, I never thought of it that way" and I put the book down for a moment to marinate in the new feelings and conclusions of things.
Why, then, did I have to teach myself to do this also when real life people tell me how they feel in certain situations? Why did I want to tell my autistic brothers that they are WRONG about their feelings, and that I was the expert?
They would tell me with words or actions that certain things hurt (u-turns in the car, for example) and that other things felt good (certain songs played over and over and over, for example) and I would tell them with my words or actions that they were wrong and they had to get over it.
Sure, I thought I was "teaching" but I didn't first take the time to believe them about their feelings. I couldn't imagine a u-turn hurting, and I knew that we didn't mean to hurt him with a u-turn, and so I didn't take the time to put myself on hold and imagine being him. And when a brother needed to hear the same song over and over and over, crying and begging with looks of desperation while dragging me to the music player for the song again and again, I assumed he needed to "get over it" and thought I was teaching when I didn't press play. Oh, I knew that certain songs could make us feel good, but I also knew that I could easily handle it if others didn't want to hear the song that made me feel good, so I thought my brother needed to learn that too. I didn't take the time to imagine myself as someone different than me, as someone challenged like my brother.
Yet it was always so easy for me when I read novels. In fact, the reason I have always loved to read novels is exactly for that. That feeling I get when characters come to different conclusions than I would or have different feelings about things than I would or are treated differently than I am and they open my eyes to infinite and new possibilities!
I also love novels for those moments when the character feels exactly how I've felt. When the story takes place in a world of events and people I've never experienced or known yet the author reminds me that we are all in emotional need of the same things. I love that! I think things like "oh, that's exactly how I've felt, I could never find the perfect way to describe it, I'm highlighting that" and I'm newly invested in the character who is also mostly different from me.
I don't know why it took me long, but my life is better because I've learned to do that with the real life people in my world, too.
I'm so grateful to my brothers for forgiving my mistakes. And I'm even more grateful that they continue to share with me their feelings and let me imagine myself as them.
Now when we teach each other (because we do want to learn how to feel comfortable with u-turns and different songs) it's from a place of knowing they are the expert of their feelings. A place where I imagine myself as them. A place of caring and curiosity and understanding.
And that has made all the difference.
Please, friends, when people tell you about their experience of the world - the way they feel, the way they're treated, the things that help them - take the time to put yourself on hold for a moment and imagine their truth. Believe them, listen, and imagine.
Then put the book down for a moment, sit in the silence together, while you let that truth marinate. And together you can explore ways to be happier, healthier, and safer.
From the place where you validate and value the experiences and feelings of each other.
It makes all the difference!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)