Communication Blips

I’ve not been posting much lately, due to a combination of a head cold (you would think that would result in more sleep, but good sleep still eludes me), major changes in my job schedule, an evening class that I’m taking sucking up time with studying, new Saturday classes that I’m teaching sucking up time with preparations, and ongoing communication blips between my household wireless router and the AirPort card in my MacBook. I think the wireless problems annoy me most of all, because it’s being able to rely upon the little things that enable us to deal with the big things.

Having digital communication blips reminded me of the other sort that we sometimes deal with around here.

So. I have a teenager of the typically reticent sort, who at times is given to answering open-ended questions in monosyllables. That in itself is not particularly uncommon. What we do run into are situations where the Kid is still learning what needs to be actively communicated, rather than assuming that others will know what is wanted or planned. These are the little blips of “mindblindness” that we sometimes run into with the Asperger’s and/or AD/HD kids. (Adults have these problems at times too — the difference being that we have figured out the more common situations, but still miss moments here and there, leaving our spouses and co-workers puzzled or annoyed).

What are these communication blips? The range all over the place, popping up unexpectedly from a lack of sharing necessary details to failing to coordinate plans.

For example, one day the kid asked me to make him some food. Turns out all that was wanted was just a sandwich. What’s so special about Mom slapping together bread, mustard, cheese slice and some turkey is beyond me, but you know, it’s “manna from mama”. And then as I am starting to repackage the ingredients there comes the protest, “No!” After brief discussion, I find out that what was wanted was a double-decker sandwich (three slices of bread with fillings in two layers) which was not mentioned. Something else wanted was that the shaved turkey slices be flattened out, as they’re packaged accordian-folded. I adjusted the sandwich. But by this point, I said in a very low-key manner, “I’m your mom and I love you, but I’m not telepathic. You have to TELL me and communicate these things.”

Or, the kid needs to make up a quiz that was missed when out sick. Ever since 4th grade, we have been working on the whole planning ahead business of, “What will you need to do tomorrow; what do you need to take with you?” Now by 11th grade the routines have been built in and things generally run much more smoothly. Generally the cell phone is kept charged, the textbooks are not lost, the shoes are easily found, car keys and wallet are parked someplace consistently, and so on. All systems are “Green for Go” when planning for the obvious.

It’s the contingency planning that is still problematic. So to get that quiz made up, the kid has to be proactive to not only remember that the school day will have something extra and unusual in it, but must also remember that some kind of arrangement needs to be made with the teacher to schedule that make-up quiz. Sometimes the teachers will lead in that scheduling, but teachers are busy people too and have lots of students, and it is really the student’s job to ensure that they get their work (and make-up work) completed. The kid just assumes the teacher knows. Maybe the teacher does. But even so, without prior arrangements, sometimes a stop by the classroom after school results in the student finding an empty classroom!

To be honest, not all of these sorts of omissions are from not realising that the other person does not know one’s plans or preferences.

Sometimes there’s the inertia issue, of moving out of the usual routine to initiate the necessary conversation. This may sound odd, but routine conversations follow an expected pattern, and thus are easier to initiate and follow. They are easier than finding both the right moment and the energy to create novel queries. (We’ve all had days when we were too tired to make one more phone call to follow up on an order, or schedule a repair, or change an appointment, or deal with a particularly energy-sapping person. Now, imagine that kind of inertia happening frequently, even in situations you want to initiate.)

Sometimes omissions in communication result from not realising that what was an established routine with one person was simply just a dyadic routine, rather than a general routine that most people do. The extra details did not need to be shared because they were previously established. Then when one is no longer dealing with the same other person, all those previously-established expectations are no longer there. It is hard to pick up on the subtleties of the “hidden curriculum” at school or work, and it is especially more difficult when one does not realise that there are even going to be some differences that need to be sussed out. This is when our students run into confusion about how the usual interactions are supposed to run, and then they may make complaints about how one new teacher or boss does everything “weird” or makes “unreasonable” expectations (“unreasonable” in this case really meaning “unexpected”).

How do we resolve these things?

Sometimes we learn how to observe situations and analyse them for what others will be expecting. This depends upon having previously built up mental frameworks about how things are supposed to be done in various situations. We then compare those previous protocols with how things seem to be running in the current situation, try to identify where there may be differences, and then determine how to adapt our responses. This is all rather laborious, and is one of the reason why being at school or work all day is so fatiguing and requires some time alone to recharge. (Imagine if the initial confusion of your first few days on a new job kept re-occurring even after you had been there for weeks and months.)

More loquacious people try to be pro-active by mentioning the details that we think the other person may need to know. This can work really well, or it can lead us to the other end of the communication spectrum, that of “data-bombing” others with what they feel are trivial details, or we are making too frequent interruptions of post-scripts to requests and directions, or we are simply providing unnecessary amounts of information.

For the more reticent, if we can get past the inertia problem, then one of the best ways to resolve them is to ask if the other person needs more information, or how they want something to be arranged. This works great if we are able to tell exactly where we are needing clarification. Unfortunately, often both people in the conversation have no idea of where the communication blips are occurring. All that can be seen is that Somebody is forgetting to mention important details.

Sometimes that Somebody is me. Sometimes that Somebody is another person. Both ends of the interchange can be exasperating.


  1. arrogantworm said,

    18 February 2008 at 0:52

    Dryad is a tree nymph, it sounds a bit like Dyad, that might be it.

  2. shiva said,

    17 February 2008 at 21:24

    Ah OK, that’s cool. I was thinking it meant something to do with trees, for some bizarre reason…

  3. andrea said,

    17 February 2008 at 19:25

    You may be more familiar with the term, “triad”, which refers to interactions between three people; a “dyad” refers to two people. Actually, the word dyad is a typo; I corrected it to dyadic.

  4. shiva said,

    17 February 2008 at 17:43

    What’s a dyad routine?

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