Why infodumping may not be the best love language after all

Please note: While my books were translated by professionals, this blog post got a little help from AI, meaning it may not be a perfect translation.

A girl is talking to the camera in a short clip made for platforms like Instagram and TikTok. “People often think we autistic people are egocentric because we respond to your sad story with a similar story from our own lives – but this is how we show empathy!” A bit later, a brightly colored image appears in my feed: “Infodumping is my autistic love language.” We need to normalize it, because this is how autistic people show they care, according to the widely shared post.

Infodumping is sharing a lot of information about a specific topic, often the special interest of the autistic person in question, but sometimes also about recent events or the agenda for the upcoming period. The other person might not be particularly interested in the information, but the autistic person shares it either to form a connection, to express themselves, or to clear their mind.

Analogizing is sharing a similar experience to create a bond and/or to show that the conversation partner’s story is understood.

“You talk so strangely,” an ex once said when my best friend and I were exchanging stories on the couch. She would share something about her life, and then I would share something about mine. We didn’t ask each other questions; we just shared spontaneously. When my mother used to pick me up after a week at my dad’s, I would talk her ear off the entire car ride. Even now, if a topic interests me, I find it hard to stop talking about it. If I meet someone with the same interests, we can go on for hours. In short: As an autistic person, I completely understand how wonderful it is to rave on about a subject, and yes, I’m also someone who analogizes to show empathy. However, I have come to the conclusion that there is a better way.

Questions

This post is not a big diss track towards François, nor is it a subtle (or less subtle) hint for him to change his behavior. We’ve already talked about this between ourselves, so nothing I write here is new to him. But anyway, François. He doesn’t have an autism diagnosis or anything, but he loves to talk a lot, infodump about his favorite topics (movies, Japan, random snacks from Japanese fast-food chains that I wouldn’t lift a toe for), and when I tell him about something I’ve experienced or something that’s bothering me, his response is either a similar story or a hug. His hugs are wonderful, but after a while, something started to bother me. “Babe… Can you ask me things?”

I often forget this myself – or I go to the other extreme and subject the other person to an interrogation – but I am now convinced that a good conversation, one where both parties benefit the most, is a conversation where questions are asked.

Posts from autistic influencers like in the first paragraph often paint a contrast where info-dumping or mirroring a story is set against neurotypical small talk and expressions of sympathy. “Oh my god!”, “That’s awful!” These expressions are often perceived by autistics as empty: You say you understand the other person, but do you really? One-upping an experience with your own story seems better: It shows that you truly get it.

But are you sure you understand the other person? Do you have all the information? Doesn’t your analogy accidentally turn into an infodump session about your life, making the other person feel unseen?

The goal of a conversation is not just to prove to the other person that you get it; often the other person also wants help to understand themselves better. When I come to François with a dilemma, a work problem, or an argument with a friend, I don’t just want a hug or agreement – or a long anecdote about how he once had a fight with a colleague, how it got resolved, and how they went to a festival together last year, and oh yeah, that festival had sports cars and… (This is a made-up example, no reason for François’ colleagues to get suspicious, haha.)

When I come to someone with a problem, I want questions.

Jeopardy

François found this very difficult at first. It was as if we were playing a game of Jeopardy and there was only one right question. For those who don’t know what to ask, try summarizing the problem: “So you’re angry because friend X canceled?” Often, the real issue lies somewhere else, and by making this question more specific, you eventually get to the heart of the problem. “What do you find the worst part?”, “How does that make you feel?” Sometimes it helps to channel a two-year-old and simply ask: “Why?” for everything. Once the problem is clear, you can try mirroring with your own story to check if you really understand it.

If you only broadcast, you learn nothing new. The listening party only hears what the other already knows. The sum of you both doesn’t become wiser. If you ask each other questions, 1 + 1 might become 3, and you discover new things together. I’m not saying you should never go off on Star Wars or Top Gun or your Furby collection with each other, because hell yes, of course! But do you actually know why your conversation partner likes that one movie so much? Why they are really so stressed – if you even know how the person feels today at all? Asking questions can be scary because the answer might not be what you expected, or you might initially understand your conversation partner less. But then there are more questions. Just keep asking until it feels right.