Bridging the Communication Divide
by Jacki Edry
In this age of digital connectedness, many people feel isolated and alone. The ability to connect with everyone, everywhere, is commonplace. Despite this, deep communication has become a challenge, particularly between parents and teens.
The success or failure of any interaction depends on many different factors. Some of these include the personality, culture, sense of humor, age, life experiences and neurocognitive make-up of the individuals involved.
In addition, every person has a particular communication style that enables them to feel comfortable. The level of intimacy between the parties often affects the types of things that are considered acceptable to share and the manner in which they are shared.
Neurodiversity also plays a role in people’s communication styles and preferences. Differing neurological and cognitive abilities affect the way we interact with one another. Neurodiversity and neurodivergence are terms that indicate these differences. It’s critical to understand that neurodivergent individuals may be considered different, but they are not lesser! I believe that, in many ways, neurodiversity is a great gift. If we all had the same neurocognitive make-up, I imagine the world would be significantly less colorful. Neurodivergent individuals have created some of the world’s most extraordinary pieces of art, music, theories and inventions.
Neurodivergent individuals, who may be diagnosed with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, Irlen syndrome, auditory or sensory processing disorder, and more, perceive and process information and sensory stimuli in a unique manner. It’s essential to understand their needs and accommodate them to enable positive and effective communication channels.
The process of learning to communicate effectively and bridge divides is both ongoing and challenging. It requires both partners to remain invested in building a positive relationship. They will need to demonstrate mutual respect and be flexible and willing to learn through a lot of trial and error. But as they say, “If there is a will, there is a way.”
Throughout my years of parenting, working in informal education and counselling, advocating for the inclusion of neurodivergent individuals in society and becoming neurodivergent myself after surviving brain surgery, I have found that considering the following when communicating with others helps to bridge divides and open the minds and hearts of those involved:
- Before you engage in conversation, try to assess if the person you would like to communicate with is calm and is in the mindset to have a discussion. If they have just returned home from school or work, or are hungry, tired or in sensory overload, it will likely be better to wait for them to feel calm and focused, then ask them when they will be available to converse with you.
- Choose an environment and time conducive to communication. Turn off mobile phones, remove other distractions and pick a safe, quiet setting to converse. Ask your partner what environment they prefer.
- Reassure them that you will remain judgment-free throughout the conversation. No topic should be off-limits. Often teens are afraid to ask questions or share their fears or problems because they feel that the subject might be considered taboo, disrespectful or lead to punishment. This fear leads them to seek information outside the home, most often with peers who don’t know how to support them and lack the knowledge and experience necessary to help them effectively problem-solve. Try to convey that whatever has happened or whatever the person has done, you will help them find a solution. This type of trust is essential for good communication.
- In order to help break the ice, consider sharing a few of your thoughts, experiences and feelings with your partner and then ask for feedback. Your willingness to share demonstrates that you trust the person you’re communicating with and value their input.
- It often takes a while for people to organise their thoughts or emotions to effectively communicate them to others, particularly if they have experienced trauma or are neurodivergent. Send positive vibes, be patient and let them know you are there for them. They will tell you when they feel safe and ready.
- When they choose to share, keep in mind that true listening requires being completely focused and present. Don’t plan your answers while they are speaking. When they have finished, be sure to digest what they have said and take a minute to think before you respond.
- Keep in mind that everyone has a unique way of communicating. There will often be generational, cultural, religious and socio-economic differences. To accurately understand where others are coming from, it’s essential to ask them their perspective and opinion.
- Remember that empathy, flexibility and acceptance facilitate positive communication.
- Neurodivergent individuals communicate in many different ways. If you wish to connect with someone neurodivergent, it’s helpful to ask them how they feel most comfortable communicating with you and then go with the flow. They may feel they communicate better when writing, messaging, using augmentative communication tools or recording their thoughts, questions and answers. They may also prefer avoiding eye contact, as visual input might distract them or make it difficult to hear correctly or focus their thoughts.
- Don’t assume that what works for you will work for them. We are all individuals with different needs.
- Try to encourage your partner to ask questions and engage in discussion. If you explain the “why” behind the rules, it makes them more palatable.
- In many instances, when a person seeks your advice about a problem they are having, all you need to do is attentively listen to what they are saying and help them focus their thoughts with guided questions. Your active listening enables them to search within themselves and formulate a solution that works for them.
- And lastly, or rather firstly, please keep in mind that conducting respectful dialogue is the only way to communicate and problem-solve, especially if there are differences of opinion. It also opens the doors to developing healthy, positive, empowering relationships.
Wishing you all deep, meaningful and loving relationships with those you love! Jacki.
Jacki Edry is the author of Moving Forward: Reflections on Autism, Neurodiversity, Brain Surgery and Faith (Amazon). (read our review here)
Her blog is on jackisbooks.com, where you can find articles and podcasts about neurodiversity, education, faith, and more.
You can also reach out to Jacki Edry on LinkedIn.
She’s delighted to collaborate with people worldwide to promote awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and work towards educational reform.