Jacob’s Communication Story
Jacob is a fictional character and is not based on anyone living or dead. His story appeared in the first edition of my book, Independent Living with Autism: Your Roadmap to Success. This Communication story is from Chapter 2. If you notice similarities between Jacob and anyone you know, it’s just a coincidence.
When Jacob started on half-days at school, his parents asked him to get a part-time job. Every day when Jacob’s father got home from work, he asked Jacob questions, such as, “Do you have any jobs lined up yet?” “Why not?” “What are you doing about it?” “Where have you applied?” He also made comments such as, “You’ll be out of school soon. You can’t waste your life playing games all day. You’re not a kid anymore, you need to start pulling your weight.”
The more questions he asked, and the more critical remarks he made, the more anxious Jacob felt. After a few questions the pressure got to be too much, until he couldn’t think of what to say. He usually ended up yelling at his father to “get off my back!” and shut himself up in his room.
Jacob knew that this argumentative cycle wasn’t good for his relationship with his dad, and it wasn’t helping him, either. Every negative comment or question seemed to fill up his brain with numbing fear so that he couldn’t respond calmly. When he retreated to his room, he played video games to help relieve his stress, even though that only seemed to support his father’s position about “wasting his life on video games.” Robert needed to find a way to communicate with his father to stop the toxic pattern that was not working for either one of them.
Don’t Shout – Write it Out
When Jacob gets stressed and anxious at school, his teachers write him a note, and let him reply in writing. They know that when things get to be too much, his verbal communication systems shut down. When that happens, he can’t talk, so it’s easier for him to communicate in writing. It worked at school, so why not at home? Jacob decided to try writing to his dad instead of trying to tell him how he felt. He didn’t want to go off and wind up yelling at his father day after day.
Through His Dad’s Eyes
Before he started writing, Jacob tried to see things from his father’s point of view. What did his father really want? Was he trying to stress Jacob out and purposefully push him over the edge into escape mode? Because that’s what kept happening. But that couldn’t be his dad’s true motivation, could it? It wasn’t in character with the loving father he’d grown up with. Maybe his dad was actually trying to help him, but was just really bad at it.
The Benefit of the Doubt
Jacob decided to give his father the benefit of the doubt. His anxiety about Jacob’s future was probably behind all the questions that were so overwhelming. Maybe this was his dad’s version of wanting to help him succeed. It was backfiring, but this perspective helped Jacob to interpret the third degree questioning as a profession of paternal love.
After looking at their communication struggles through his dad’s eyes and giving him the benefit of the doubt, Jacob knew he wanted to have a better relationship with him. He knew if he tried to talk it out, he might end up storming off to his room again, and he wanted to avoid that. Instead of talking, he decided to write his father a letter:
Dear Dad, I know you love and worry about me, and I want you to know that I am worried, too. I understand I can’t spend the rest of my life living here and playing video games. I do want to get a job and get on with my life. It is painful for me to admit that I don’t know what to do. When you ask me questions about my future, I freeze up, panic, and run away to hide in my video games. I know you ask me these questions because you love me, but it’s not helping.
Here is what I already do to try to get an after-school job: I search for jobs online and fill out applications online. I never hear back from any of them. I don’t know what else I can do. I worry that I will never find a job. I worry that if I do get called in, I will make a mess of the interview and no one will hire me. I worry that I will be homeless one day. All of these worries fill up my brain and I can’t think, so I play video games. I win at video games, but I suck at life.
Instead of asking me questions when you get home from work, can you help me figure out what I can do next? I’m sorry for this long note but I find it difficult to talk about it. I love you and Mom very much and I hate to be a burden to you.
Everything on the Table
Jacob poured it all out onto the paper, and put his feelings on the table. His father read it, shared it with Jacob’s mom, and then all three of them sat down to talk.
First his father apologized for not seeing how his questions affected Jacob. He said he’d try to change. Both parents assured him that they loved him and wanted the best for him, that he was not a burden, and that they would never kick him out to make him homeless. They agreed to help him with his job search, and his father said he’d look into to some possible connections he had at work. This helped Jacob relax about the future, which had terrified him. He felt encouraged that his father would help him with his job search.
Jacob’s Communication Solution
Writing down all of the difficult things he had to say, rather than trying to talk it out, helped Jacob gather his thoughts. He could take his time and state his ideas calmly, rather than reacting and going into escape mode when his dad tried to talk to him about the future. Writing a letter was the solution for Jacob’s communication challenge.