Okay, so I consider myself to be a fairly easy going person, who really doesn’t complain all that much but I have to say today, that I have a “bone to pick” with my local city council. You see today is rubbish collection and for us, and as I imagine many families might feel, this day every week is one which is filled with excitement, some cloak and dagger business and utter relief. The excitement comes from my little boy whose obsession with trucks and trains combined with his firm belief that 5am is the best time to start the day, loudly announces each week to the household (with an unbelievable degree of excitement for that time of the morning), when the garbage truck arrives. (I mean seriously child it is way to early for this!) The cloak and dagger business comes from a member of the family who shall remain nameless in fear of retribution, where under the shadow of darkness evenly disperses our remaining rubbish amongst the other bins on the street careful to ensure that the rubbish cannot be traced back to our family (all fingerprints or identifying information are carefully erased). And, well the relief, well that comes from me, as mounds of rubbish from a family of 5 including a 2 year old still in nappies is whisked away never to return again and as if by magic an empty bin remains ready to recommence it’s duties. So you can imagine my surprise when I left for work this morning and saw the bin still there on the nature strip filled to the brim. A quick check down the street and my worst fears were confirmed. In front of our entire neighbour’s houses stood the fresh, empty bins almost mocking me with their rubbish free interior. Our bin had not been collected!!!
Panicked, I phoned to inform the council of the mishap and they very kindly explained to me that they would be around to collect the bin within 24-48hours. What a relief, until I returned home from work and our bin was absolutely nowhere to be found! I mean nowhere!!!! It was then with dread that I realised when I had asked them to come and collect our bin they had actually collected our bin not just the rubbish but the whole bin! The person at the other end of the phone had literally interpreted my request to “pick up the bin” as “pick up the bin!” You see I didn’t think twice about the language I used to convey this message. I just assumed it would be interpreted in the way it was intended but um no unfortunately it was not. This got me thinking just how confusing the English language can be.
Many of us, me included, often use metaphorical language to convey our message. We do this without realising how confusing this might be for others to interpret. Many people, specifically people diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, have much difficulty “reading between the lines” and have a restricted and literal understanding of words. When processing information they do not always understand metaphorical expression. Like for example, I was once working with this gorgeous little boy with autism who was being particularly cheeky that day. His mum was not impressed with his behaviour and promptly told him to “pull up your socks”, so you guessed it, he bent down and pulled up his socks. Well that is what he was told to do, wasn’t it? Or another time, my friend was out for dinner with a young lady with Asperger’s who had a particular fondness for horses. When sitting at the table ready to order their food, another person in the group remarked that “he was so hungry he could eat a horse!” Well, you can imagine how this poor young lady felt. Her interpretation of the message in the literal sense resulted in her becoming extremely distressed as she believed that he was going to actually eat a horse. Needless to say, there was some very quick explaining to do following this statement. I mean we use metaphorical language so naturally in our communication that we don’t often even think twice about it. Having a language delay or disorder can make communication with others difficult enough and with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and language disorders increasing in our communities, now might be a good time for all of us to be more aware of how we convey our messages to others and in turn how those messages may be interpreted. Recent research indicates that 1 in every 110 people in Australia is being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and 1 in 7 people have a communication problem. Everyone conveys messages in their own way. We all process information differently and we all definitely interpret information differently. If we increase awareness of the communication differences we see across our population then we can all contribute to helping everyone communicate more effectively.
Now I have some rubbish to make disappear!
“See you later alligators!”