Clarity is in the eye of the beholder

This topic is quite current given the new academic year bringing multiple changes, new beginnings and new challenges. I have just commenced on a Masters degree not only in a completely different discipline (a move from humanities to social sciences) but also with multiple modules that are classed as ‘distance learning’. The concept of distance learning is causing me a small headache (understatement) as what is expected from the online learning environment is a complete unknown to me. I guess this brings me nicely onto the core of the topic: clarity. Clarity is important in our day to day lives; it helps us know the certainty of what is being communicated through words or pictures and understanding this. Other definitions include the word sharpness (referring to vision and audio), intelligible and coherent. All of these demonstrate an understanding of the information presented, whether that be in an auditory or visual manner.

I think a lot of us take our clear understanding of things that pop up on a day to day basis for granted. We all have different perceptions as we all see life through our own individual eyes so we don’t always exactly know what may be unclear or confusing for another individual. Clarity in communication is something I have always found a challenge to some extent. Sometimes I’m fine, sometimes I have ‘learnt’ when someone says X they mean Y and other times I am completely confused. I have found that in a way I can almost see both sides of the coin now, that I can see what those who understand language very literally see but also the more idiomatic and nuanced version too. Individuals with autism can find clarity in language a challenge. Language may be understood in a more literal manner. Imagine someone you telling they will be with you in one minute. What does that mean to you? Do you understand that they will be with you as soon as possible? Or do you understand that in 60 seconds that person will be with you? Just from this example, we can see that language can be interpreted in more than one way and that clarity can be a potential issue. I used to dislike learning ‘idioms’ (Redewendungen auf Deutsch, complete mind blank for French!) in languages as I can just about grasp English idioms at the best of times!

Going back to my masters degree, there are other ways in which a lack of clarity may be problematic. A lack of ‘knowing exactly what is expected from me’ can cause anxiety; partially driven by perfectionist tendencies and partially by the unknown, the ‘what if’. I have found this quite challenging for example in moving across to a different discipline with a focus on different elements, or assessment based in an online forum with no face to face contact.  I’m positive this experience is not unique to me or even only to autistic people. Yes this lack of clarity does cause stress. I often question myself: should I be able to handle this? Should I be able to ‘mind read’ what I am supposed to do? The stress can also be very isolating and overwhelming; sometimes I feel it swallows me up but most of the time I can ride it through. I guess there are some people who just do not get as bothered or are much better at handling situations like that above. But we shouldn’t just be telling people to ‘be able to cope’ if it is a challenge for them. As a population we should be encouraging question asking and trying to provide the clearest and most concise information possible. There is always room for improvement and different people may have different questions and queries alongside their differing perceptions. There is also an element of swallowing your pride: no question will be too stupid. We as humans will often put ourselves down or over analyse a situation.

In addition to the more visual and more concrete things that can cause disparity in clarity, there are things that maybe sound strange too. One thing that I really find quite unclear is open and closed doors. For me, an open door is a door you can pass through but a closed one is closed for a reason and this is quite clear. It seems, though, that the lines between what a closed door and an open door mean. This encompasses the literal understanding of a closed door versus the practicality of why a door may actually be closed, for example to keep heat in, or out of habit. I get really anxious about opening a door that is shut; am I supposed to open this? Will I get into trouble? I think this is social anxiety coming into play here, but this example demonstrates different understandings of the same concept and the lack of clarity and potential confusion this have the potential to incur.

Wir sprechen uns wieder bald


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