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The quiet voice

We've all been there, in the middle of a social occasion, surrounded by what might be called a friendly crowd. Someone makes a comment and, hey presto! it's something we know about. Bravery steps in, donning his floppy hat and swaggering briefly across our vision. Before we know it, we've broken our usual rules and spoken up - in a group!

Whatever we say, this time it's relevant, possibly witty, definitely in keeping with what went before. All yay, yay, yay!, especially compared to our usual experiences. And what happens? Flippin' nothing, that's what.

There's a short, blunt life lesson to be learned at many social gatherings: it doesn't matter what you say or how great a thing it is you have to share, you may be ignored as if you haven't spoken.

I'm calling this post 'The quiet voice' not because all aspies have quiet voices (though many do), but rather because our personalities and demeanor make our range shrink, pushing our influence to the outer edges of the group.

Unless we're in a group of close friends, it often happens that our voices are just not heard, or at least not listened to. Even if you're feeling super-confident about the conversation, which is unlikely, all the years of training yourself to stay out of the line of fire mean you have also trained yourself to be ignored.

We're not all little mousies, we don't have short trousers and soft, meek expressions Some of us react to social situations by pulling faces, making awkward gestures or bizarre body language. This is the sort of thing usually guaranteed to get you attention. But I've often found that, despite my ability to stick out like a sore thumb when I least want it, at those times I would like to take part, I'm brushed aside as if I wasn't there,

I believe that the group, as a whole, is naturally geared towards the ones it sees as important. This is probably some kind of natural selection at work. After all, if you want the group to survive out on the plains, with the lions, you don't want some weirdy aspie, who blinks too much in the sunshine and gets distracted by little bugs, to be in charge when the roar suddenly comes from right behind you. I hold up my hands: it's fair to say that if aspies ruled the world, the human race would not be teeming everywhere like an upset ant-hill.

But you know, once you've chased the lions, eaten the antelope, made the babies and kept the camp fire going, you need the weirdy one to make life interesting. It isn't all about running, jumping, eating and mating. A lot of it is, I grant you that. What about the other bits though? The parts where you wonder about the stars, or ask why the dandelion is yellow?

Who thought of all the questions? I'm not being funny here (all right, I am), but I don't think it was Mr Hunter, big enough to wrestle a lion and strong enough to drag it home. What do you think he thought about at night? Lions and women, in that order.

I'm also not saying all big thinkers were, or are, aspies. I will say that a lot of them probably were, though. To have the kind of sideways thinking that catapulted us towards the modern world, you would have to be wired up slightly differently from the norm.

And whose bright idea do you think it was to leave the forest and venture onto the plains in the first place? Do you think it was Mr Hunter, who was already hunting pretty well in the safety of the trees? Or was it something whispered in his ear by his quiet-voiced wife? Some little idea she had about spreading out, seeing what was beyond the forest, realising that lions were a necessary evil if they were to grow as people.

So many assumptions, I'll stick with what I know. When it comes to being heard, it can be very difficult as an aspie, to be heard above the clamour of other people. They know without being told what to say first, to grab attention. They know the tricks of the vocal intonations, aimed at cutting through the hubbub and taking the floor. They know where to stand or how to move so that their body language draws attention to them before they've even opened their mouth. They know the all-important clues that lead to other people seeing them, hearing them, understanding them.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, these clever, lucky people are also lovely people. I've watched as someone like this has taken centre stage, got everyone's attention, then told them they should listen to me. That's because sometimes, in a group, you do come across people who have listened to the quiet voice, then recognised it needs a little push in the right direction.

This is often how you find an aspie, awkward, quiet, desperately shy, being the friend of the over-confident, noisy loud-mouth. The opposites attract, but as a platonic friendship. People wonder what they see in each other. Do you want to know?

The loud-mouth is only loud because it suits them. It doesn't mean they're stupid or mean; they're just loud. They see in the aspie someone they can talk to, often without interruption. Not just a blank audience, mind you, but the aspie is someone who listens carefully. While the loud-mouth is used to being the centre of attention, the life and soul of the party, they're not necessarily the most respected or the one you expect to know everything. Their very loudness can cheapen what they have to say.

When it comes to the aspie, they listen to everyone equally, or not at all. The loudness of the loud-mouth can put them off at first, so there is often some scenario, as described above, where they meet on common ground and have a chance to know each other. Once that has happened, they can be firm friends.

In return, the aspie is fascinated, bewitched at times, with how easily their friend moves through life. Why do people always listen? How do they enjoy social occasions? Why can they alway think of something to say? How do people laugh with them and not at them? The aspie may spend some time almost studying the loud-mouth, for their secret, as well as enjoying the novelty of watching their polar opposite shimmy through life.

The trouble can come when people with aspergers have to mix in groups, social or otherwise, on a more regular basis and still can't make themselves heard. School and work would be the big examples here. At both, the aspie may be singled out, by boss or teacher, and asked a direct question. If the aspie can overcome their initial panic, the answer is probably forthcoming. They would still be viewed as non-communicative, though, because they had to be prompted.

What the aspie says may be sparkling, in any situation, but will count for little unless people pay attention. Just as a loud-mouth may be discounted for being over the top, the quiet aspie's persona will mean their words are tolerated, when heard. They are seen as too quiet, not pushy enough, no confidence. If someone is seen as having no confidence, how can you trust what they have to say? That's assuming their lack of confidence didn't disguise the fact they were even speaking.

They're often given the advice to speak up, stand up for yourself, just say it, spit it out...The audience, if they do listen, will wear the familiar expressions of slight bemusement, tolerating what the aspie is saying until it's time to listen to someone who knows what they're talking about.

This is such a frustrating dilemma for many aspies and, naturally, means they often stop speaking up as there seems little point. Resentment can build, as they decide not to even bother, if people can't be bothered with them. This does nothing to resolve the issue, only making it worse.

The solution? Do we go under-cover and pretend to be the loud-mouth? I don't think we'd manage that very well. Sometimes by imagining yourself the loud-mouth, you can project some volume and veneer of confidence onto yourself which helps a little.

I think the secret here is in finding out when it's good to speak and when it doesn't matter. If you constantly find yourself in a group where you might as well be counting the seconds off, rather than being able to contribute verbally, then you're in the wrong group. If you really need to push yourself to the middle for them to take notice, are they the sort of people who need to be listening to you?

Seek out like-minded people and, even with little confidence, you'll find they are more willing to listen. If you are forced to interact with a group that's less than receptive and it's important for you to be heard, break them up into real people and ask for help.

Choose a sympathetic person and explain your difficulties. If you need your voice to be heard, then there is more chance of people hearing two voices than one. And you might make a new friend along the way.

Lastly, though, I would emphasise, groups that don't or can't, listen to you aren't the right groups for you. I realise that sometimes they will be your own family (they can be the worst offenders), but it's still worth holding out for people who want to listen to you, who are truly interested in what you have to say.

You'll be surprised how your quiet voice, in the right place, with the right people, an be heard just as well as the loud ones. It's a feeling worth waiting for.


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