Do You Not Know What You Need?

Headshot of a male with pale skin and wavy blonde hair, resting his head against his hand and looking quizzical.
Do you find it difficult to answer questions like, "what do you want?" or "what do you need?" Here's my take on what's going on.

This is a very common situation

I hear over and over from clients that they have a hard time articulating what they need or want in any given situation. Based on that, and lots of anecdotal evidence from Twitter (not great science, I know, but still telling) I think this is an incredibly common experience for autistics, myself included until the last few years.

If this is true for you, I’m curious if you had experiences growing up where you did express a need and it was belittled, ignored, made light of, or brushed aside?

Maybe they said things like, “It’s not a big deal.” “Just deal with it.” “Get over it already.” “Really, that again?” “Stop making such a fuss.” “Don’t make a big deal out of nothing.” Or “You’re such a drama queen.”

I think that when you had those kinds of experiences over and over, especially when you were young, in which your needs were not only not met, but they were disregarded, belittled, or made less of, in whatever way, a lot of us got the message that our needs didn’t matter.

If you were like me, you might have actually stopped paying attention to a lot of them, so that it has to be a really big thing before you either have a reaction, or notice that you need something. It might even be difficult to know what it is because you don’t have a lot of practice with figuring it out.

And, you can get better at this with practice.

Practice makes better

It starts with simply asking yourself the question, “What do I need in this moment?”

As you start to do this, it’s probably not going to be completely smooth or go completely perfectly. You’ll get it right sometimes, and not quite other times. It’ll seem doable some days and impossible others. That’s par for the course.

And when you try to express what you need to others, or ask for help, it might occasionally elicit an unintended reaction in an ‘oops, I really got that wrong’ kind of way. And it’s usually repairable.

It’s usually stuff you can come back from. You can say something like, “Hey, I messed up there. That’s not what I really intended.” Or “That didn’t have the intended effect. What I meant was this. Can we try that again?”

Over time, you’ll get better at noticing when you need something, what it is, and take care of it yourself, when you can, or express that to others in ways that create connection and support from others. 

It’s a learning process, and it’s okay to have a rocky start. We all do. And it’ll get better.

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Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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