One of the horrors an autistic person faces is the possibility of ending up in a group conversation.
I still can’t handle group discussions. If I have to discuss in a group, I freeze.
By group discussion, I mean when someone says:
“OK, let’s divide into groups and discuss topic X”.
That often happens in classes or workshops. If the idea is to divide into groups and have “free conversation”, that’s even worse.
I never know when it’s my turn to talk in a group. That’s often difficult for autistic people. The reason might be impaired temporal synchrony.
When it’s time to divide into groups and start talking, my brain seems to switch off every time.
A Zoom group discussion was too much to handle
I joined an online publisher event on Zoom. I was only going to watch and listen.
But there was a surprising number: Chatting in small groups on a break.
I thought: Challenge yourself! Just give it a try!
What the heck? Was that my internalized ableism speaking?
I should already know better. I’ve been challenging myself my whole life, and that didn’t help. I never got any better at group discussions. Instead, I only learned to hate myself.
All I could say was:
The three other people introduced themselves, but I didn’t say anything.
I wanted to get to know the other publishers. I also would have liked to introduce myself to them. But I couldn’t do that.
A voice in my head said: What’s wrong with you? Can’t you even introduce yourself?
The familiar feeling of self-loathing returned. I just wanted to cry.
I had experienced the same situation numerous times in person. It turned out that joining a group discussion on Zoom is just as horrifying as joining one live.
Why did I do that to myself again? I thought I was done torturing myself by putting myself in these situations.
How to survive group discussions as an autistic person
So, if you’re autistic and find group discussions difficult, what should you do?
My advice is to avoid them if you can. We shouldn’t force ourselves into horrible situations we can’t handle.
At the university, I attended a course with discussions in small groups.
The first group discussion was unexpected to me. When it was time to start the group work, I froze as usual. I panicked and escaped from the room.
After that, I contacted the teachers of the course and told them I have Asperger’s syndrome. I asked to be allowed to not participate in group work.
The teachers were understanding and agreed. I didn’t have to join the group discussions anymore.
Before my diagnosis, I dropped out of multiple courses at the university because I couldn’t handle teamwork. Needless to say, that affected my studies.
Even if you have a diagnosis, it’s not always easy to tell everyone you’re autistic. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself, especially when you’re in panic mode.
I didn’t say anything about my autism at the Zoom meeting. It would have felt weird.
Fortunately, you don’t always need to explain yourself. If I attend another Zoom meeting and there’s a group discussion, I will just skip it.
Group discussions are often voluntary. Then you can just skip it. If someone thinks you’re weird or whatever, that’s their problem.
If teamwork is required at your job or studies, you need to talk about your diagnosis and ask for accommodations.
You may feel uneasy about it, but you have the right to ask for accommodations due to your disability.
It takes a long time to silence the voice of internalized ableism
It may take time to silence the voice in your head that says you’re faulty when you can’t even introduce yourself in a group.
I still have that voice in my head. It’s the voice of the internalized ableism I developed during the years before my diagnosis. I didn’t know I was autistic, and I learned to think I was faulty.
Hopefully, little by little, that voice will speak to me more rarely.
In the meanwhile, I will take care of myself. One of the ways I can do that is to say no to group discussions.
How do you deal with group discussions? Please share your experience in the comments!
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