In the current climate, the use of Zoom for consultations and workshops has been vital for autism act as a small, fledgling business. However, it has not been without it’s challenges which I have had to face head on.
As the vision for my work when autism act begun in January 2020 was to be heavily involved in face to face training, school visits, observations, consultations, cluster meetings etc, I had to turn that on a sixpence when it came to an abrupt halt in March 2020. I had to turn to the virtual and social media world to help me out and keep the business going.
The facebook page has been a lifeline and has been my main method of getting my message and services advertised. All well and good, but I needed a medium to present through and that was Zoom. I tweaked my workshops to make them suitable for Zoom and in doing that, I found content had to change and how to present that content also had to change. So that was the first challenge.
However, when I actually presented my first workshop via Zoom, I found I faced a number of bigger challenges, that seemed very unnatural to me and questioned my own social understanding. If you know me and have met me, you probably understand my challenges already!
When face to face training, I like to greet people as they come in and I call this ‘the prologue to the formal introduction’. I get an idea of my audience, the dynamics of the group, sort who is who in my head etc. Well, that’s impossible on Zoom! It makes the ‘niceties’ difficult to do, as people enter the training either on mute, or there is a delay in the audio and you have to wait until they can hear you and you can hear them. I sit there smiling, maybe cupping my ear to show I can’t hear them yet. All very different and I have had to make changes to my social approach to accommodate this! How do I know if it is my turn to talk? I end up talking over people as I haven’t seen the yellow line around their picture light up to indicate they are talking. Does this come across as rude?
WHERE DO I LOOK?
I know where to look when I am face to face training or doing consultation. I look at the people looking at me, I have very little option. However, because there is a number of people, I can move my gaze from person to person, it’s not pressurised, it’s just what I called when I was teaching the ‘classroom sweep’. Zoom could not be more different! I find myself looking directly at myself, I have no idea why! It is very disconcerting as I know what I look like, but can’t seem to stop myself. During Zoom workshops, people can chose whether or not to be on camera. Maybe I look at myself as it is easy than looking at names on a screen. Maybe I look at myself to break the intensity of the looking on Zoom.
I find there is an intensity to zoom. I can only look at you, and you can only look at me. In face to face training, I do the ‘classroom sweep’ and you may doodle or look at the handout, look out of the window, make eye contact with a colleague etc and the intensity is broken. I am forced to make constant eye contact as the presenter (maybe that is why I keep looking at myself?) and you have some options open to you but they are different. The intensity can make it hard to concentrate on anything else.
THE NON VERBAL CUES
Basically, they are none existent and this is the part I struggle with the most. When working face to face, the body language and non verbal cues from the delegates is so important, it’s what I feed off and it guides me through the session. I react to what they say and what they do and it has taken Zoom for me to realise how important this is. Delivering a workshop via Zoom means I have no or little of this type of feedback and I feel like I am just talking with no idea if my audience is listening, engaged, enjoying it, bored, needs me to repeat some content, understood the content, if the training is at the right level for the audience. As a teacher for 26 years, this is my bread and butter and get I can’t access all the social cues I need to convince me I have done a good job or delivered a successful training session.
Social understanding is one of the four key differences in autism. How many of our autistic children and young people face these challenges every day? And from my point of view, social understanding is one of my intuitive strengths, yet at the moment, I feel as if it is one of my major challenges….
I don’t know where to look, eye contact is too intense, I can’t read the non verbal social cues as I can’t see them/am not aware of them, social interaction is awkward and based around what I know best, I am not sure who is talking at some points and who the questions are coming from. Social understanding is highly complex when you find yourself in this situation …. thank you Zoom for teaching me this very valuable lesson.