Jacob’s Communication Story

Jacob had plenty of credits and was on track for graduation, so he was able to attend school half-days during his senior year. His parents figured if he wasn’t in school in the afternoons while they were at work, he should get a part-time job.

Stressful Talk

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 any more, you need to start pulling your weight.” The more questions he asked, and the more critical remarks he made, the more stressed out 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.

Argumentative Cycle

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 anxiety so that he couldn’t respond calmly. When he retreated to his room, he played video games to help relieve his stress, even though he realized that only supported 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

In school, when Jacob gets stressed out, his teachers write him a note. They knew it was easier for him to communicate in writing when things got to be too much and his verbal communication systems started to shut down. He decided to try writing instead of talking.

Through His Dad’s Eyes

He also tried to see things from his father’s point of view. What did his father really want? What was he trying to communicate? Was he actually trying to stress Jacob out and purposefully push him over the edge into escape mode? Was his motivation to harm Jacob, or was he trying (unsuccessfully) to help him?

The Benefit of the Doubt

Jacob recognized that his father really did love him and worry about his future, and all the overwhelming questions and comments come from a place of wanting to help, but not knowing how. Jacob decided to write his father a letter:

The 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, and 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.

Love, Jacob

Everything on the Table

When Jacob’s father read the note, he shared it with Jacob’s mom, and then all three of them sat down to talk. His father apologized for not seeing how his questions affected Jacob, and 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, and 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, so that he could take his time and state his ideas calmly, was the solution for Jacob’s communication challenge.

Jacob’s stories originally appeared in the first edition of my book, Independent Living with Autism: Your Roadmap to Success. (Revised as Independent Living While Autistic: Your Roadmap to Success, Book One of the Adulting While Autistic series.) Jacob is a fictional character, not based on anyone, so any similarities to real people are coincidental.


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